The Joy of Missing Out
What "JOMO" might mean for internet addiction.
Posted Dec 31, 2019
The dawn of every New Year seems to herald an attempt to introduce a new social-cultural term into the popular lexicon, and this year’s must-use term appears to be "JOMO"—the "joy of missing out."
Unfortunately, for many of these cultural phenomena, like their linguistic labels, they last about as long as the year’s Christmas decorations and are quickly assigned to storage (but, unlike the decorations, rarely brought out again). Whether this happens to "JOMO" or not will depend largely on whether people find it an interesting and useful addition (or rather reduction) to their lives. In part, this may depend on how it affects our relationship with the digital world. So, what does "JOMO" mean, how did it get started, and what are the possible implications for our digital use?
JOMO can refer to deliberately choosing not to engage in particular activities, but, most notably, it has been discussed in terms of tourism, entertainment, and social media engagement. According to one definition: “JOMO gives a feeling of self-fulfillment to measure the success or meaning of one's life and provides a 'density of good memories' which can be translated as having lived life to the full and is a manifestation of desired freedom existence.”1
What all of this appears to amount to is saying that, in many cases, it is better to focus on what you want to do, what you like to do, and turn away from things that you think you are being pressured into doing.
For some years, its opposite acronym—FOMO (fear of missing out)—has been suggested as a major driver of many people’s use of social media. FOMO can be defined as being the "pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent." 2 In several explorations, it is avoiding this fear of missing out that appears to drive many people’s use of social media.2,3
For example, students who report less satisfaction with their self-efficacy, their ability to choose for themselves, and their degree of being connected to others, report higher levels of FOMO.3 These levels of FOMO drive their social media use by mediating between their lack of basic psychological fulfillment and their use of social media.2
It would seem that a cultural zeitgeist for replacing a FOMO-attitude with a JOMO-attitude may well serve to limit the growth of social media usage—and may well serve to restore some of the mental health that many suggest is missing in younger generations. Not being afraid to miss out, and striving after self-initiated goals, may well be an excellent way to digitally detox.
When removing a potentially self-defeating behaviour, like over-use of digital technology, it is always good to be able to establish both the motivation and function for the use and to have some substitutable activity at hand that will produce the same effects as the self-defeating behaviour but in a positive manner. Harnessing a current construct like JOMO may well be a help in this battle, as it may shortcut that rather convoluted psychological message about working towards being digitally un-reliant.
However, it turns out that the ability to embrace JOMO may well depend on the psychological make-up of the individual in question—that is to say, not everybody will be able to feel the JOMO, and not everybody will be able to feel the JOMO all of the time. A recent study4 noted that two factors played an important role in the degree to which people felt joy in not digitally connecting. The first factor was the degree to which they controlled the disconnect—having a bad signal for a few hours (or even for days, if you are stuck in the jungle) isn’t conducive to JOMO.
You have to be in control of the switch-off. Secondly, the length of time of the disconnect was also important—knowing that you could switch on again, if you wanted, apparently also controlled the JOMO. This latter factor is not a good sign—it suggests that digital craving is still at work.
As the discussion swings onto a more negative note, as so many discussions of digital technology have a tendency towards, there is another problem with believing that JOMO will help people regain control over their own lives and remove the potentially malign influence of digital technology. Just as FOMO suggests that use of digital technology is driven by the avoidance of the fear of missing out, it may be that JOMO is also really just an avoidance response—and, if so, that would not be all that helpful.
It has been suggested that JOMO started as the result of worries expressed by Generation Z—there is nothing particularly new about that, as Gen Z does appear to have very high levels of anxiety. In one Australian report,5 it was noted that over 60 percent of Gen Zers have concerns about finances, with most of them worrying about their financial futures, and: “For many, the only way to get ahead is through sacrifice, and that means embracing the joy of missing out or JOMO.”5
This suggests that JOMO is just a way of reducing anxiety by not engaging in behaviours about which there is fear—that is to say, JOMO-behaviours are just as aversively controlled as FOMO-behaviours.
The next question is: Why does it matter if a behaviour is controlled by an attraction to its positive outcomes or an avoidance of its negative outcomes? After all, Freud, and most motivational theorists, believe that there are only two affective states that can result from motivated behaviours—"good" or "bad."6 If the feeling is "good," it’s good, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from getting a good thing or from avoiding a bad thing. The two outcomes should be substitutable for one another.7 If that is true, then why does it matter which controls the behaviour?
It appears to matter because almost all of the clinical literature suggests that positive control produces better and longer-lasting outcomes than aversive control. Aversive outcomes, such as those that motivate avoidance, have a whole host of potential problems. Some of these include the production of aggression and a generalised suppression of behaviour.8 This is not to say that positive outcomes do not have their problems too, but the aversive ones appear more problematic in that they can also elicit a strong counter-controlling tendency—that is, doing the opposite of what you are meant to do.
Will JOMO help to reduce the use of social media? This will depend on whether it is: a media fad that will fade almost instantly; just another Gen Z anxiety-driven set of behaviours that will promote the opposite outcome; or really the beginning of a cultural reassessment of how people want to live their lives. If it is the latter, then whether JOMO will be able to help motivate behaviour change will depend on what viable alternatives to the use of digital technology exist and the extent to which these alternatives are still readily available for people to engage in and experience the JOMO.
1. Thurnell-Read, T. (2017). ‘What’s on your Bucket List?’: Tourism, identity and imperative experiential discourse. Annals of Tourism Research, 67, 58–66.
2. Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848.
3. Alt, D. (2015). College students’ academic motivation, media engagement and fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 111-119.
4. Aranda, J. H., & Baig, S. (2018, September). Toward JOMO: the joy of missing out and the freedom of disconnecting. In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (p. 19). ACM.
5. Hatie, E. (16.12.19) Younger Australians are embracing the joy of missing out as financial anxiety takes its toll. News.com.au.
6. Bolles, R. C. (1967). Theory of motivation (p. viii). New York: Harper & Row.
7. Dickinson, A., & Dearing, M. F. (1979). Appetitive-aversive interactions and inhibitory processes. Mechanisms of learning and motivation: A memorial volume to Jerzy Konorski, 203-231.
8. Balsam, P. D., & Bondy, A. S. (1983). The negative side effects of reward. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16(3), 283-296.