The fear of missing out, “FOMO” as the social media vernacular expresses it, is bandied about a great deal these days. This week, FOMO is particularly disruptive causing panic buying of fuel and shortages of commodities. Henry Ford sometimes gets the blame for this human tendency. Because of the saturation of the automobile market in the 1920s, he created changes in the designs of his cars so that people would want the latest model. Hey presto – desire created and, along with it, fear of being left out. I doubt very much that this phenomenon can be solely attributed to Mr. Ford. He and his advisers were no doubt cashing in on something that was already known. But that is the way advertising works – create a desire and with it comes the parallel fear of missing out.
This fear is like a pernicious disease
It is not an exaggeration to say that the fear of missing out is a disease. It literally puts us ill-at-ease and it is highly infectious. One day it is not there and the next, thanks to some ill-advised remarks by those who should know better, it spreads far more rapidly than covid ever did. “There is no need to panic buy” immediately creates a fear that there is. The result is bizarre human behaviour, rather like how the body reacts when exposed to an allergen, mistaking it for a virus. Society, already not being in the best state of health, suddenly becomes even more sick.
Don’t carry on, become calm
When fear arises, it creates all manner of disturbances in body and mind. The stress response kicks in and we feel very uncomfortable. It is difficult to think straight when we are like that. If we sit down to meditate, we may find that it is almost impossible to settle as we become aware of our increased heart rate and the strength of our pulse. The mind chases one thought after another. How can we become calm when we are like that?
Our imagination of what the future might hold creates fear and upsets our equilibrium. But instead of thinking that our fear may become reality, it is perhaps far more helpful to remember that it is just a fiction we have created. It isn’t real – we made it up.
You are still here
If we can haul ourselves back to the present and notice whether we are breathing or not, we may be pleased to notice that we are. If we stick with it a little longer, we may notice that we haven’t died yet and that one breath follows another. In those few breaths, we don’t need to buy anything or become anything or anyone else. The fear of missing out is based on the fiction that we are not whole and that we need something from elsewhere to find it. We don’t.
This is not to advocate non-action but simply to see things as they really are. Then we can respond as and when we need to. It is when we live in an imaginary future world of dread that we completely miss out on living. Now, that is something to fear.