On the evening of December 13, 2013 — an almost ominous date save for there not actually being a thirteenth month (lousy Smarch weather) — Beyoncé Knowles conquered social media, the Billboard charts, and basically the entire Internet by releasing a surprise digital (visual) album. And I wasn’t there to experience it. I was in a Los Angeles hotel room with about two dim lightbulbs, a staff that lost my reservation when I arrived, and a wifi connection presumably powered by hamsters pumping their tiny haunches inside of an aluminum wheel. And, truth be told, it’s not that it would have even mattered that much if the Internet was working properly. I’ve only casually been a Beyoncé fan in the past: love “Crazy in Love,” not so much “Single Ladies.” A surprise last minute album release wouldn’t have necessarily caused me to drop what I was doing to go participate in a “First!” culture exercise in the past, so why would it now?
And yet, here I sat in a questionably planned hotel room, seeing other people’s status updates — the whole of my network (or close to it) collectively losing their shit over a surprise move by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter that effortlessly eclipsed a similar but less impressive strategy taken by her own husband just a few months beforehand. The message was clear: I was missing out, and I knew it.
FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is a condition that afflicts roughly one out of every one people. For some this fear of not being able to experience something awesome that everyone else is a daily occurrence (watch for the self-pitying Facebook updates), while for others, it only occasionally flares up. I like to think of myself as someone whose FOMO infections only happen under rare circumstances. But it definitely happens. Just two weeks ago I was looking through everyone’s updates and coverage on SXSW — the year that I decide to stay home and get some sleep — and once again that nagging FOMO bug started to burrow. What am I doing at home when I could be watching someone vomit on Lady Gaga in front of the biggest Doritos advertisement I’ve ever seen! OK, maybe not that part, but at least I could have been watching Future Islands or Big Ups — the latter a band that has yet to make it over to my neck of the woods.
The thing about FOMO is that even if you think you’re immune, your friends and peers — dicks, all of them — will go out of their way to make sure that you catch those envious cooties, and those anxious chills and compulsions can be a powerful shock to the system. I haven’t watched True Detective, for instance — and I’m not even going to say “yet,” just because being a cord cutter means cable companies and networks are in a position to punish me rather than meet me halfway — and thus, I’ve been informed (directly and indirectly) that not having any Yellow King/Carcosa theories somehow meant that culture was passing me by. (I’ve been singing along with Art Brut on this for a while.) Say it with me now: I was missing out.
Indeed, FOMO happens to the best of us, and intensifies at a moment’s notice, whether it’s someone Tweeting from a sold-out show you didn’t get tickets to, Instagrams a party you weren’t invited to, or just generally anytime one of your friends/acquaintances has the gall to let you know that they’re doing something better than you are. So what can you do about it? First of all, admit that it happens, and that it’s OK. You’re only human. We all just want to have a good time. Second, acknowledge that you can’t be everywhere all the time. If you were always doing the cool things that everyone else was doing, you’d either A. go broke in a year, B. die of exhaustion, or C. be so burned out on activity that you probably wouldn’t leave your house for at least a year. Maybe all three. Third, keep in mind that a lot of these experiences aren’t once-in-a-lifetime type things. You’re more than welcome to hold a grudge against anyone who couldn’t get you into the show or party (like I said, they’re dicks), but the band will tour again, that island getaway isn’t going anywhere, and someone, somewhere will have another party.
Lastly, and this is the most important step in facing your FOMO: Take solace in the fact that you, too, will be doing something that will provoke someone else’s FOMO. To go back to the Beyoncé thing: The reason I wasn’t in a position to download the album was because I was actually seeing The Dismemberment Plan that night, which was a lot more fun than watching the progress bar of a download. And if you’ve never seen The Dismemberment Plan, let me tell you — you’re the one who’s missing out. Sure, I did eventually download the album, and it’s awesome. But it’s not like it’s any less awesome because I waited a little longer to hear it.
Not everything that happens is going to be as awesome as you make it out to be in your mind, and not every experience that other people have will have similar value to you. It’s human nature to build up an experience so that other people will be envious that you were there, just as it’s totally human to be anxious about the idea that you’re missing out on something better. Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, but there’s always another opportunity for you to be able to say, “I was there.”