Discussing cultural FOMO (fear of missing out)

In a world where it has become so easy to display one’s likes on Facebook, follow one’s heroes on twitter, and show off one’s style tastes on Instagram, FOMO (fear of missing out, not just a club syndicate in Oxford) has come to aff ect our view of culture too. I saw a trailer for Breaking Bad just before it began to be shown on television, and decided to watch it because I liked Malcolm in the Middle and thought it would be similar, as Hal was in it as Walter White

Possibly fortunately, since I’d certainly have been disappointed in looking for a light-hearted comedy, I never got round to it. But then, years later, I suddenly noticed that I was the only person not hooked. Imagine how cool I’d have been if I’d watched from the start, I thought ruefully. I’d have been a proper hipster, liking it before it was cool!

One of my biggest regrets since arriving at Oxford is that, when Disclosure played the O2, I sold back my tickets as I wasn’t feeling too keen. Now whenever people tell me how great the night was, I feel awful for not going. But why? On the day I was just not in the mood, and there is no guarantee that I would have got any enjoyment. 

So often it is possible to feel completely left out when a discussion pops up about the latest book you have yet to read, or film you thought looked really dull so gave a miss only to find it was the greatest new cult classic since Pulp Fiction. Advertisers takes full advantage of this fear, playing on the natural desire to be included in conversations by presenting everything as an unmissable cultural event, from the new Bridget Jones book to the One Direction films.

They coerce people into joining in, just in case they end up being left out when all their friends start chatting and reminiscing about how fantastic it was. Part of the joy of watching Game of Thrones seems to be launching into conversation about baffling plotlines with one fellow afi cionado at meals,  abandoning the rest of the party to boredom and mild annoyance.

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The problem only gets worse as you consumer more culture. If you pride yourself on being knowledgeable about comedy, it is much more balking to be excluded from a debate on some new Channel 4 show that you forgot to watch on 4oD than it would be to find yourself left staring into the middle distance when a chat begins about how best to produce Puccini. 

But there is no necessity to indulge these fears of exclusion. It’s almost certainly counterproductive to watch or read something you don’t think you’ll enjoy purely so that other people will be impressed and you won’t be left out, since you may well expose your feigned excitement in front of true fans, and inevitably will fail to engage with something in the zeitgeist at any point. So it is better to feel freed from the social pressures of having no idea about what’s going on in Orange is the New Black, and get on with life.