Last month my daughter and I drove over 3,000 kilometres to Adelaide and back, to attend a family celebration. We could have travelled by plane – again – and it would have taken less than two hours. And yet I longed to pass through, breathe in and hear the wide, brown land that we normally miss when we’re cruising at 10,000 metres, peering at it through tiny windows, cloud cover or darkness.
But as much as I love Australia, I do find driving the long distances on our flat, smooth and almost uninterrupted highways a bit of a mental challenge. In sparsely populated areas (most of Australia) where the towns are strung out like birds dotted along a telegraph line, and the traffic—well, you can’t really call it traffic—does little to relieve the monotony, it’s hard not to zone out and get drowsy.
Well, I now give thanks to God for podcasts! And especially for a new favourite, Note to Self, “the tech show for humans” hosted by Manoush Zomorodi and produced for American public radio by WNYC Studios. An accomplished journalist, Manoush is disarmingly honest about the ways she interacts with technology in her daily life and she uses her show to discover and explore new ways to use technology while still being the one in charge.
On the road between somewhere and somewhere, in rural Victoria, we listened to a podcast called When FOMO meets JOMO in which Manoush interviews Caterina Fake and Anil Dash, the two people who first popularised these acronyms. FOMO—the fear of missing out—and JOMO—the joy of missing out—both grew out of our relatively recent obsession with social media like Facebook and Twitter.
FOMO: Caterina started it all way back in 2011, when she first blogged about an emerging trend among social media users on Saturday nights. Not wanting to be the ones who missed out on a great party, people would make decisions about what, or what not, to attend based on the information they found on social media. Their anxiety grew in proportion to the volume of information they could access. The more parties there were to choose from, the greater the fear that they would miss out on an experience they could then brag about on social media. What Caterina called FOMO still haunts many today.
JOMO: In 2012, Anil introduced readers of his blog to the opposite phenomenon—the happy contentment that comes from having something far more rewarding to do than constantly, anxiously checking social media feeds for the latest thing. Anil discovered the joy of missing out when his first child was born. The wonder of his son’s arrival and development completely changed Anil’s ideas about what really mattered to him most, and social media lost much of its pull and influence on him. JOMO became a feature of his life and his choices.
Irresistible: On one level, social media platforms have given us new, almost limitless, ways to satisfy our desire for communication and connection, for significance and security. But on another level, they have also given others new ways to manipulate our behaviour. These platforms have been configured by software designers and developers who have read the research on human behaviour and have worked out the most effective ways to keep us coming back.
This isn’t a paranoid conspiracy theory; in fact, it makes perfect sense. If you want people to continue using your social media platform, you need to find ways to make that happen as much as possible—to make it an irresistible option. So what is it that keeps us coming back? What do we find so irresistible? Is it really fear?
Fear: Let’s pull over to the side of the road for a moment and think about fear, because fear can be a good thing. Fear is what we usually feel when we sense a potential threat. Our brains and bodies collect and process the information before us and respond accordingly. If the threat is real, our instincts to fight or flee can keep us safe from danger.
But this system doesn’t always work the way it should—fear is not always a helpful thing. For example, it’s difficult to respond to a real threat if we are trapped or if a sudden blackout leaves us in the dark. In both cases we still feel fear, but we can do very little about it. And sometimes life’s experiences train us to fear things that aren’t inherently dangerous, such as confined spaces or the opinions of others.
There’s a fear that protects us and a fear that has the potential to destroy us.
Let’s get back on the road with Manoush. I really enjoyed her FOMO/JOMO podcast, and her guests’ astute observations gave me plenty to think about afterwards. However, I’ve since concluded that FOMO isn’t really anything new and neither is JOMO. Essentially, Caterina and Anil found new, fun ways to express old realities that I think we all recognise.
Whether we use social media or not, we all understand FOMO because we’ve all felt it. No one has to teach us to love ourselves. We do it instinctively. No one has to teach us to envy what someone else has and to want it for ourselves—to not want to miss out. No one has to teach us to be jealous, wanting something for ourselves while others miss out. FOMO is a fear that protects, however it protects one person at the expense of others and it has the potential to destroy us all.
Joy: But there is still hope; let’s not forget JOMO! As far as I can tell, JOMO is the perfect antidote to FOMO because it means you’ve found someone else to love besides yourself. Anil discovered this when his son was born. An infant is utterly dependent on others to meet all its needs and its needs are constant, so new parents soon discover the strange joy that comes from caring for their child, even when this task demands self-sacrifice and leaves them exhausted. Anil was happily content to miss out on whatever was happening around him because he knew the joy of giving love and care to his little boy, no matter what it cost. JOMO takes fear for oneself and transforms it into love for another.
Love: Who would have thought that FOMO and JOMO could teach us so much about love, even God’s love? Let’s see how through some treasured verses from 1 John 4:9-11 & 18:
This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
How wonderful it is to know God’s love through Jesus, the Saviour who willingly gave himself to death on a cross for our sins, so that anyone who believes in him might not miss out on the gift of eternal life. For those who are in him there is nothing to fear—through Jesus, the perfect love of God has freed us from the fear of punishment and death, leaving us free to love him and one another.
Just as JOMO is the antidote for FOMO, so too love is the antidote for fear, because love “does not envy… it is not self-seeking… it always protects… Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:4-8).
Featured image: Photo by magann | Lightstock.com