“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”
– James Henry Thoreau
Can we turn our to a subject whose acronym is JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out. It is in contrast with FoMO, the Fear of Missing Out, a term first coined by Dr. Dan Herman and described in Wikipedia as “a form of social anxiety, whereby one is compulsively concerned that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event” Dr. Herman initially became aware of the phenomenon which he named FoMO during a focus group study for a client of his.
We live in a world of endless possibilities for distraction and overstimulation. We are never far removed from our means of communication which are ever more sophisticated, alluring and increasingly individually directed. Social media already offer us a non-stop stream of ideas and yet the possibilities offered by all these means of communication have hardly begun to be exploited by those who are in broadcast mode. We have never been more closely connected technologically but we are already suffering the effects of increased social isolation as we each become absorbed in our gadgets and machines.
“I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen”.
– Leonard Cohen – Democracy is coming to the USA
People in the second decade of the 21st century are bombarded with choices. A walk along one row of any supermarket will reveal a bewildering range of even basic products such as breakfast cereals. Someone visiting an electrical store to purchase a simple kettle will be faced with an awe inspiring array of kettles of all shapes, colours, sizes and capabilities. And the examples above only refer to the overwhelming variety of on-the-shelf choices, leaving out important ethical considerations such as how the products are produced and the distances over which they are brought to market.
We have a complex web of social media offering limitless possibilities for good and ill. How many people spend a disproportionate amount of their time living in a virtual world inhabited by “friends” whom they will never see in real life? How many of us can sustain meaningful friendships with more than a handful of genuine people whom we really care for and who really care for us?
Good causes are also active on social media, importantly bringing to light issues which otherwise would be neglected. Every day we are offered an inundation of worthwhile ethical campaigns all seeking our support. But there are only so many waking hours in a day, only so many available days in a week and there are limits to our capacity to be motivated to meaningful interest or action in more than a certain number of areas. Even the most worthwhile of causes themselves suffer from volunteer and donor fatigue.
Faced with such choice in terms of ethical demands, entertainment offerings, friend requests, tweets and social media updates with their varied invitations to distraction and amusement we must try to bring some stability, calm and order into this amazing life that we have been given. We may have a large area of interest and concern, but we each have only a smaller area where there is any possibility of real focus, This is where JOMO comes in.
Can we slow down, allow time each day for reflection and awareness and set limits on the amount of distraction that we will allow ourselves? If we do A we cannot do B so let’s not feel that somehow we have lost something or chosen the short straw in opting for one offering as against the other. Let’s explore for a change the Joy of Missing Out or doing without. In our time the challenges may be increased, the acronym JOMO may be new but the message is many centuries, indeed millenia old, the message to try to live more mindfully and more meaningfully in each present moment.
The Plum village website offers this advice: “Solitude is not about being alone high up in the mountains, or in a hut deep in the forest, it is not about hiding ourselves away from civilisation. Real solitude comes from a stable heart that does not get carried away by the crowd nor by our sorrows about the past, our worries about the future, and our excitement about the present. We do not lose ourselves; we do not lose our mindfulness. Taking refuge in our mindful breathing, coming back to the present moment is to take refuge in the beautiful, serene island within each of us”
Life offers the lucky ones a range of choices. Today that variety has extended beyond anything that could have been imagined even a generation ago. This is a gift and a blessing and something that we enjoy especially in the more prosperous west and north of the planet. But its downside is its ability to distract us and cause us to fritter away this precious life in a heedless, aimless and valueless whirl of activity. The temptation to live on autopilot has surely never be greater. It requires the dedicated application of mindfulness to help us steer a chosen course though the bewildering wilderness of choice that is offered to us.
So an idea for us all to work on in the week ahead. Practice JOMO and experience the Joy of Missing Out. Just because it can be done does not mean that it should or must be done. This week let’s abandon our fear of missing out and let’s see if we find ourselves a little more contented and recollected by next weekend!