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Wednesday 16 January 2019

JOMO

Mysteriously, not everyone is stricken with fomo – the fear of missing out. Some of us leap at the chance not to be part of the conversation, writes Lynne Truss

There was heartening news a year or so ago, when retail analysts noticed a boost in the sales of board games and jigsaw puzzles, which was both unexpected and unpredicted. Casting around for an explanation, they dared to wonder whether the 21st-century phenomenon of fomo (fear of missing out) was – mysteriously – not infecting every single person on the planet.

But how could that be? In a world that demands you check your phone every six seconds for the latest email, news feed, post and tweet, and also dictates the thousand travel destinations you must visit before you die, what sort of idiot would sit down with a jigsaw? Bolt together three bits of intricately cut cardboard in a quiet room and you’ve missed at least ten aperçus from Jimmy Carr, a flight to Angkor Wat, a movie everyone is seeing, and five cats who look like Hitler – and who can afford to miss all that? Play a whole game of Bird Bingo and you miss so much, you might as well shoot yourself.

And yet, those board games were going somewhere. So those analysts asked themselves a brave question: was it possible that, opposite and equivalent to fomo, there were people who felt joy in missing out? Was there something that could be called … jomo?

When I first read about this, I took serious umbrage. I had been actively jomo-ing it for many years, mate. Take Facebook. (Did you know that being on Facebook is not a legal requirement, by the way? Many people don’t.) For a while I had a Facebook page but I found that whenever I looked at what my friends were doing, I got faintly depressed – and on a number of counts. For one, by the sheer boastiness of the medium. For another, by how sneaky I felt. And then, well, the clinching incident was when a friend posted a picture of a Christmas cake he’d just made (in October, if I remember correctly) and I burst into tears because it made me feel so inadequate.

It was at this point that I decided Facebook was not for me. Friends now throw up their hands in horror that I know nothing about their recent trip to Bolivia. (“But we put it all on Facebook!”) I don’t care. It’s so obvious that the pressure to keep up is too stressful (and sometimes too mood-altering). When news stories are published about teenage social media users who are strangely narcissistic yet also hate themselves, I think, “Really? You’ve only just put this together?”

I’m aware that jomo sounds like a negative, but I believe it isn’t. I believe it has more to do with placing a value on peace of mind. In my own case, I think it also goes back to my mother’s example. She taught me that if a thing is optional, and peer pressure is an obvious factor, don’t be a sap. To be strictly honest, I did think social media would collapse sooner than this: sitting them out has turned into a lengthy business. I just checked and Jimmy Carr has seven million Twitter followers, so there’s an extremely long way to go. But at last questions are being asked about the effect on people’s mental health, and also about the supreme stupidity of voluntarily posting personal data online when it can so easily be used against you.

I don’t do many jigsaws, I have to confess. Bird Bingo turns out to be jolly educative – the hoopoe! The splendid fairywren! – but let’s face it, you wouldn’t play it every day. But I will continue to resist the tide of fomo. A friend bought me a book about the thousand great paintings to see before you die – and I briefly thought, “All right, then; I will accept that challenge”. But do you know what? Many of the paintings are not in museums, they are in private hands. In order to see them before I die, I would have to break into people’s houses. So yet again, I think I’ll just savour the joy of missing out.