A new pandemic has been sweeping the land. However, unlike COVID, this pandemic does not spread by sneezing or physical contact. Instead, it spreads through people sharing status updates, videos or photos every now and then. The classic symptoms include a deep feeling of dissatisfaction, jealousy and a need to be always in the limelight.
The first FOMO case
A long time ago, even before the beginning of time, there lived a woman called Eve and a man named Adam in a garden called paradise. Adam and Eve were quite happy in this garden. They had the freshest fruits to eat, clean air, flowing water and everything else that they could possibly want. This garden was a gift from Adam’s father who had created this paradise for his children. It was a huge garden and they could freely roam in it. However, there was condition. They could not eat the delicious apples that hung from the tree of knowledge. Initially, Eve did not pay much attention to this aspect as she was busy exploring the garden. After a while, however, when she had finished exploring everything, she started wondering about this apple tree. One day, as she sat in its shade wondering if the apples were sweet enough, a serpent slithered up to her. He pretended to be her friend and asked her to at least try one of the apples. When she resisted the idea, he tempted her and said that she might miss out on the knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps, if she gets that knowledge, they might even become greater than Adam’s father. Eve did not want to miss out on the opportunity to prove herself to be better than Adam’s father, so she ate the apple and shared some with Adam. When they ate the apple, they were hit with the realization that they weren’t wearing any clothes. So, they hid when Adam’s father came to meet them. Soon, he realized that they had disobeyed him and banished them out of his paradise. Thus, Eve and Adam became the first classic case of FOMO or the fear of missing out.
The first in everything
When I read the modified story of Adam and Eve in Patrick James McGinnis’ book ‘Fear of Missing Out: Practical Decision Making in a World of Overwhelming Choice’, I remembered another story that I had read long back. This was a part of Chacha Chaudhary’s adventures, an old man whose brain worked faster than a computer. One of my favourite comic strip was about a boy who wanted to be the first for everything. The boy’s mother was quite proud of her son who made sure that he was first in the line for anything, whether supermarket or toy store or ice-cream. One day, Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu meet this boy sitting near a construction site. They ask the mother about it. The mother proudly tells them that her son is waiting for this football factory to be built so that he can be the first to get the first football.
At the time, I did not thing much of this comic strip. When I narrated this story to my father, we just chuckled at the idea and thought the entire idea was quite preposterous! After all, who would go to that extent for anything? Life was not all that complicated in those days. Yes, there have been shows like ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ which inspired people to spy and sometimes emulate their more affluent neighbours, relatives (London wale uncle or US wali aunty) and friends but then that was it.
Invaded by #FOMO
The word FOMO or the fear of missing out is a recent addition to my personal dictionary. About a couple of years back, my daughter and I had gone to a fete. I told my daughter that we had to get back in two hours because I had an appointment. My daughter agreed. When we reached the fete, my daughter kept running from one stall to the other. She would buy something to eat and then go running to another stall to check it out. “What is the hurry?” I asked her. She said, “I don’t want to miss out on any of the stalls.”
A few days earlier, my daughter who loves art and dance wanted to enrol in every kind of dance there was and that too in the online classes. Why did she want to do it? Simply because her friend had opted for not just classical and western but also ballet too. So, she too did not want to miss out on the experience.
These incidents made me realize that FOMO had invaded my life too. Earlier, whenever my mother used to talk about how the other children are studying for long hours or participating in this or that, I used to brush it off as her concern. But now, I realized that Corona was not the only pandemic in my life. I also had FOMO to deal with. The only difference- the medicines for FOMO are not available in any store in the world. But I had to know more about it.
In your face
“FOMO has been there from the very beginning of our lives. But today, because of the social media, it is in our face,” says Dr. Abhimanyou Siingh Raathore, psychologist, brain health coach and clinical hypnotherapist. “Everyone’s status is in your face, everyone’s pictures are in your face. Today, you don’t have to go to someone’s house or meet someone physically to know the latest events in their lives. Social media can give you a minute-by-minute update with pictures, activities and a detailed description. And this doesn’t not help you to feel better about yourself.”
Agrees psychologist Dr. Manasi Das, “When a lot of information is being shoved on to you, it naturally gives rise to a feeling of inadequacy or not doing enough. There are times even I as a counsellor feel that I am not doing as much as I should because I see everyone updating their status and feed by the hour on Facebook or Instagram or other social media channels. Someone is doing this program, someone is doing that discussion, someone is raising some awareness, which naturally makes me feel that everyone is doing something and I are not. If that can happen to a person like me, who is quite well aware of this phenomenon, imagine what it can do to people who are unaware!”
The Indian context
So, is there any difference in the Indian FOMO and the FOMO people experience in other countries? “Historically speaking, if you look at the Indian culture, besides comparing our lives with our neighbours and friends, we didn’t have much of FOMO earlier because we had a concept called ‘kismet’ or ‘destiny’,” says Abhimanyou. “We had concepts like karma, and kismet which helped people top make peace with what they couldn’t achieve. Moreover, there was also a concept of being content with whatever one had. However, we are slowly losing touch with that spiritual aspect.”
“The Hindu mythology had goddesses like Santoshi Mata who was said to be a goddess of contentment because Santosh means satisfaction or contentment. Santoshi Mata herself was a daughter of Lord Ganesha, the harbinger of new things and his wives Riddhi (prosperity) and Siddhi (spiritual power). She was also said to be the sister of Ganesha’s sons Shubh (auspicious) and Labh (profit). So basically, the real meaning was that exploring your own abilities and creating your own challenges will help you to create prosperity and profit which will lead to inner peace and contentment. However, these days people are not bothered about exploring their own creativity and abilities. As a result, we are not even satisfied when we have more profit and prosperity because we are constantly being bombarded with information about other people’s achievements, happiness and prosperity.”
…To be continued
This article by Shailaza Singh was published in Rashtradoot’s Arbit Section on 21 September 2021