Picture the situation: it’s quarter to ten at night and you’ve just come back from the library. Feeling like your brain has turned to cold porridge, you reach out a trembling hand for the kettle, wondering if there’s still some decaf tea in the cupboard. Your pyjamas await, as does the latest episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You plug your phone into charge, and as you do, it buzzes in your hand – it’s your pal, letting you know that they’ll be heading to pre-drinks in fifteen minutes. And, against all sense, you close your laptop and get out your nice clothes. And you leave your flat again, despite still being exhausted and wanting your decaf tea instead of a vodka mixer.
What could possibly be the motivation behind this nonsense? It’s the bane of a lot of people, a relatively newly defined affliction driven by social media and good old fashioned insecurity. FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is the feeling of anxiety that you get when you think about all the fun people are having without you. It’s the unpleasant sinking feeling in your stomach as you scroll through your Facebook feed filled with photographs of everyone you know having fun – whether that be climbing a mountain in Nepal or taking a bathroom selfie at a party – whilst you sit at home or in the library. It’s the reason you accepted five separate Halloween party invitations and panicked about only going to two in the end. FOMO is checking your phone in a lecture or right before you fall asleep. FOMO is horrible, and FOMO is depressingly common.
It seems to be focused on a particular age demographic as well. According to a 2012 JWTIntelligence survey, up to 70% of millennials admit they experience FOMO. We are an Internet generation, constantly connected to each other and the world around us through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn… You name it, everyone has an account of some kind. Wi-Fi and smartphones are ubiquitous, meaning one doesn’t even need to be in front of a computer to be linked in to the constant chatter of Internet socialising.
And with our constant need to see and be seen online comes a whole host of issues. People have experienced insecurity and anxiety about social status throughout history, but there is no doubt that social networking has thoroughly exacerbated the problem. On Facebook, everyone looks like they’re having more fun than you. On Instagram, everyone looks like they’re happier than you, and also had a fancier breakfast. Everyone has more friends, a more interesting life, a fuller human experience than you. Of course, we subconsciously know that just because someone has visual evidence of them having a fab night out on the town doesn’t mean they’re having a fab life overall. But still, the feeling persists. We open up Facebook again, and wonder if we’re lonely, or just bored.
But the thing about FOMO is if everybody experiences it, then what is there to worry about? If everyone is as insecure and worried as you, then the FOMO feeling of being alone in a world buzzing with social possibilities just isn’t a logical one. It sounds self-evident, but pictures aren’t the whole story. Maybe that person climbing the Nepalese foothills is actually so homesick they can’t enjoy themselves. Maybe that selfie was only taken in the bathroom because the person taking it hated the party and wanted peace and quiet. It seems to be a commonly accepted truth that of course social media isn’t the whole truth, and yet, FOMO persists.
Is there any way to combat FOMO? Personally, I try to evaluate whether I actually want to go to the party, or whether I feel obligated to attend due to my own insecurities. There is no possible way to experience everything the world has to offer, and the thing about FOMO is that it doesn’t end. No matter how many parties you go to, no matter the amount of photos you’re tagged in, you’ll still have those anxious evenings at home by yourself. There is no level of social engagement that will satisfy the anxiety that FOMO causes, and being exhausted and burnt-out and moody from trying to be everywhere is no fun.
So I would recommend switching off and going back to your decaf tea. Let’s make JOMO a thing instead – the Joy of Missing Out. Try having a night in, enjoy your TV shows and order in some pizza, and log out of your social networks so you can resist the urge to make a Facebook status about it. Maybe everyone you know IS having a fantastic night out right now, and maybe they’re not, but as long as you’re having fun right now, does it really matter?
[Morgaine Das Varma]