Have you ever attended an event just because you were afraid to miss out? FOMO – the fear of missing out – plagues many of us. It can seem like a no-win situation; the impossible inhuman task of doing “all the things,” all the time. Perhaps there’s another way.
Christina Cook, award-winning author, shares an except below from her book The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. Immerse yourself in the story of her friend Chris, and discover what his approach to life can teach us about becoming human.
“With our time and presence, we give love. Simple.”—Kim John Payne
My friend Chris lives a beautiful life.
It’s late winter when I spot him a block from Main and Hastings— Vancouver’s seediest intersection. He’s standing on the sidewalk, one hand balancing his bike, another reaching out to a fellow holding a handwritten sign, his not-yet-three-year-old wedding band glistening in the February sun.
When I mention it a few weeks later, he tells me he seeks out good conversation wherever he can find it, every day. “I am so boring,” he says, “and other people are so interesting.” Others might disagree. A regular guest host on CBC’s Radio 3 for the last six years, Chris has interviewed some of the world’s most interesting musical acts, including Berlin-based electro-pop diva Peaches and K-os. He is also a sought-after solo performer—Chris-A-Riffic—in his own right.
“He’s a spectacle to see, with heartfelt gospel songs and mandatory crowd singing . . . he’s at his excitable best when his face is red with spirit,” reads one review.
Chris begins most days by cycling to a coffee shop, writing a little bit, and hoping he runs into someone to have a conversation with. The aptly-named Our Town Cafe is a regular haunt where he finds lots of opportunities for conversation. “I know a lot of the people who work there. There are music types and art types. I like to sit and make myself available to talk. It’s not that hard for these moments to come up.”
“I was sitting beside this guy at a coffee shop yesterday and he looked a bit rough. I think most people need someone to talk to. This is such a closed-off town and it seems like people are trying so hard to keep it together. I find that if you just sit in one spot, people want to unload what’s on their minds. I have a circle of musical friends who I see at shows, but there are always these people who are not that adjusted socially. I love to talk with them the most, because they have a lot to say.”
The truth is, people love Chris. He has the uncanny ability to set people at ease. The day we speak, he’s begun the day the way he always does: spending a lovely hour with his drummer and costume-maker wife, Allison. Then for a morning spin on his bike, and onto the cafe for writing and talking. Later he’ll teach piano for the lion’s share of the day (his main occupation since the age of 17, and one he loves dearly) before performing that night at Music Waste, a local music festival.
Chris is in the midst of recording a four-song, seven-inch independently-released vinyl album at the small Presbyterian church where he’s attended and played piano for most of his life.
“My dream job would be to do what I’m doing. I love to teach; I love to play music more than I ever have. My wife got me a piano for my birthday a couple of years ago and playing it is the best thing. I have never yet had to choose between work and my music.”
Though he has tour plans in the works, Chris is not self-promoting. “I don’t know where the line from confidence to arrogance is. It’s a slippery slope from confidence to I am wearing a golden crown . . . and purple robes . . . and you must address me as Emperor. I am an unmover and unshaker. I am like concrete. I just write songs and like to play.”
When Jean Vanier sat down to write his Massey Series lectures, he intended to title them “From Chaos to Life.” In the process of writing them, however, he settled on Becoming Human.
“Is this not the life undertaking of us all, to become human?” writes Vanier. It can be a long and sometimes painful process. It involves a growth to freedom, an opening up of our hearts to others, no longer hiding behind masks or behind the walls of fear and prejudice. It means discovering humanity.”
To find this meaning, we must move from chaos to life, toward something simpler, together, championing each other toward humanness.
As our culture gets saturated by the Web, more and more of us are craving offline experiences, turning to the physical and tactile.
When I began writing The Joy of Missing Out, I felt the doom and gloom of the Internet, the unease about our modern world. I felt it to my core. But on the other side of the research, the conversations, reflection and writing, I see a different future on the horizon. Smartphones and social media are our modern-day spice and sugar. Imagine having your food, for the first time, enlivened by these flavors. Of course, we’d lather it on. But, eventually, we’d settle in, aiming for more nuance and restraint. That’s what I see beginning to happen in our use of the Web.
But restraint will not develop without open eyes and hard-won battles. The battle every day to put down the phone and look up. The battle every month to abstain from buying a new gadget when the old one works perfectly well. The battle to prioritize the people in front of us ahead of the phone in our hands. The battle to carve out time to spend with the lonely, sick and vulnerable in our lives.
This is the future I dream of: one where each of us thoughtfully engages online, putting people first and using the Internet for what it is: a tool.
The future is not an inevitability. It is up to us. In choosing to be alone less, and together more; in choosing simpler moments over complicated entanglements; in drawing close, instead of up and away; in doing these things, we are, ultimately, choosing vulnerability, and in it, together, we are becoming human.
Join Christina at Hollyhock for a digital mindfulness retreat on Oct 17-21