My brilliant friend Caterina Fake wrote about the Fear of Missing Out last year, and the FOMO meme took instant hold amongst those of us who love the digital life. We’re keenly aware that our constant connection to those who are doing things that are exciting, engaging or novel can make us feel let down with our humble circumstances.
But Caterina’s piece came at a fortunate time in my life, just a little over a month after my son Malcolm was born. When I read Caterina’s piece, I’d been mostly offline for more than a month, and during that time had barely checked in on anything online, and seldom even left the house. It was wonderful.
So the FOMO lament didn’t particularly resonate with me; I wasn’t missing anything. I hadn’t realized that I was not only not in fear, but actually in a state of joy, until talking to a recent NYC transplant the other day.
New York City, Just Like I Pictured It
When people move to New York City, I tend to give them a few bits of advice that I learned the hard way in my first few years living in the city. There are the usual truisms about using public transit and how to save money and getting the most out of our public spaces. But inevitably, I tell people: You’re going to miss stuff. On any given day, in New York City, there’s an event going on that would be the best event of the year back in your hometown. And most of the time, you’re not going to be there.
You miss a wonderful event or a really special moment because you’re too broke to go, or because you couldn’t get tickets in time. You stay home because you weren’t going to know anybody there, or because you were going to know everybody there. You stay home in case she calls, or in case he shows up. You get halfway to the party but turn around because you’re underdressed or overdressed or still hung over or because you have to work in the morning.
Sometimes, you don’t go to that amazing event because you’re just going to stay home and read a book or watch TV or flick away idly at your phone, only realizing you’ve missed the moment when it’s already too late. And then, when you get old and wonderfully, contentedly boring like me, you stay home because you’d rather be there for bathtime and bedtime with the baby than, well, anywhere else in the world.
This is the Joy of Missing Out.
There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping. Anyone who knows me know that there are few events I care about more than going to a Prince concert, even after doing so more than a dozen times in my life. And the night my wife went into labor, just a few hours before we left for the hospital, Prince was in concert at Madison Square Garden, site of one of my favorite of his shows ever. Needless to say, we missed the show. It was joyous.
So often, we point the finger at our technologies for creating the fears, the insecurities, the tensions that arise in our social lives as they get increasingly run by social software. But if tech is to blame for our feelings (and I’m not sure I want to concede that point), then certainly we can make apps and sites and software that makes us joyously celebrate for the good time that our friends and loved ones and even complete strangers are having when they go about living their lives.
I’ve been to amazing events. I still am fortunate enough to get to attend moments and celebrations that are an incredible privilege to witness. But increasingly, my default answer to invitations is “no”. No, I’m not going to go. And when well-intentioned hosts inevitably point out “You’re going to regret not coming!” I won’t say it out loud, but I’ll probably think, “No, I really won’t.”
Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I’m willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone. I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well. That’s a joyful thing.