There’s a new problem plaguing our society. It’s not caused by a virus, as is Ebola—or the flu. It’s not violence or drugs, although I suspect it’s more pervasive than either of those. No, this is something I had never heard of until I read Brady Boyd’s new book, Addicted to Busy: Recovery for the Rushed Soul.
I’m talking about the curse of FOMO. Are you familiar with this condition? A quick Google search turned up over 75 million hits, so you might already be familiar with it (I tend to be out of touch at times). FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. The Urban Dictionary defines it as: “The fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great.”
Wikipedia’s explanation is a bit more extensive:
… 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. The fear is especially associated with modern technologies such as mobile phones and social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, which provide constant opportunity for comparison of one’s status. Through an increased reliance on the Internet, a psychological dependence to being online has developed and results in anxiety when one feels disconnected, thereby leading to a fear of missing out.
(Do you have FOMO? Here’s a link to a quiz to help you find out.)
You can see FOMO being played out every day. For example, a friend of ours used to own the Dippin’ Dots franchise for our area. It doesn’t take a college education to serve up little balls of ice cream, and most of their employees were high school students wanting part time work (and a chance to see some concerts and other events for free). Our friend’s biggest headache was scheduling his workers. No one wanted to commit—and when they did, they often didn’t show up. Everyone was holding out for the best opportunity for Friday or Saturday night, and working had to compete with a hot date or party.
See, once we make a commitment, we’re locked in. Work on Friday and you might miss a good time with your friends. Become a member of this church, and you’ll miss out on the programs of that one. Marry this person, and tomorrow someone better may come along.
Last year, Bowling Green University released the results of a study on marriage rates:
According to “Marriage: More than a Century of Change,” the U.S. marriage rate is 31.1, the lowest it’s been in over a century. That equals roughly 31 marriages per 1,000 married women. Compare that to 1920, when the marriage rate was a staggering 92.3. Since 1970, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent.
Our society has developed a commitment phobia, and FOMO is at the core.
FOMO surfaces in other ways as well. When you watch TV do you have your remote in hand, surfing the channels to see what else is on? Does your toddler (or older child) rant and rave when it’s time to take a nap or go to bed? It might even show up in such benign cases as ordering dinner at a restaurant. If I choose this entrée, would I have enjoyed that one more?
FOMO cropped up in my own life when I hit my mid-40s. Suddenly, I realized that I was never going to have time to do all the things I’d always wanted to do. In other words, my bucket list was longer than my expected lifespan. I was crushed. Until then, I’d always managed to be patient—I can’t sail off to the South Pacific because I have kids in school, but someday I will. Now I was aware that someday might never come. No wonder they call it a midlife crisis!
Our high-speed culture presents us with far more opportunities than we will ever be able to take advantage of. As I realized years ago, we just won’t live long enough. Nor do we have enough energy, or money, to do all the things that look interesting.
If we can’t do it all, we have to decide what to leave out. And that’s scary. Thankfully, FOMO doesn’t have to control our lives. There is a cure. It’s called “trust.”
When we are faced with a decision, we need to ask God what we should do. Are we supposed to make a commitment to this job, or this person? Is this party one He wants us to attend? And what about our friends? Are we worried because they’ll experience something we’re missing? Or that they’ll move on without us? Can we trust our decisions, our friendships, to God?
Remember, He has our best interests at heart, although we might not understand in the present circumstances. I find it helpful to ask, “Will this matter in light of eternity?”
Once again, we’re told to let go and let God be in control. We’re not to be ruled by fear—of missing out or of anything else—but by faith on the One who loves us.