About a year ago, I heard the word “FOMO” for the first time. Someone rattled it off in a conversation, and I asked, “What is that word?” He explained that it stood for “fear of missing out.” My immediate response was that I prefer JOMO — the joy of missing out.
I don’t know how young people do it today. I admit to using my iPhone a lot, probably too much. I am guilty of looking at emails and text messages at all the wrong times: while driving a car, listening to a homily (not my own!), during dinner with other CSCs, and lots of other inappropriate times and places. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.
Constant exposure to technology has left today's young people afflicted with FOMO. Photo via Shutterstock
My saving grace, however, is that I am not on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any of the vast array of anti-social media. (I call it that since so much of it consists of attacking and slamming other people, which is anything but social.) I am so grateful that I don’t get all those constant news feeds. One thing after another. I watch young people as they walk around campus, and they just keep scrolling to the next news feed, whatever it is. I would think that all this scanning, browsing, consuming must start to run together. It seems you can scroll down forever for more and more feed, and, when you get to the bottom, more is coming over the top. It’s endless. Dios mío.
Everyone seems to be deathly afraid of missing out on something — the latest party, the latest social gathering, the latest off-campus event. I ask students on a Friday afternoon what their plans are for Friday evening, and the response is often “TBD.” This is not because they haven’t heard about ten or more things to go to. Rather, they don’t want to commit until they are sure that they have examined all their options and have chosen the very best one — because they all have FOMO. What if I go to this party in Dillon and there is a better party in Stanford? What if I go to this event in Flaherty and there’s a better one in McGlinn? And on and on.
In her testimony to Pope Francis and the members of the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Briana Santiago, a 27-year-old woman from San Antonio, Texas, said, “We young people of today are in search — in search of the meaning of life, in search of work, in search of our path or vocation, in search of our identity. Young people dream of security, stability and personal fulfillment. . . .of finding a place to which we feel we belong.”
She went on to explain that, wounded by loneliness, family fragility, and existential anxiety, she and her peers seek for the Church to accompany them with “living witnesses, able to evangelize through their life.”
Young people acknowledge the usefulness of the “exchange of information, ideals, values and common interests” made possible by the Internet, she said, but also how technology, used in an inhuman way, can create a “misleading parallel reality that ignores human dignity.”
I believe that almost all young people could have written what Briana said. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are truly in search of the meaning of life, in search of their path and vocation, in search of their identity. They are wounded by loneliness, anxiety, emptiness. Without trivializing these problems, I think that so much of the struggle that young people face today is born from the spirit of FOMO. Because there is an irrational fear of missing out, young people go and go and go and rarely leave time to be alone, to be quiet, to be still, to be silent, to simply be.
I don’t know how young people keep up with themselves, especially if they have FOMO. Many years ago, I read this on a bulletin board in the kitchen of a Trappist monastery: “People say that money is the root of all evil. This is not true. The root of all evil is our inability to be silent, to be still, to be quiet.”
Silence. Stillness. Quiet. Every great world religion prizes these things. In the Catholic tradition, we have Centering Prayer — the invitation to rest in the presence of the Lord and, as the psalm says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10).
The Trappist monk Thomas Keating, OCSO, who died last month at the age of 95, wrote that practicing silence on a regular daily basis is like turning the radio from AM to FM. Our frequency changes, so to speak, and we learn to listen on a very different level.
If you don’t have to go to everything, to read every tweet, to respond to every Facebook post, to keep up with everything, then you will have time to rest, to be silent, to be still, to be quiet. You’ll be glad to miss out on certain events because this will provide you with the time necessary to be quiet and to be still, to rest in the presence of God.
Thus, I invite the reader to think about going from FOMO to JOMO. JOMO will begin to allow for space and silence and quiet and stillness to enter our lives. And, from this space, you learn to listen more deeply to God. You learn to know in the depths of your being the inexhaustible, relentless love and mercy that God has for you. To not know this love and mercy and tenderness of God is the real FOMO.
Join the JOMO revolution and make space to let yourself be loved and cherished by God. Let God pour out his relentless mercy on you in the silence of your heart.
Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., is the Director of University-School Partnerships within Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education, the associate director of pastoral care for students in Campus Ministry, and a priest-in-residence in Dillon Hall. He is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in February 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy and his book of reflections on this experience, The Relentless Mercy of God, was published last spring by Corby Books.