The FOMO Plague

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FOMO or the Fear Of Missing Out, is rampant in today’s society. The FOMO Plague foots the blame not only for general discontent, but also for unhealthy behaviours.

  • Texting while driving
  • Taking calls or texts in the middle of a conversation
  • Using social media in class or meetings
  • Incessant checking of smartphones
  • Overspending
  • Over-committing
  • And more

One of the first entries on Urban Dictionary for the term FOMO goes back to 2006. The Oxford Online Dictionary added the term in 2013, the same year selfie got the official tick from Oxford.

The Fear of Missing Out is not a new phenomenon, but rather a techno-twist on the old-school “keeping up with the Jones” or the even older, “greener grass over the fence.” Take these familiar insecurities, beef them up and bulk them out with the steroids of social media and ever-on technology, and you’ve got FOMO.

Psychologist Dr Rebecca McGuire-Sniekus explained in Psychologies magazine,

The fear of missing out – FOMO – is a type of anxiety, a sort of anticipatory regret…It’s brought on by being aware of so many alternatives, by seeing other things that you could be doing, or having, or being.”

Facebook, it turns out, is the perfect platform for contentment’s oldest nemesis, Comparison. Posts, pictures, likes, retweets, hordes of followers on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or whatever–all give Comparison a louder voice–and a sharper, nastier edge.

Only the Young?

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FOMO: Texting at a Parade

It’s easy to think the FOMO plague is an affliction of today’s youth, and it is true they are especially susceptible. FOMO is the bane of young twenty-something professionals, as evidenced in a 2014 article in The Australian. One young lady talked about “tactical FOMO,” when one person posts photos and comments with the intention of stirring up someone else’s insecurities. Another confessed to “sympathy liking,” which is liking someone’s unpopular or lame post so they might return the favour on that inevitable day when the social media faux pas is yours.

Even mid-career professionals are succumbing to bouts of FOMO. Forbes magazine, whose readers are on average 42, addressed the problem in corporate terms and linked it to over-involvement in workplace decisions, chronic job dissatisfaction, and endless questioning of career paths.

Teens and young adults are, however, particularly susceptible to FOMO because they interact with technology so much. Even though today’s young people engage with media far more than previous generations, teens between the ages of 14 and 17 are not as heavy users of technology as the 18 and overs, according to ACMA (Australian Communication and Media Authority)

FOMO: Canoodling & Texting

FOMO: Canoodling & Texting

A more pertinent susceptibility stems from maturity. Most adolescents have not yet outgrown the self-centred thinking typical of their stage of development. Nor do young people have the breadth and depth of relationships that many adults do. These wide-spread, solid friendships help adult contextualise their online experiences. Most grown-ups know they have viable alternatives to their cyber-friends while kids may not.

Some adolescents may hold the belief that true friendship means being available 24/7 and may experience a genuine angst over being off-line. Because, you know, my bestie might really need me at 3:21 AM to share her earth-shattering, emoticon-punctuated news!!!

Zeitgeist or What?

As tempting as it is to say FOMO is the fault of a particular demographic (say, hyper-wired teens, upwardly mobile hipster guys, or pre-married professional women), it is more likely that FOMO is the product of our times. First-worlders are fed the belief that you can and should have it all. If you don’t, well, you must be a loser.

The myth of Having It All is the wicked step-parent of many of today’s ills, and it’s been foisted upon today’s youth by media and the cult of celebrity. We owe it today’s young people to help them untangle this muddled up story they’ve been fed and separate myth from fact. We know the truth: it is not possible to have it all. And the only “perfect life” is a Photoshopped Facebook non-reality.

What we can have are perfect moments. We just have to be present and ready to embrace them.

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Which isn’t going to happen while we scroll through cyberspace, drooling over other people’s hyped-up statuses.

 Coming Up…

Be sure to check in next week when e-Quipped shares some strategies to steer clear of FOMO.

 

Creative Commons Image Credits:

Love (of Technology) by Matthew G

Kids Play with Phone at a Parade by Bonnie Natko

Love in the time of Smartphones by Uvep3

Let’s Not  Talk to Each Other by Michael Coghlan