April 13, 2011

Fear of Missing Out Exacerbated by Social Networking

In this age of the Urban Dictionary, we have been introduced to a not-so-new concept, but newly coined term known as FOMO, or, fear of missing out. In common parlance, the term is used as a noun, and as an example, one might say: "I am having major FOMO because I’ll be away this weekend.”

It sort of sounds like a disease, and the New York Times recently reported it is certainly linked to a sort of existential depression, particularly when it comes to social networking.

FOMO blends the feeling of inadequacy with anxiety and irritation, leading social users who witness their friends checking in on FourSquare or by other means to feel left out. While the connected aspect of social networking brings us all closer together, particularly when it comes to formerly detached friends and family, the darkside has cooked up classic cases of FOMO for many.

Perhaps a successful business person who spends his or her time pounding away at corporate projects will see friends posting pictures from their smartphones of their current goings on and feel envious of the fun they’re missing out on. Conversely, a free-spirited bar tender might see pictures or updates of their more corporate-employed friends and feel envious of their financial success. Whatever way you cut it, this feeling of FOMO is basically similar to wanting what we don’t have, or, the grass is always greener syndrome.

Jenna Wortham of the NYT looks at FOMO as hardly a new trend. She mentions an anonymous friend who logs onto Facebook (News - Alert) and "I'm thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,' " she said."And then I wanna die."

To assuage her feeling of inadequacy, this friend will post something positive or fun that she herself has done, but the feeling of FOMO could just as easily spread to another person because of said posting. It’s a rather vicious cycle, so it seems.

This “always on” connection to the world is no doubt a factor in how we live out our lives. While great and wonderful, sometimes always being in the know could prevent us from seeking out self-fulfilling happiness. This FOMO phenomenon certainly lends itself to an interesting conversation in existentialism, but as far as the Internet is concerned, there is a pretty easy cure.

When Wortham asked Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle how we can deal with FOMO as a society, the answer was pretty simple. She said she would tell herself to “get a grip and separate myself from my iPhone (News - Alert).”  

Inventor Dean Kamen nailed it when he said that everyone is missing out on something. But Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu said it best when he said “be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Michelle Amodio is a TMCnet contributor. She has helped promote companies and groups in all industries, from technology to banking to professional roller derby. She holds a bachelor's degree in Writing from Endicott College and currently works in marketing, journalism, and public relations as a freelancer.

Edited by Janice McDuffee