My brother Roger called my attention to a new term for the great addiction of the current generation. Have you heard of FOMO? It is the thing that drives teens and twenty-somethings, (and perhaps many of us older folks), crazy. FOMO is the “fear of missing out.”
Apparently having access to unending social media in our hands, through iPhones and iPads that can spray a million images and connections in our faces within a few moments, creates an insatiable desire for more and more data. People can’t decide what to look at next because there is just so much available. “I want to go to that party, but what if something better comes along? I should look at the person in front of me, but what if I miss an important text? I need to study to complete that project, but what about answering all those unending emails? My body is begging for rest, but maybe I will just respond to one more tweet.”
Talk about a frantic culture! We are in an age of non-stop stimulation. We still look down on people addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, and gambling while everyone you know, and especially this generation, believes they will die if they lose their iPhone for a day. One definition of addiction is a psychological dependency that harms one’s life. Is FOMO an addiction?
People smarter than me can wrestle with that one. I guess the issue beneath the addiction question that is important to me is how to help a generation find their inner stillness, (after the phone needs charging). How can we locate the Source who settles our frazzled nerves and calms our over-stimulated attention? How can we combat FOMO in such a way that it doesn’t prevent us from every really being in the present moment, where our actual life is always unfolding. Do we have to resort to all-out war?
Railing against FOMO will be impotent. Making people feel even guiltier for their addiction to stimulation won’t help. Preaching sermons on the evils of FOMO will just help us to deny our own FOMO. I remember again the powerful truth from St. Seraphim: “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will be saved.” What if the way to really help others is always through our own transformation? That is so much harder than trying to change others. But this is the Way.
Jesus didn’t inspire a revolution in his day by yelling at others to change. And he didn’t try to bring down the Roman empire. He opened to God’s powerful transformation in himself and told us, “Follow me, (Come here after me).” It was his own changing of forms that shook people up and made them pay attention. He called us to follow him onto the way of personal transformation. The same has been true of spiritual leaders ever since, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa.
So I can best address the issue of FOMO in our world by addressing it within me. I can commit to the daily practice of lighting a candle, bowing in surrender, sitting in stillness, engaging in walking meditation, practicing sacred yoga, stepping onto a labyrinth, eating with full attention, or any of a hundred other ways to not miss out on the moments of my own life. I can listen to my deeper FOMO, my fear of missing out on being with the sacred One dwelling within me.
There it is, a solution for this age: let’s teach each other how to exchange the FOMO on more outer stimulation for the FOMO on our own unfolding inner sacredness. May we take the time today to “acquire inner peace,” and pray that “thousands around us will be saved.”
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available as a Kindle book.