The Weekly Read

Thursday 21 August 2014

Why do we have a fear of missing out?

The latest of our entries in an Irish Independent student journalist competition, in association with Campus.ie

WE are in constant fear of becoming outdated; we are the FOMO generation.

Psychological research on FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, is an area of interest growing rapidly. FOMO essentially pertains to the ever growing world of social media and its prominence in not only our social lives, but our academic and work lives too.

How can we live fulfilling lives in the real world if we are so afraid of missing out on something online that our smart phones are quick-linked to Facebook?  Similar to issues such as cyber bullying, this issue did not spring up overnight. You cannot deny that it is becoming more relevant when a friend’s New Year’s resolution is to receive more re-tweets on Twitter. It may not take you by surprise that this FOMO induced internet mania can lead to more serious forms of internet addiction and efforts to combat it may be in vain.

My introduction to FOMO began with involvement in workshops where people discussed their views on this issue. The more they spoke the more I realised that I had become a victim of FOMO. Facebook was abandoned immediately and energy was exerted in a detailed review of the literature; #FOMO via Twitter. How can we pinpoint where this phenomenon began?

One would be inclined to believe that those who have grown up with social media will be most affected by this compulsive need to be involved in the goings on of the cyber sphere than those who grew up without it.

There is another group to consider, however; those who grew and progressed with it.
 We are not the Facebook generation. We are the generation that Instant-Messaged on MSN while arguing about Top 16s and other halves on Bebo. We are the generation that transitioned from dial-up to wireless so thoughtlessly we could not have fully appreciated this achievement.

We are the generation that used disposable cameras before digital cameras existed and amateur Photoshoppers became professional Instagram users.  We have seen so many transitions in our lifetime that we are in constant fear of becoming outdated; we are the FOMO generation.

Research has emphasised the fundamental human need for inclusiveness and human connectedness. Extroverts and introverts alike need social contact to be content in their lives. Where they differ is in the type of contact they require for this need to be satiated.

An extrovert is likely to continue to seek physical contact regardless of how connected they are to others in online forums but introverts are more at risk to becoming lost in this world that exists within four walls. It eliminates the need to engage in the real world beyond their doorsteps, letting people hide behind screens in comfortable chairs where they are free to convey their ideal selves. Here lies the seed that gaming giants such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty help to flourish, but they are not the only ones.

From Reddit to Tumblr there are now countless websites to suit and satisfy every need and interest. More seriously, pro-anorexia sites could even result in severe, often fatal, health problems.

Some people try to combat this almost essential social conduct by disabling personal profiles. This attempt is often futile, beaten down by the effortlessness of joining websites through the now prominent addition of ‘log-in through Facebook’ or ‘log-in through Google’.

Class-reps create Facebook groups to keep classmates in touch, and you certainly can’t participate in a world you don’t even exist in. Businesses post online offers, many of which are now connected to the Facebook ‘Check-in’ application. The more people realise what they are missing out on, the more often disabled profiles are reactivated, allegedly temporarily.

FOMO is a powerful social motivator.

The key way to help you use this to your benefit rather than your detriment, would be to find ways to help it motivate you and your own individual goals by minimising the amount of time you spend using social media every day.

The first step in this process could be to get your phone and delete the convenient links it allows you create with these sites. If you have maintained a fondness for grammar despite the widespread ‘text-speak’ social media encourages, humour me at least, you may have noticed an error. The correct abbreviation of Fear of Missing Out should be ‘FMO’; even ‘of’ feared the exclusion.

 

Ruth Ní Bheoláin is a psychology student at NUIG

 

If you’re a student who can write concise, topical stories and is deeply engaged in student life, join the Contributors’ Competition and your stories could be published on Ireland’s most popular news website, Independent.ie, this semester.

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