Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Letter from… the joy of missing out (with annotations)

As the year draws to a close Arun (and Sidin) explores the anti-FoMo

It’s funny when you realise that one of your older relatives has FoMo. You typically associate a modern-day creation, like the acronym FoMo (fear of missing out) with a younger person without realizing it’s a state of mind rather than just a terminology.

So I figured that out recently because she wanted to know what’s going about in the house at all times, participate in every conversation and check if she is included in all matters, even if it’s as mundane as loading the washing machine. In the past, I assumed it to be the elderly-concerned-loving person habit of checking if everything is alright but not any longer. Should we have cabbage or cauliflower for lunch? It’s the kind of decision that can make or break a home delivery service (cabbage at home means you order in) but for her, it’s FoMo on a critical choice.

(Sidin: Ordering home delivery is one of the most stress inducing things in modern households. Especially if you have one of those irritating people who say ‘order anything I am fine’. And when you suggest pizza they will say ‘but not pizza’. I mean what the hell person.)

I am probably the exact opposite of her. I have JoMo (the joy of missing out)—I don’t want to be involved in discussions around the colour of the curtains or who is divorcing who or why some states in the US charge taxes on sanitary pads but not Viagra.

I have to be dragged out to social events because, though I am extremely fond of all our friends, I would rather watch Bourne Ultimatum the fifth time than mingle with people—known and unknown—in a crowded room where my limited social skills cannot be drowned out by the loud music. If the music can overwhelm all conversations, then my poor hearing kicks in as additional awkwardness backup.

(Sidin: I am almost there when it comes to JoMo. Almost. The last vestige is social media and news. Sometimes I log on to Twitter and think, god this is an outrage and I should have a view on something. But then I realize I can either have a strong view right now, based on nothing, or actually bother to read about something and come back to the internet in due course. By which point world has moved on to new issue. So I sit and read history books about things that happened one hundred years ago. Nobody is in a hurry to say anything about the Crimean War in 2017. No stress.)

The reason I was reminded of FoMo is because it’s that time of the year—the end of it—when people stress about how quickly it all went by, what it means to their lives, what they have achieved and not accomplished. Of course, it includes that dreaded decision of what to do on the night of the 31st, because staying at home watching some actors dancing on TV just doesn’t cut it. FoMo kicks in when others talk about going rock climbing, deep sea diving, taking a cruise or being in Bali or Bokaro for the holidays.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, FoMo is the anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.

While social media may induce it, some FoMo is also intrinsically in our nature. This characteristic compels us to socialize and connect with others—for entertainment, to kill boredom or often from a genuine interest in what our friends are up to. People these days are making investment choices driven by FoMo. On social media platforms, we trawl through images, search by names and click on every post to check if the other person is—annoyingly—doing more interesting things than us. In the real world, we make the more physical effort—of meeting.

I have a friend who travels the length of Mumbai—a difficult endeavour that any resident will tell you—in a single day attending everything he is invited to though he struggles to convince me to amble across to the end of our street for a coffee.

(Sidin: I would rethink such friendships.)

People like me skip events, weddings, social gatherings, birthday parties, turn down invitations or just don’t show up. The reason we do it is because we don’t feel “social"—sometimes or always—not because we don’t want to attend the function or don’t appreciate the invitation. We are intimidated by the idea of making small talk, be strikingly interesting and look smart—all of it simultaneously—and it takes a toll on us because it does not come naturally.

The resulting consequence is obvious—hosts assume you are rude, invitations become increasingly scarce and the world becomes as unfriendly to you as you are to it. Only the really close friends, who are able to understand why you stand out at a party like brinjal on a vegetable basket, will continue to plod on, making an effort to include you.

(Sidin: Superb. An even better option is to have no friends at all. Which sounds miserable. But you get so much more time to listen to podcasts.)

But the reason you have JoMo is because you are most comfortable in your own company (and that of people really special to you) than others’. I find infinite joy in staying home with nothing specific to do—because there is always so much to do. The internet is overflowing with good shows to watch, there are more books worthy of reading than possible and there’s always something to be cleaned or organized or broken. There are languages to be learnt, musical instruments to be practised, cooking, gardening, chasing a lizard out of the house, finding that one right-sized screwdriver that can stop the tap from dripping and prevent the house from getting flooded… the list is endless.

(Sidin: I swear to god. The amount of time you get to do stuff when you decide to miss out on stuff is unbelievable. Comfort in your own company is highly underrated if you ask me. Also this avoids all disappointments. One is always mildly interesting to oneself. And predictable.)

For the last few years, my resolution has included being more social and to RSVP more favourably, more often. I have failed each time, though I do strongly well in the beginning of the year and then taper off—like all those people who sign up for annual gym memberships in January and don’t attend after the third week. There are always easy excuses—at least in my head: “It’s too hot", “it’s too rainy", “there’s too much traffic", “there are 20 people in that event and my absence would not be noticed", “I will go for his next wedding" etc. This year, I took to heart the solace provided by websites that claimed that “2017 will be all about JoMo". I was pleased to learn that it’s driven by mindfulness, being more self-aware, shunning too much technology, and learning about the empowerment of saying “no". I have been doing that since way before 2017, so it doesn’t matter.

But next year, I will find a balance.

It will last beyond January.

The first two weeks at least.

Unless it’s too hot.

(Sidin: Or the new season of Narcos starts.)

Letter From... is Mint on Sunday’s antidote to boring editor’s columns. Each week, one of our editors—Sidin Vadukut in London and Arun Janardhan in Mumbai—will send dispatches on places, people and institutions that are worth ruminating about on the weekend. 

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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