Do you suffer from FOMO-itis? FOMO, otherwise known as the “Fear of Missing Out” syndrome, is a relatively new phenomena that is sweeping the nation. Fueled by the angst and envy caused by a near never-ending stream of social networking updates from our friends, family members, coworkers, acquaintances and celebrities, FOMO can strike at any time of the day and night where there is cell reception, WiFi, DSL, FIOS, and even dial- up. New York Times staff writer Jenna Wortham describes FOMO as “a blend of anxiety, inadequacy, and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Instagram,” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html). Iterations of FOMO have plagued society for decades, back then being dubbed as “Keeping up with Joneses,” and the “Grass is always greener on the other side.” One main difference between now and then is the proliferation of social media in our lives. Time lines, check-in’s, and photo filters are the breeding ground for today’s strain of FOMO, and with the number of people around the world reportedly syncing into at least one social networking site rising at a rampant pace, there is no limit to how many people FOMO can ravage.
Back when we had to wait for what now seems like a lifetime to get caught up with what is happening in the lives of those around us, the news of our cousin getting a promotion or having a baby usually took time to trickle down the family and friend tree. Now, news about promotions and pregnancies, with pictures to boot, are just one click away, as are images of fabulous parties, food, drinks, and vacation destinations. Changes in relationship status, moves to a new city, graduations, and birthday announcements are streamed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized the method and the speed with which we communicate with one another, while also providing a platform through which we can reconnect with old friends and family members. And for those of us inclined, these social networking platforms also provide a way for us to peer into the behind the scenes goings on of our favorite celebrities, periodicals, and television shows. But intermingled with the joy of reading new status updates, and clicking on freshly uploaded pictures, videos, and links to coming attractions, is that dreaded feeling that we are missing out on the fun and excitement that is continuously streams through our screens. This is where the trace elements of FOMO that lie dormant in all of us either remains dormant or starts to swivel together to generate feelings of inadequacy, depression, envy, and sometimes drives an unhealthy compulsion to “one up” our social media connections by feverishly posting status updates, pictures, and videos of our own. This cyclical action and reaction is what co-founder of Flickr and Hunch Caterina Fake says positions social media as both the creator and cure for FOMO (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html), the goal being to provide an incentive for people to continue using the social media application without the side effects of fear and envy which are symptomatic of FOMO. Chief executive officer of Instagram Kevin Systrom states,”Whatever angst people may feel when they see someone else having a good time is probably exaggerated by the overall effect of so many new social data streams pouring into browsers and mobile phones at once.” Systrom adds that “We aren’t used to seeing the world as it happens. We humans can only process so much data.” Yet, is the data that social media’s pushing an accurate reflection of what is consistently happening in the lives of those we follow, or is it merely a sanitized version of their lives?
Like many fears, FOMO thrives on an inaccurate perception of reality. What must be kept in mind is that the streams and streams of party pictures and vacation destinations to die for are merely snapshots of the lives of those we follow.Very few, if any, individuals lead lives that are filled with one party and life enhancing status update after the other, real life simply does not function like this. At one time or another, our lives will get complicated and twisted. Someone we love will die, we may lose our job, our home, our reputation, we may miscarry, break-up with our significant other, get divorced, suffer from a life- altering illness, and on and on. Life is not a gift that remains neatly tied up with bows and ribbons. The gift of life supplies moments of love, laughter and joy, but also sadness, illness and grief. The way we choose to navigate both the light and dark periods of our lives is what shapes our character and provides us with the presence of mind to continue onward. Social networking sites largely stream air brushed versions of our lives, versions which are further enhanced via the use of quirky captions and photo filters. FOMO is not concerned with truth, lies, or exaggerations. FOMO’s strength lies in its ability to utilize our addiction to social networking sites to take aim at our insecurities and oftentimes flawed perception of other peoples lives. Chiseling FOMO out of our systems requires a heavy dose of gratitude for the gift of life that we have been given, remembering those who are no longer with us and holding onto the hope that tomorrow will provide us with the opportunities we did not get today.
Try taking a break from social networking sites and pick up a book or magazine to read, take a walk in the park, listen to your favorite song, take a run outside or in the gym, or call up a friend to meet for lunch. Sometimes a good book, walk, song, run or friend to meet for lunch is just what the doctor would order.