The Relief Of Missing Out
This post from Gstaad Guy has nudged me to write about ROMO - Relief Of Missing Out. Although my version is different, he poses a good question:
“How could one possibly fear missing out on a terrible party with terrible company?”
The fear of missing out is a default response of the mind. Is FOMO inevitable in the world of cheap dopamine flowing freely online? Is this actually something new? Indeed the following paragraphs are philosophical larping.
FOMO is connected to dopamine. It’s a trap for which the mind is designed to fall. Whereas in the past FOMO led you to adopt a new crop rotation technique with which your neighbor just had a major success feeding his family, these days it’s connected to a mass psychosis on social media.
As humans transformed the majority of this world from an environment of scarcity into an environment of abundance, following FOMO has become a suboptimal strategy for survival. The ability to survive turned into a tendency to overindulge, whether it’s food or information.
FOMO is a lifestyle but it is not the only way to live. There is ROMO. But it is not a matter of “5 steps to follow”. The art of ROMO cannot be practiced with intent because ROMO is an innocent disinterest.
Desires, Imitation, and FOMO
Most social media feeds, e.g. Twitter newsfeed, are like a perpetual dinner party. Countless participants trying to push onto you what they think is important to (mostly) seek validation in the forms of likes among other things.
Although I do occasionally participate in rituals such as Twitter, I’m getting increasingly more aware of how empty the screen gets despite being filled with 1000 hot takes per second.
Looking at the feed I see two classes of participants - influencers and useful idiots. Their relationship is perfectly symbiotic. Influencers begin to post and once they realize what the useful idiots like - they double down.
The influencers get captured by their followers. They redirect the attention of useful idiots (followers) into self-attention. They post what they think will earn more attention. It’s a projection of narcissistic self-desire.
Desire is a function of imitation. Most of today’s desire is misinformed. It is propagated by the global mega-talent show (or e.g. your local cryptotwitter cluster) that is the social media feed. Your heart desires the many things your eyes see online. The FOMO escalates with the available optionality.
The useful idiot and the influencer of social media platforms are getting more isolated from the social aspect, without even noticing, mostly locked in a self-desire feedback loop of chasing rewards. Social media is essentially asocial, or at best - parasocial.
Human interactions become purely performative.
Herein lies the analogy between a terrible company at a dinner party and the social media feed. It is not socializing, it is a ritual of imitation and self-validation that is optimizing for the payoff (not judging if it’s bad or good). It is a FOMO trap.
Life turns into an uncontrollable and neverending hamster wheel of misinformed desires hiding behind the next swipe. We seek them out like a predator seeks out prey hidden in the jungle. But it does not require effort - it’s lurking behind the next move of a finger.
The quest of natural human curiosity changes into a quest for certainty of the next dopamine hit seemingly hidden behind the swipe. The subtle difference is that the former is a reward itself and not a chase of a reward.
Competition Is Imitation
Competition is a form of validation. It is the mind's psychological blindspot. We are very attracted to competition as we find it reassuring when people do the same thing.
Once people become part of a circle-jerk that grows powerful, it becomes a trap they cannot escape. The gravity of this black hole is too powerful as it’s financially and socially rewarding. But it comes with hidden costs of imposing destructive limitations on one’s mind.
Your mind forces you to participate in terrible parties with the terrible company instead of having an opportunity to think beyond what is currently on the menu. It is impossible to feel the peace of nurturing secret thoughts when trapped in a loud room of people brute-forcing their own FOMO.
Feeling trapped and captured by FOMO? - There is no antidote that delivers ROMO. Most importantly, ROMO should not become an ideal one aspires to because it would become a mere replacement for FOMO; an anti-FOMO, a knee-jerk contrarian reaction.
ROMO cannot be flexed because it is replacing FOMO only for display, becoming an anti-FOMO that is more to do with self-image creation. “Look at me, I am a contrarian!”
Fundamentally FOMO and ROMO are opposite, but they are not substitutes.
FOMO is a function of optionality, whereas ROMO is a form of innocent understanding; an understanding without explicit realization of an understanding. Innocent understanding relieves one from feeling obliged to participate in everything (or anything).
ROMO Finds You
When does a human have FOMO and when does he not? For example, he has FOMO for missing a party. He has FOMO because he thinks this is a worthwhile use of his time.
But let’s say there was a human who hated astrology and thought it was a complete waste of his time and there was an astrology conference. He wouldn’t feel FOMO because he’s not interested in astrology and wouldn’t feel it’s a worthwhile use of his time.
ROMO would follow naturally - innocently.
If someone came to the understanding that social events or social media are trash, they wouldn’t feel FOMO because they’re not interested. There’s no effort involved in their decision. They simply are not interested.
Thus ROMO is not a choice, it is an understanding that there is nothing that is being “missed”.
Potentially there is value in spotting a FOMO in oneself and then inspecting its source. The realization of a thing can naturally lessen the effect of the thing. Similar to when people label aloud their panic attacks, recognizing what it is, helps them to emotionally ground themselves.
Perhaps it all begins with understanding that chasing anything leads nowhere and then, if one gets lucky, one can become more innocently disinterested in a mass FOMO.
When people start realizing that a witch hunt is a witch hunt, or a treasure hunt is a treasure hunt - the mass psychosis stops working. Understanding the mechanics of a witch/treasure hunt takes the magic out of it.
Suddenly you become aware that there are no such things as witches or treasures, and this is a socially constructed ritual. You were compelled to participate because of the people around you.
The Relief Of Understanding
Indulgence is a default mode of the mind in an environment where a stimulus is in abundance. The resulting optionality renders everything desirable and disposable at the same time.
Our minds are conditioned to imitate but a human is not forced to do it all the time. FOMO is a chase of a reward, whereas ROMO results from understanding that rewards do not bring relief. But it is a quiet, innocent, realization, not an aspiration.
Those who seek a way out have the means to see when imitation and competition take over. Then they have the means to avoid FOMO; recognizing a witch or a treasure hunt for what it is. But it is not about replacing FOMO with ROMO. It is not something to do.
It is a bittersweet realization that there is no method to free us from all methods. But the innocent and unspoken understanding of this fact actually becomes that method. For a moment we can find “a subtle kind of freedom that stems from the inner contradictions”.
That’s ROMO. A quiet moment that passes. And you not paying attention.
Thanks to Matt for helping me to refine the ideas in the article.
Thanks for reading!