Saturday, 16 July 2016


Image result for FOMOFOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, has become a pretty big feature of the lives we live today, one that seems to dominate a lot of Culture when it comes to things that are perceived as easy to consume, films, TV, perhaps music (I don't think I've seen it extended to books yet, but I imagine that it will when the next Harry Potter novel is published). As a committed Cultural Contrarian, as explained by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, which is a position I've sort of stumbled onto over the years probably starting with an over enthusiastic friend telling me I'd love Rocky Horror back at university, I tend to look at these things with either bemusement or irritation. Partly that's because I quite dislike being told what I should like, especially by strangers on the internet, and partly because the more people go on about how I must like a thing, the more I resent it and dig my heels in (stubborn me, never!) I imagine that Mr Burkeman and I aren't the only ones out there, and I do view FOMO, as a concept, as the sort of thing that you can only really subscribe to if you have oodles of cash or time, the two main currencies that dominate our lives (the third, if you're interested, is power in the social sense and the people telling you you're missing out because you haven't seen Rat King or heard the new album Panther's Roar* are using it to influence debate, albeit in an unconscious manner).

There is so much to consume these days, that Missing Out is inevitable unless you have a TARDIS, and making choices about what we consume grows ever more important if only because of that. Time is limited and too precious to waste on something you don't enjoy. If something doesn't grab you in the space of an episode, should you actually persevere? Admittedly sometimes it's worth doing so, some of my favourite books are ones where I had to invest the time in reading them to enjoy them - though I am occasionally haunted by the idea that I only like them because I invested the time and my brain is pumping out feel good vibes to convince me all that time was well spent. I guess the same may be true of shows and films that start slowly and blossom, if you have to watch six episodes to get into a series then perhaps the same thing happens, if it was no good, you would not have spent so much time watching it already, right?

This, of course, suggests that in some cases the things we like, we actually do not, but that we trick ourselves into doing so because of the phenomenon above or because of social pressure. Finding out what we really like can be half the battle, and being told that you're missing out does not help, and may contribute to the growing levels of anxiety we're seeing in society. I feel, and I also feel as if I'm sticking my neck out here, that the impulse is at least in part rooted in humanity's natural need to be a member of tribes and clubs; fandom has replaced family and tribe in many respects and we cling to the identifiers that link to other people. In some ways this seems to suggest fandom has become just another subculture, one that's mutable to fit in and around the old music tribes of the 20th Century. The other thing is that the people who are pushing particular shows may be reflecting their own insecurities, pushing their likes and dislikes hard because they are looking for more of the tribe. I'm not sure how that connects to Cultural Contrarianism, but it does feel as if there should be a link, doesn't it?

One of the rules in Culture is Sturgeon's Law, AKA '90% of everything is crap'. With an ever expanding market for the Arts, it is inevitable that we will have to spend more time working out what our individual good 10% is, and what our 90% is. Remember, you are completely right to say you don't have time to watch or read something, and that no matter how much pressure anyone puts on you, it is fundamentally your choice how you spend your leisure time. It's just that our culture hates that, which is arguably a form of cultural hegemony, as well as monkey tribe stuff, kicking in. Linking back to the anxiety, when there are reports of people so paralysed by choice they struggle to buy washing liquid and breakfast cereal, it does make me wonder if the explosion in TV shows etc. is a healthy thing. It may be better for us to narrow down our perspectives and stick to the things in Culture we know bring us pleasure, dipping a toe outside for variety every so often.

In short, do what you want, like what you want to, and if you do feel the need to evangelise, then find good reasons why other people might enjoy the things you love rather than just parroting the party line.

*As far as I know these are completely fictional, I didn't want to use real names.

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