Be honest. You like being part of whatever is going on. Podcast finales, award shows, social events, holiday specials, viral Youtube videos, TV premiers. And I think marketers are playing to our weakness for anything popular. If everyone else is doing it, we feel as though we'd be counterfeit humans to not be privy to – if not totally taken by – whatever it is. Whether in person or not, we've got to be there. Why?
You may have heard of what people now not-so-jokingly refer to as FOMO: fear of missing out. Researchers say it's a real form of social anxiety. In 2011, The New York Times said that FOMO referred to "the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media." In an article in The Guardian about a week later, Hephzibah Anderson said of FOMO, "It's nothing new, of course, but what was formerly known as 'keeping up with the Joneses' has been magnified by new technology. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare – they all broaden our scope for comparison."
Anderson couldn't be more right. Although FOMO has been "magnified by new technology," it is neither new nor unique to social media. And Christians are not exempt from it. Despite trying to keep a godly and eternal perspective, our flesh is naturally inclined toward comparison, greed, and self-exaltation, all of which can lead to an ugly fear of missing out. It is this fear that leads us to our obsessive and insecure attempts to insert ourselves into whatever is going on: a live TV event, a new restaurant that "everyone" is talking about, or (quick, check your phones) that latest thing everyone is tweeting about RIGHT NOW.
Before going on, it's worth pausing to say that enjoying good things in community is not bad. There's no reason to wage war on popular restaurant recommendations, or for that matter, on keeping up with friends via social media. And longing for relationships is a good thing; there is nothing virtuous about being lonely.
But we can effortlessly slip into idolatry when we become obsessed with the latest fad or when we are constantly checking our phone just to be sure we don't miss anything on Instagram. What's worse, the more we entertain our idolatrous heart with the ever-changing Whatever Is Going On, the bigger our appetite grows for more. Of what? It doesn't matter. Wherever the masses are focusing their attention is good enough for us. In fact, it becomes the only thing that will satisfy, though it never really does. It's a cotton candy diet.
The cycle is hard to break, too. It's hard to be still and it's hard to be silent, and we practice far too little of both. It's much easier to check your phone when you're bored than it is to feed yourself the only thing that will ever truly satisfy you – God (see Rev 3:20).
Deep down, even though we know that it is neither holy nor healthy to get wrapped up in our FOMO culture, we often succumb to it. But thanks be to God, there's good news for that. Not news that is BREAKING or trending, but an ancient message with eternal relevance. For our purposes, it may be best captured in 1 Corinthians 15:58. Having just encouraged people with the glorious truth of resurrection and eternal life, Paul says, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
We are freed from the temporal "work" of busybodies (2 Thes 3:11) by this eternal promise of God in Christ: our labor is not in vain. We can stop keeping up with the Joneses because the work of the Lord is all that matters, and he has promised that it – and only it – will last. We will not miss our Twitter accounts in heaven. Live TV specials will not matter. But things like prayer, sharing the gospel, and worshiping God will. If we keep an eternal perspective in all that we do, not only will we do the right kind of work . . . God will see it through. And if we and take God up on his offer to daily commune with us, always acting "in the Lord," we'll be free to engage our culture without being dependent on it.