Spectator: I can resist anything but temptation

Lucy Baring doesn't like to follow the crowd.

Our house is short of a bedroom, which is why Will sleeps in the hall. We had thought that he and Olive might like to sleep in the small cottage that you can almost touch from the back door, but it transpires that they have a bad case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and have explained that they have no intention of sleeping under a separate roof in case we ‘open another bottle of wine and stay up chatting’. I don’t know where they could have got this from, as I personally tend towards FOJI (Fear of Joining In).

This is partly why I refused to buy anything on Black Friday (the price-slashing day after Thanksgiving Day in the USA) or Cyber Monday (‘traditionally’ our busiest online shopping day, says the BBC. Traditionally? That was quick). Another side of FOJI is that buying stuff on the day I’m implored to buy it doesn’t make me feel I’ve bagged a bargain. It makes me feel I’ve been coerced into obedience.
Nobody knows more about FOMO than online giant Alibaba. Singles’ Day, introduced in China in the 1990s by students celebrating singledom (hence 11.11), has morphed into what is, we now know, the world’s biggest shopping day. This year, sales by Alibaba reached $1 billion in the first 17 minutes 58 seconds.

I’m thankful I don’t live in China—I might have buckled under the strain of Singles’ Day, lost my head and bought another washing machine.

However, commentators claim up to a quarter of these sales are items bought by people who are paid to do so, although nobody seems quite sure of the numbers. The method in this madness is to tap straight into collective FOMO and it obviously works. Sales on Singles’ Day are predicted to hit the $1 trillion mark within five years.

A different but equally bizarre feeding frenzy is about to take place in New Zealand where it’s been a ‘mast year’, so called because of the extraordinary level of beech seeds (mast)—2014 has seen the heaviest seedfall in more than a decade.

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More than 70% of the country’s natural forests include beech trees, which have a boom or bust breeding economy, producing millions and millions of seeds every 4–5 years with few or none in intervening years.

This year is particularly unusual as it follows another mast year, a two-in-a-row rarity possibly explained by climate change.

The seeds are eaten by mice whose population explodes to plague-like levels and who prove to be brave and surprisingly good swimmers. In a remarkable display of FOMO, they leap happily into lakes and rivers in pursuit of nuts on the other side.

Stoats eat many of the mice, creating yet another population explosion, but the most opportunistic of all diners in this beech-nut madness is the brown trout, which also eats the mice. I’ve just met an angler who’s booked on a flight to take his part in this peculiar season. He reckons he might catch a monster fish on a size 10 nymph even though the fish belly may reveal as many as 14 mice.

That fish reminds me of the Black Friday/Singles’ Day shoppers in that it couldn’t be hungry and yet it still wasn’t able to resist the fly overhead. FOMO, opportunism and a dash of pragmatism perhaps (who knows how long the swimming mice will be around and you need to keep your eye in with other sizes of prey)?

My inbox is flooded with the consumer equivalent of the size 10 nymph, tempting morsels of last-minute deals before Christmas. To resist these, I remind myself that a proportion of the trout in New Zealand ignore the mice, but I know it’s only a matter of time.

Show me some high-class soap in the January sales, and my FOMO will erupt, pushing me to the front of the queue. We all have our weak spot. Nuts.