By Elizabeth Prata
FOMO is an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. It’s spurred by social media, and constant checking of our phones and other technology to see if anything new happened in the past few seconds since the last time we checked. It’s based on an internal insecurity that someone, somewhere, is having more fun, doing something better, knowing newer news, having hotter gossip, learning something more important, eating something more delicious, than we are. It plays on our envy and our sense of self-importance. We want to be the holders of the freshest, newest thing.
The way we consume information is calculated, designed to command our attention and even monetize it, as Reagan Rose of Redeeming Productivity said in his recent podcast, “How to Curate Your Information”. We need to be purposeful about what we put into our mind and how we spend our time, he said.
Are we missing out on good things for God? Even goodly Christian intentions can be changed into a misdirection. Are we missing out on the best conference? The latest sermon? The most beautiful journal? The newest Bible? FOMO is a real thing.
And it’s not a new phenomenon.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.) (Acts 17:19-21).
As Barnes’ Notes explains, the constant search for something new was not only an activity of the Athenians, it had morphed into their very character as a people. “The latest news; or the latest subject of inquiry proposed. This is well known to have been the character of the people of Athens at all times. “Many of the ancient writers I bear witness to the garrulity, and curiosity, and intemperate desire of novelty among the Athenians, by which they inquired respecting all things, even those in which they had no interest, whether of a public or private nature“
LOL, the Athenians were so consumed with wanting to know the newest thing, for fear of missing out, that they asked about things of which they even had no interest. They wanted to know for the sake of knowing, not because the idea itself had value.
Thucydides said of the situation: The persons to blame are you who are so foolish as to institute these contests; who go to see an oration as you would to see a sight, take your facts on hearsay, judge of the practicability of a project by the wit of its advocates, and trust for the truth as to past events not to the fact which you saw more than to the clever strictures which you heard;  the easy victims of newfangled arguments, unwilling to follow received conclusions; slaves to every new paradox…quick in catching an argument as you are slow in foreseeing its consequences…very slaves to the pleasure of the ear (Peloponnesian War 3.38)
Kind of like today, when people line up to watch an argument, take its reliability or its truth based on emotion or the skill of the arguer, and go off on newfangled arguments without thinking of its consequences. Presidential election anyone? But I digress.
FOMO, or the constant pursuit of something new, harms us in various ways. Thucydides was right. Absorbing some new thoughts wholesale without allowing them to percolate so our mind can sift, decide, and determine these new things’ worth, causes us to become slaves of pleasure. Firstly, as Reagan Rose points out, of course, it is a time waster. Time is a possession we temporarily have on earth which needs to be shepherded well for the glory of Christ.
Second, FOMO also puts things into our mind that don’t need to be there. If we’re mindlessly scrolling, scanning, looking, peeking, glancing, we scroll past things that aren’t necessarily edifying. We need to narrow our search for ideas, concepts, things, foods, possessions down to to quality, not quantity and in a way that is purposeful, not incidental.
It also does something else, something we night not have thought of. Looking for something new all the time incrementally distances us from the old scriptures. We begin to think of them as dusty, irrelevant, We want something “fresh”. But the scriptures have no sell-by date!
The serpent enticed Eve with something new. She had Fear Of Missing Out. Though she had all she needed physically (living in the perfect Garden), emotionally (her husband), and spiritually (God’s word), the mere mention of knowing something else, something new, was the deciding factor for her. The serpent said-
For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5).
And she bit.
Fear of Missing Out is not a new millennium social media problem. The Athenians in their Forum were not the first to constantly seek something new. It goes all the way back. It began as sin in the hearts of Eve and Adam, and continues unbroken to this day. Resist the urge to always seek something new. you’re not missing out if you don’t always be looking for the next thing on the phone or online. Spend a good amount of time seeking something old: the Scriptures.
And don’t worry, I am preaching mainly to myself.
One thought on “FOMO in the Forum”
Wonderful perspective! I’d never seen FOMO in Scripture as clearly as I do from reading this essay, though I’d seen it working in myself and two Christian women I knew. Thanks for this clarification.
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