“We are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do… We share our lives with the people we have failed to be,” says psychologist Adam Phillips.
In the time before smartphones, when Nokias and Motorolas were the pinnacles of modern technology, sending SMS messages was a categorically different experience. There were strict character limitations, and when the average text message cost 20 cents to send, being economical with words was essential. We had to be thrifty, and thus, acronyms of frequently used phrases started to boom.
Yet, nowadays, despite having access to free messenger apps with endless character capacity, ‘LOL’, ‘OMG’, and ‘BRB’ are still widely used by young people. Is this symptomatic of laziness? A decreasing level of literacy? Or is it just another symptom of the excessively busy, digitally distracted times that we live in?
FOMO: The Fear Of Missing Out
“During my fourth year exams (when I was 16) I was put under pressure due to the fact that I’d be missing out if I switched off from social media. Therefore, I could not fight my urge and focus properly on studying due to my worry.” 
Another popular acronym is ‘FOMO’, which stands for ‘the Fear Of Missing Out’. This phrase encapsulates the feelings of anxiety and isolation a person experiences when they are excluded from an activity which everyone else is participating in. A report conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, claims that FOMO is “the worry that social events, or otherwise enjoyable activities, may be taking place without you present to enjoy them. FOMO is characterised by the need to be constantly connected with what other people are doing, so as not to miss out. FOMO is associated with lower mood and lower life satisfaction.”
While people have always been apprehensive about being left out, FOMO has become a particularly pervasive problem due to the widespread popularity of social media. Being active on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook means that young people are constantly exposed to images of their peers doing fun things without them. As people only tend to post carefully selected, edited and filtered snapshots of their real life on social media, it can create the illusion of a life which is perpetually perfect and happy. While most adults know that this does not mirror reality, this can be particularly upsetting for young people who feel as if their mundane life doesn’t compete with other people’s ‘perfect’ lives.
Yet, as irony would have it, this recent rise in the need for inclusion and fear of exclusion has led to people being less present in each given moment. Social media has caused us to be so inundated by updates and snapshots of other people’s highlight reels that we’ve begun to covet pseudo-experiences; we’d often rather capture the moment in a carefully orchestrated social post than be physically present within it.
JOMO: Rediscovering The Joy Of Missing Out
JOMO, or ‘the Joy Of Missing Out’, is a more recent terminology, which seeks to remind people to try and “find balance within a wired world” . The Joy Of Missing Out is a global call to action; reminding people throughout the world to occasionally disconnect from their devices and reconnect with reality.
It’s fair to say that people have never liked being left out. In fact, the anxiety this causes us could be considered a “species-typical adaptation to prevent social exclusion” which stems from the evolutionary benefits (such as social resources, reproduction, and general survival) of being a member of a group . So, while FOMO is not a new phenomenon, it is one that has been significantly exacerbated by technology and social media. Previously, we were not faced with 24/7 access into the lives of others. We had less to compare ourselves to, and less to compete with in order to feel fulfilled in our lives.
As rates of youth anxiety and depression soar, rising by 70% in the past 25 years , it’s crucial that we help young people to discover the joy of missing out.
Encouraging Children To Embrace The Joy of Missing Out
“Children are often in a state of joy and it’s because they’re present, they’re living in the moment, they’re not focused on their worry about the future or concerns about the past. They’re enjoying their moment now,” says psychology professor, Dr. Joti Samra.
Today’s children are immersed in a technologically dependent world from the moment they first open their eyes in the morning, and they grow quickly accustomed to living life online. While parents need to be there to support them in their explorations of the online world, they also need to be there to remind them to embrace the more tangible experiences in life. Children need to learn how to be wholly present in the now, without being preoccupied with their social network feeds or smartphone notifications, and their success in doing so will be hinged largely on their parents modelling this behaviour in the home.
The joy of missing out is driven by mindfulness and it’s about “being more self-aware and giving yourself time alone to think (and) reflect” . As we become increasingly burnt out by technology, it becomes increasingly important for us to feel empowered to say ‘no’. As a parent, you need to feel empowered to occasionally say no to those late night work emails and phone calls; just because you can be accessible 24/7, it doesn’t mean you should be.
“I can hear about my friends’ soft-serve experiences and Icelandic vacations when I see them for dinner, and I can call my family anytime I want. By taking a stand against my unlived life and some of the things that remind me of it, I can now focus on the life that I have, which despite not being perfect, is actually pretty great. I had been missing out on a lot of things this whole time, it turns out – just not the things I thought.” 
1. Christina Crook, 2015. The joy of missing out.
2. The Royal Society for Public Health, 2017. #StatusOfMind: Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
3. David M Buss, 1990. The evolution of anxiety and social exclusion. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol 9, No. 2, pp. 196 – 201.
4. Corrine Barraclough, 2017. 2017 will be all about JOMO.
5. Jeremy Freed, 2018. The joy of missing out.