Remember when Netflix and Hulu both released documentaries about the 2017 Fyre Festival within a week of each other? It happened about a month ago, which is nearly an eternity in our digital era. When the review embargo for the Netflix documentary Fyre lifted on Jan. 14, Hulu announced that its own documentary, Fyre Fraud, was available to stream. It was the equivalent of frantically typing “First!” on a comment thread, as well as a bit of meta commentary considering that both films tangentially address the subject of FOMO (“fear of missing out”).
We watched, then our attention moved on. The Fyre phenomenon came and went, to be replaced by whatever else our streaming networks released or happened to be trending on Twitter. But at the risk of not writing about the next big thing in streaming right now, I want to take us back to that bygone era of three or four weeks ago, to pause and consider the underlying spirituality of Fyre and FOMO.
FOMO is not necessarily a new phenomenon in human history, but it’s certainly exacerbated by contemporary technology. We are indoctrinated by immediacy. Meanwhile, companies are more than willing to simultaneously pounce on our momentarily focused attention and exploit our fear of missing out.
What prompted thousands of people to shell out thousands of dollars to attend the now-infamous Fyre Festival was its proliferation via social media, particularly via “influencers” on Instagram and Twitter. The marketing sold the image of an idyllic paradise getaway, a luxurious private island with an incredible musical lineup. The festival’s organizer, entrepreneur and now-imprisoned con artist Billy McFarland, makes it clear in the documentaries: they were selling a vision, an idea, an image. Whether that vision was ever possible—and the films document how the actual event went up in flames—didn’t seem to matter as much as making money off of people’s desires to be invited to the exclusive party. Underlying that desire? A fear of missing out.
FOMO is not necessarily a new phenomenon in human history, but it’s certainly exacerbated by contemporary technology.
What’s the opposite of fear? The first epistle of John suggests that it is love. Much has already been written on the significance of the Incarnation in relation to our increasingly digitized reality, this disparity between the material and the virtual, the analog and the digital. If God wanted to spread the gospel to the whole world more efficiently and virally—to communicate fresh, high-quality, premium divine content—perhaps Christ should have waited 2,000 years for iPhones and hashtags. Instead, God chose physical presence and a painfully slow walking pace to usher in the kingdom of heaven. God chose human, face-to-face interactions, the imago dei instead of the digital image. God doesn’t seem interested in selling as much as serving (Jesus had a fairly strong response to moneychangers and marketers mixing business and religion). He was less about being “First!” and more about “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
I don’t want to advocate either a Luddite, anti-social media posture nor an unqualified embracing of all things digital. Instead, I want to suggest that in our FOMO era, it’s radically good news that “love is patient.” In Christ, we no longer need to fear missing out. We can lovingly resist the allure of future Fyre Festivals, however they may manifest themselves in our lives, via our patience, our willingness to forgo knee-jerk reactions or predominantly online mediation. When we practice such patience and presence, giving our thoughtful attention to a person or situation before rushing headlong into another topic or trend, we may be practicing the presence of the kingdom.