How to Make This the Summer of Missing Out

You could say I had the epiphany when, in the middle of a flight to Los Angeles — and a busy New York workday — the Wi-Fi stopped working. Two very odd things happened in quick succession. First: I did not fall out of the sky. Second: After recovering from the initial fury-implosion, I worked more intently and productively than I had in ages.

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Hayley Phelan
, New York Times

You could say I had the epiphany when, in the middle of a flight to Los Angeles — and a busy New York workday — the Wi-Fi stopped working. Two very odd things happened in quick succession. First: I did not fall out of the sky. Second: After recovering from the initial fury-implosion, I worked more intently and productively than I had in ages.

What was this strange, unburdened feeling, I wondered, as I stepped off the plane hours later? Turns out the internet had a word for it already: JOMO.

JOMO, is not a misspelling of “mojo” but, rather, stands for “joy of missing out.” The antithesis of FOMO (fear of missing out), JOMO is about disconnecting, opting out and being OK just where you are.

It’s a lot like that age-old wisdom about being present — only retrofitted for a world in which missing an email could be a fireable offense, and deleting Bumble could mean you don’t go on a date for another three months. Like it or not, we need our technology devices; we just don’t need them as much as we think we do. JOMO is about finding that balance.

“To me, it’s about setting boundaries,” said Cara Wenig, 30, a sales rep and JOMO practitioner. “In my work, it is really important to respond quickly and to be on top of things so it’s not as if I can completely unplug. But I can be more mindful about it.”

Given JOMO’s Luddite bent, it’s (perhaps) surprising that the tech industry has recently come on board. This spring, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, took the stage at the company’s annual developer conference with the words “Joy of Missing Out” projected behind him.

Pichai was announcing a new “digital well-being” initiative that aims to encourage healthier tech habits via several tools, including a dashboard on its newest Android that shows you how much time you spend per app, suggested breaks from marathon sessions and batched notifications to avoid the update-every-second situation.

Apple announced, soon after, its own stab at digital health: a “Screen Time” dashboard, which gives you a peek into your digital use, and enhanced “Do Not Disturb” functions.

Of course, it’s safe to assume that Google and Apple are not doing this solely out of the good of their hearts. Over the past few years, research has been building on the impact of our constant tech use, including one study that suggests the rising suicide rate among teenagers may be linked to smartphone use and social media.

“We see time and time again that the constant distraction is making people feel very unhappy,” said Ashley Whillans, a behavior scientist, who has been studying the relationship between happiness, time and money.

All of which means missing out can be a good thing. But how best to do it?

1. Know that you likely have a problem.

If you’re wondering whether you may also be engaging in unhealthy tech habits, here’s a helpful pop quiz:

Do you own a smartphone?

That’s it. Because if you answered yes, you’re essentially carrying around what the Center for Humane Technology, an organization working to spur reform in the tech and media industries, calls a “slot machine” in your pocket. Play it enough times, and you’re bound to get hooked. This isn’t an accident. This is big business.

“Tech companies have spent the last 10, 20 years building internet and mobile products that are addictive on purpose,” said Dan Frommer, editor-in-chief of Recode. “There is a threshold where utility becomes addiction, and I think it’s safe to say a lot of the most popular products today have taken it too far.”

2. Monitor your digital diet as you would your food diet.

Today, many of us are mindful about what we put into our bodies because we know how certain foods make us feel: Gluten may make one sluggish, say, while sugar can worsen anxiety. But what about when it comes to our minds? Imagine what that extra hour of mindless scrolling is doing to it.

Try making a mental note (or keeping a diary) on your digital habits. Apps like Moment, which help you track your app usage, can help, as will the forthcoming dashboards from Google and Apple. Then experiment with eliminating or limiting the amount you engage in each one. See what you learn.

Instead of focusing so much on the contents of our food, we may do better to cultivate awareness around which mental and digital activities actually nourish us — and which send us into a tailspin of anxiety and despair. Gorging on clickbait content and empty-calorie YouTube sessions probably isn’t doing us any favors. But, as with our tummies, starvation isn’t the answer.

Don’t think of JOMO as a detox, but more like an integral part to a healthy, well-balanced nutrition plan for your brain. You may not always want to do it, it may not always feel natural or fun, but, like that kale smoothie you choke down or the probiotics you spring for at Whole Foods, you do it because it’s good for you.

3. Manage people’s expectations of you (and set them low).

Begin to cultivate the expectation that you may take a while to respond to text messages and emails. If you feel undue pressure from family and friends, you can let them know ahead of time that you may not always be available.

Google’s “director o’ design” (his real title), Glen Murphy, said one of the most surprising realizations he took out of his digital well-being research was how much “social factors” played a role in determining “expectations of responsiveness.”

Certain people like to respond to things right away, while others take their time. The problem is, friends and colleagues may have certain expectations no matter which camp you’re in. If you don’t respond quickly, they freak out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“I think we all have the friend or the boss that takes days to respond to an email,” Murphy said. “We can all strive to have that freedom.”

4. Do things with intention.

Next time you find yourself about to binge-watch that next series on Netflix, remind yourself what you could be doing instead, like catching up with a friend on the phone, or simply getting more sleep. Of course, the last episode of say, “The Staircase,” may win out — but at least you’ll be choosing it with intention.

“A lot of the time, we fail to recognize the moments in our lives actually become our lives,” Whillans said. “The moments that we’re spending on our computer checking email slowly accumulate to hours and days, time we’re not spending living our lives.”

Whillans’ research suggests that we’re pretty bad at recognizing the opportunity cost that comes with spending money, and even worse at seeing the opportunity cost when it comes to time.

“We don’t spontaneously recognize all the things we’re not getting by saying yes to something,” Whillans said. She has found, however, that if people were reminded of what they were giving up to spend that extra hour online, or doing chores — namely, time they could be spending with family, friends or learning a new skill — they often choose to give up on the time-sucking activity, and feel happier in the process.

5. Hold the tech industry accountable.

There’s a reason abstinence often doesn’t work: It’s too difficult.

So, as long as we’re not all going to collectively delete our social media accounts or chuck our phones out the window, we’ll need the tech industry to cooperate.

“The measures that a person can take are what we call Band-Aids,” said Max Stossel, head of content and storytelling at the Center for Humane Technology. “Ultimately we really need changes like the ones Apple and Google are just starting to explore. We only have so much willpower to resist.”

Both Apple and Google benefit from consumers using their product to the point of addiction, Frommer said, “but they also are probably starting to have people burn out and stop using their device altogether,” which no business wants.

“It will be really crucial to see how these companies will follow through with the announcements,” Frommer said. “Are they just following a trend for good PR, or is this the kind of thing they really value and build into everything they offer.”

Time — that precious and all-too-scarce commodity — will tell.

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