What’s all the buzz about JOMO?
To rediscover the joys of life beyond the internet, it’s necessary to face up to the fear of how we think we might be missing out.
It can seem that our lives these days are of little consequence if our sumptuous meals are not presented on Instagram or our smiley social gatherings aren’t broadcast on Facebook. Adding to these pressures of social media, we also scan our email accounts on an unhealthily frequent basis, hungry for a mainly spam-free inbox.
However, increasing numbers of people are yearning for life that is not overshadowed by the pressures of constant connection. But how do we achieve a peaceful, disconnected state of mind when we are so deeply gripped by the fear that we are missing out on something? This dilemma is testing the minds of behavioural scientists and psychologists, spawning new strains of self-help literature and academic speculation.
One of the solutions is to embrace the Joy of Missing Out – commonly referred to as JOMO.
Prominent among the JOMO champions is Canadian author and motivational speaker Christina Crook, whose book The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World was one result of a self-enforced, 31-day period of online abstinence.
“I chronicled my experience with a letter a day.”
“My ‘fast’ consisted of disabling data on my smartphone and completely turning off my email,” she says. “I chronicled my experience with a letter a day, complete with news clippings, quotes, and thoughts on technology. Each letter was hand- or type-written, mailed, then scanned and posted to a blog by a friend, creating a conversation between friends and open to the world at large.”
This experience, chronicled in a project called Letters from a Luddite, boosted her passion for exploring “the intersection of technology, relationships, and joy” and inspired her book.
Crook’s decision was the culmination of a gradual year-long realisation that the internet was encouraging a process of emotional disengagement, with her relationships mediated by Facebook and an overwhelming compulsion to keep checking-in online.
Reactions to the “fast” revealed two camps of opinion. The first was manifested by celebration and admiration at the experiment, while those in the second warned Crook that she would simply fade from their radar.
Post-detox readjustment can be traumatic. “I returned to technology after my 31 days were up with fear and trepidation: I was nervous to reengage online, I didn’t want to fall into old habits. Like reintroducing food after a water fast, I had to take it slow. Ironically, at the suggestion of a colleague, I signed up for Twitter half a year after the experiment in an effort to promote ideas.”
“We need to rearrange our everyday lives and environments rather than simply detoxing.”
As is the case with other habits, a digital detox is not much use if addicts throw themselves back into it when the detox finishes.
“I don’t believe in detoxing, if it means leaving your normal environment and then returning after a ‘cold turkey,’” says Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann, the author of a soon-to-be-published book, also titled The Joy of Missing Out. “We need to rearrange our everyday lives and environments rather than simply ‘detoxing’. We need to focus on our surroundings rather than our inner strength and willpower. Our habits reflect our practices and life patterns, so we need to change these rather than going on retreats.”
The quest for more
As a professor of psychology at the University of Aalborg, Brinkmann has approached JOMO from a research standpoint, seeking answers to why people are always looking for more, regardless of what they already have. “Some would say that it is inherent to human nature to always strive for more, but I believe that it reflects certain cultural conditions in contemporary consumer society,” he says. “We are told to constantly seek more, and the problem is that it never ends, so it often leaves us with feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness, and depression,” notes Brinkmann.
The antidote to the quandary, he believes, is to learn to live a more moderate life. He suggests JOMO as a path to follow, attempting to practice this in his own life, for example, by strictly restricting the number of weekly activities in which to engage.
“We are told to constantly seek more, and the problem is that it never ends.”
Christina Crook’s approach is to fill the offline time with other activities. She advocates a weekly tech sabbath consisting of a day, or even just an afternoon, completely unplugged. This can remind us, she says, that the online world keeps going without us, puncturing our sense of self-importance.
In Brinkmann’s view, the key is to avoid temptation and develop a strategy to disengage. This is much more efficient, he insists, than trying to develop the will-power to resist. He recommends uninstalling apps and placing smartphones and tablets where an effort is required to find them if you want to check social media. Never keep your device near your bed and try using blocker software that only allows you to check at intervals.
In premodern religious cultures, Brinkmann concludes, the main problem for people was: How can I be saved and achieve eternal life? Today´s secular cultures face the problem of how to focus to achieve something valuable in this life. “Technology and other tools can help us in this pursuit,” he says. “But only if we consciously decide how to use them.”
Text Tim Bird
Illustration Camille Romano