FOMO in the time of content

We live in Peak Content. It’s a time of an ever-shifting, ravenously demanding zeitgeist. After all, do you want to see your grandchildren’s faces when you told them that you slept right through the Golden Age of Television without fully appreciating it? I think not.

But on top of Peak Content (please sing that phrase to the tune of “On Top of Old Smoky”), we’re also now in lockdown or stay-at-home or shelter-in-place or quarantine or whatever we’re deciding to call it. And I’m noticing that a lot of Content is requesting even more of my attention.

From every corner of Instagram and Facebook, every friend group, every streaming service, every book seller, every website, every podcast, come siren songs: “Join me in your idleness! Attend to my whole back catalog! Log on as I go live every evening for a half hour! For two hours! Read a long book with the local library on Zoom! Watch a movie live with Diane Rehm!* After all, you have a lot of time right now!”

*To my knowledge this has not been offered yet, but I preemptively accept.

The problem is, while I am hearing that I have a lot of time right now, I perversely disagree. And this isn’t even about the backlash-to-the-backlash about how we shouldn’t be trying to be productive now. I really feel that I don’t have time even to do much pleasant leisure. Witness: I need to walk for at least an hour every day and do yoga for at least 45-60 minutes or I start to quiver with anxiety. I obviously also need to stare out the window or at my hands for like two hours, and it takes me all morning to read my emails. Then there are video calls. Plus, if I’m not in bed for a full ten hours each night, I’m nonfunctional. When, in this packed calendar, do I have time to watch and discuss “Die Hard” with Diane Rehm? I ask you.

Ironically, all this leisure on offer makes me feel a little stressed out. There’s so much to miss out on, even at a time when nominally nothing is happening. 

Separately, even before this crisis, a lot of us were already trying to shift FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” into JOMO—the joy of missing out. (Of course, my pedantic brain cannot help but note that “JOMO” is logically impossible, because “missing out” is subjective, and by definition, anything you’re “missing” out on is something you’re not “joyful” to be “missing.” We really ought to call it “Joy of Not Participating,” JONP, but this is awkward and doesn’t rhyme.)

But at this point, I don’t even want JOMO—I want space. A fully nothing time, a fully empty day. Do I have the power to do this for myself? Yes. I could say no to everything, including my own weird leisure-time to-do lists (yes, I’m a monster). 

My childish reaction is—I don’t want to have to say no. I want there to be nothing to say no to. Just for 24 hours. Infinite space. 

But the real problem is that I’m keenly aware that time is limited. Time is not infinite. The only question is, how do I want to have spent it?

When I ask myself this, the first answer is always: “I want to have done these fun things, and traveled to these places, and written these books, and enjoyed these people, and consumed this Content.” And, also, unironically, “I want to do nothing at all.” 

But the answer underneath the answer is: I want to feel a certain way, and all those things I want to do (and not do) are bridges I think will lead me to how I want to feel, which is connected, peaceful, loving, creative, insightful, appreciative, empowered. Alive, and like I’ve lived.

This post has turned into quite the stream of consciousness. I came on here to complain about the pressures of obligatory content consumption during quarantine, and now I’ve realized that I am my own worst enemy, the way I misdiagnose the problem. The issue isn’t the content or the requests on my time; the issue is my own ability to live each moment so that I feel a little more the way I want to feel.

I hate when I do that.

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