The Return Of Everything – The Return of FOMO
New York magazine|June 7 - 20, 2021
The pandemic forced us to simplify our lives and look inward. Now it’s time to have fun again. That should be easy, right?
By Matthew Schneier. Photographs by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

Something happened in May. Or rather, a bunch of things started happening. Again. After spending much of the past year on the sofa, my social life reduced to a few close friends and family members, I suddenly had something to do every night of the week—maskless, outside my apartment—whether I wanted to or not. I was thrilled and afraid to say no to any of it: dinners with people I had not seen in person in months, which could be indoors or out; the opening of a new shop selling trompe l’oeil ceramics and vintage glass (“To release!” two guests toasted, clanking together their White Claws); another friend’s comedy show; a Park Slope afterparty; a fancy daylong picnic upstate.

But there were also the things I wasn’t invited to that clogged my phone’s interminable scroll: the rooftop pandemic-baby showers; delayed multi-person makeup birthday parties; and sweaty, hundredstrong club nights. Any conversation might reveal that the couchlock of 2020–21 was no longer in effect. New York City is becoming itself again: crowded, busy, and competitive. “Over the course of the game, texting friends,” a Knicks fanatic I hadn’t seen in a year told me when we ran into each other during playoff season,“it became clear that everyone was at Madison Square Garden but me.”

The pandemic had tamped down just this kind of social triangulating. Pod life simplified things. This could be a relief, even a revelation. “Turns out I’m perfectly happy only speaking to, like, three people for months at a time,” said a woman I know who spent the past year nesting at home, pandemic-pregnant with her second child, while her husband worked in the emergency room at Bellevue. Only later did she realize that, for most of a year, she had not suffered the pangs of FOMO—“fear of missing out”—because sitting at home was what everybody was doing. And, in fact, the FOMO economy collapsed. Ask Patrick McGinnis, the venture capitalist who coined the snack-size acronym in the pages of the Harvard Business School student newspaper in 2004, who had cause for concern. By cosmic misfortune, McGinnis, who has a parallel career as a pop entrepreneur and a podcaster, published his official treatise on FOMO in May 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic. “I thought to myself, Oh God,” he told me. “I’ve become super-irrelevant overnight.

But not so fast. In April of this year, the canaries in the coal mine started to chirp. Vaccines were going into arms, and social life was creeping back. One of the city’s most FOMO-driven subcultures is the art world. So when, in early May, Frieze unfurled at Hudson Yards—which only months before had been a weird wasteland with its own towering shawarma Ozymandias—with Vaxxed Important People dinners afterward, I knew something was being reawakened. Some of the first parties I could remember hearing about in months were happening. “The entire night, people were just like, ‘It’s the first time I’ve gone to any events with more than, like, two people in a year,’” Nate Freeman, the art-world reporter and gossip columnist, told me about the Frieze bash he hosted on a Tribeca-hotel rooftop. “I can understand people’s apprehension. But the biggest backlash was from people who weren’t invited.” When the crowds were hustled home at 11 p.m., an overstuffed elevator got stuck, requiring Fire Department intervention. Four months ago: potential tragedy. Today: farce!

In mid-May, the CDC updated its guidance to say that “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing” (except where prohibited by “federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial” laws), and the dam broke. By early June, Governor Cuomo relaxed restrictions, and, on cue, my phone buzzed with a text, unbidden, from the Pilates place I’d last seen during the Trump administration: “Hot Girl Summer Take .” All the invitations, the commitments, the double bookings, and the RSVPs came flooding back. They hadn’t been banished; they were only hibernating. And now here they were, good as new, as if we hadn’t had the time to philosophically reconsider our priorities after all. “Our message is simple. It’s time to reenter society,” Cuomo said at a press conference in early June, as a screen flashed IF YOU WANT TO START LIVING AGAIN … DO IT IN NEW YORK.

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