Living with FoMO

FoMO, the compulsive concern that a person might miss an opportunity for social interaction or a novel experience, has attracted the attention of journalists and academics as they try to understand the effect social media has on our emotional wellbeing

Feature by Michael Shea | 27 Jul 2015

Living away from home for the first time can be an intimidating prospect. It’s tempting to hide in your room, log in to social media and see what your friends are up to. To make matters worse, your friends keep posting photos that show what a great time they’re having without you. Look at them having all kinds of fun; eating ice creams, playing with pandas, riding a Zeppelin (we didn't know they still existed). If you’ve ever felt like this, you’re not alone. Welcome to FoMO.

The Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) is a state of anxiety created by a compulsive concern that a person might miss an opportunity for social interaction or a novel experience. The idea has attracted attention in the last few years as researchers try to understand what effect social media has on users’ emotional wellbeing.

Advertising companies have been quick to get in on the act. A report by marketing firm J. Walter Thompson describes the lucrative potential of FoMO. While advertising has always been based on the notion that people can be motivated by a desire to keep up with their friends, social media has intensified this effect by bombarding users with a stream of constant updates that exaggerate a sense of 'relative deprivation' (think holiday spam).

But FoMO is about more than just Facebook envy. Some academics now argue that it creates a vicious cycle as heavy internet users feel increasingly lonely because they substitute social media for real, face-to-face contact with others, which further increases their feeling of isolation, and so on. This can have a profound effect on the user’s state of mind.

A study by psychologists at the University of Michigan looked at the impact of Facebook use on the 'subjective well-being' of young adults. They found that increased Facebook use correlates with a negative shift in reported life satisfaction and mood. Alarmingly, they found this trend not only on a day-by-day basis, but even at various points within a single day.

So what’s the best way to deal with FoMO? We could remove the temptation entirely; throw our phones and laptops into the ocean? That seems a bit melodramatic. Social media is part of our lives now, for good or ill, so the only practical solution is to find ways to manage it.

How to deal with FoMO:

1. Recognise that it is based on a lie: The fantastic life you think you might be missing out on doesn't really exist. Think about it. When was the last time one of your friends uploaded photos of themselves at the dentist, cutting their toenails, etc. Social media is designed to show us the highlights of each other’s lives, like a nostalgic clip show focusing on the best bits while skipping all of the boring episodes.

2. Schedule in some screen-free time each day, ideally involving some face-to-face interaction with folks – you’ll be surprised how quickly you make friends when you don't have the option to look at a screen.

By following these simple steps, anyone can learn to live with FoMO and enjoy the freedom that comes with exploring the offline world. Failing this, just throw all your devices in the ocean and run naked on the beach.

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