I Should Have Written a JOMO Book.
About seven years ago, inspired by Caterina Fake's seminal essay about fear of missing out, I wrote a bit about the Joy of Missing Out, and for a little while, JOMO became a thing.
It showed up in those "100 trends to watch this year" roundups that come out at the start of every new year, percolated through think pieces over the next year or two, and eventually ended up a staple of the lifestyle influencers who talk about wellness. I think a few of them even wrote books about it, though they leaned a little more toward the script-font-and-mason-jar side of things, where I'm not very credible.
For me, the most delightful outcome was Jenna Wortham's 2012 essay in the New York Times, talking about FOMO and JOMO, but also mentioning my son and his proclivity for dancing; given that his birth was what had prompted me to reflect on JOMO in the first place, it seemed eminently appropriate.
I don't actively keep track of "JOMO", but even a quick glance shows it's a concept that is, if anything, even more popular now than when the conversation first started. At the start of a new year, the Financial Times writes that you should "allow yourself to embrace 'Jomo'. In the middle of the year, the New York Times writes about the "summer of missing out". Anytime's a good time for missing out!
Presently, the social web is abuzz with people revisiting the ill-fated Fyre Festival. Two different documentaries have come out offering a perspective on the magnificent scams that surrounded the festival, and conversation focuses on that grift as well as the various ethical compromises and lapses of the documentary filmmakers.
But I'm struck by how one primary reason a fiasco like Fyre Festival could happen, or indeed how many of the worst aspects of influencer culture can happen, is because of the very real emotional effect of the Fear of Missing Out. It's especially true because FOMO is a designed, intentional result of using most modern social media apps.
It's been largely overlooked that FOMO was coined by Caterina Fake, a cofounder of Flickr — one of the very first people who ever helped create a large-scale social network for photo sharing. Her comments on FOMO came less than 6 months after Instagram launched. Though of course both services seemed superficially similar because they were social networks built around photos, Instagram's social design was almost always with the opposite intent of Flickr's social goals. It was almost as if Instagram was designed to optimize for FOMO. But check out what Caterina said in 2011:
Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. [S]ocial software both creates and cures FOMO.
[There's a quaint habit that some of us old-timers still have where we call the technology behind social networks "social software".]
Years have passed, and now FOMO (and to a lesser extent, JOMO) are just part of culture. I was walking through the Union Square subway stop not too long ago, and saw this Spotify ad, huge and unmissable.
@Caterina it’s wild that this is a subway ad in Union Sq. pic.twitter.com/xb8Hhpqgt6— anildash (@anildash) December 21, 2018
And the broader principles of intentionality around consumption are an even bigger phenomenon. Marie Kondo is quickly graduating from being the author of a book that became a phenomenon into being a full-fledged global media tycoon. It's only a matter of time until she has a deal with a retailer to sell branded Konmari boxes for you to store your things in. (Maybe one of them will be a lead box that you can put your phone in so you don't look at it?) But interestingly, the fundamental framing of her entire approach to improving your life is to start with what brings you joy. That make a hell of a lot of sense.
The stakes are so much higher now then back when we just worried that social media would make us feel bad about missing a party. Yes, that's still a cause of stress, but far worse is social media enabling grifters to profiteer off of innocent people's credulity. How can we fret about missing our friends when the emotional manipulation of social apps has warped every institution in our entire culture?
Ultimately, though, this began as a conversation centered around joy. Isn't that a rare, and special, and fragile thing? How often do we talk about joy, let alone actively pursuing it or protecting it? I think pursuing joy, protecting peaceful moments, seeing our friends' happiness as a cause for celebration and not envy, and engaging with our lives on our own terms are quietly radical acts.
It is a brave and meaningful thing to talk earnestly about joy at a time when so many aspire to, and delight in, destroying it.
But yeah, obviously, I should have written a book about JOMO and become the "guru of JOMO". I'd probably be able to have my own private island with a music festival by now.