Social media and the fear of missing out

A sense of community and connectedness

Using social media can extend the circles of friends we regularly interact with, improve our communication, foster a stronger sense of connectedness and community and open up discourse on personal and societal issues that we would not necessarily otherwise discuss with acquaintances.

Despite all these positives there are ways in which it can negatively impact our psyche and I think this is something which is not often openly recognised. We have a tendency to celebrate technological developments and the way in which they introduce new social norms.  The majority of people I know seem to have, relatively unquestioningly, accepted and adopted social media as a way of life, particularly Facebook. Even those who have had trepidations and taken a break from it have come back to it, normally due to something akin to the “fear of missing out” or FOMO.

A form of social anxiety

According to Wikipedia (which as is an adequate source as this is a contemporary phrase) FOMO is “a form of social anxiety, whereby one is compulsively concerned that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event”.

FOMO is one of those buzz phrases that have been coined and bandied about in a fairly light-hearted or humorous way, like YOLO. But actually, I think that as a concept FOMO can fuel a way of thinking that can operate in a more serious way in our subconscious and can affect our mood and self-perception.

Curated lives

As cameras on our phones have got better and better we can quickly share our photos on social media at the push of a button. As a result, people’s social lives have become visually documented more closely than ever. Whilst some people do indulge in a moan and groan on social media, most people tend to be fairly selective about what they post and tend to share positive thoughts, news and events. More so than with written posts, this is the case with photos.

Within our social networks, our peers’ personas are predominantly developed through the photos they post and are tagged in. Whilst they are interspersed with status updates, links posted and likes and shares of peers’ content – photos are probably the most defining aspect of online persona.

This can be quite misrepresentative of what a person or a social group is actually like. We tend to just see the highs; the exciting parties, the romantic weekends away, the drunken nights out, the daytrips to the big smoke. We tend not to see, or at least not to notice, the more sedate.

A sense of inadequacy

Putting emphasis upon sharing the positive is a natural thing to be inclined to do, and I am by no means criticising people for posting in this way. However, perhaps it is something we should be mindful of when we browse social media – especially at times when we might be feeling down or withdrawn in the first place. It can be too easy to be drawn into this high octane world that we perceive is the experience of those in our network, and sometimes this leads to feeling that we are missing out and not having as much fun as everyone around us which can feed a sense of inadequacy.

I wanted to use this post to raise some of my ideas on this but I plan to write future posts which explore how we might address this issue on a personal level and maintain positive mental health. In the first instance, I think being cognisant and mindful of it is a good place to start.

Is FOMO something you experience and is it fuelled by social media? Have you ever had to hide someone from your newsfeed because their updates were “too much” and made you feel that your own social life was lacking? I am interested to see what you think – so do leave a comment below!

6 Comments

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  1. 1
    J Timbreleak

    It’s a shop window. The most appealing things in a person’s life are on display. The back room remains a mystery.

    Of course really everyone’s life is shit to some extent, but we all participate in the charade of making ourselves look like the person we wish we could be, on our internet profiles or otherwise. Emperor’s new clothes on a grand scale.

  2. 2
    I Drago

    It seems there’s an attempted usurping of the term fomo occurring. Verb fomo – to wrap in bubblewrap. Also contraction of fake homosexual.

  3. 4
    I Drago

    Actually I wasn’t, those uses are from urban dictionary.

    That article is depressing. Kind of an indictment of people’s innately competitive nature. Although it’s nice that the girl quoted recognises this at 12 years old, I suspect she is an anomoly.

    I guess the problem is that we have a natural and necessary ability to recognise potential opportunities, and anxiety to act upon them. It’s kind of a novel thing to be presented with this porthole to an apparent ocean of fun and social mobility. Even if it is only a veneer, fomo is inevitable.

  4. 6
    Kayleigh Rogers (@onlykayleigh)

    Very interesting post and I think it is very on the mark. I use Facebook a lot less these days, barely at all actually, it was very easy to be amazed by other people’s lives. Plus I kind of felt like although I was seeing their lives, I wasn’t involved in many of them. There is also always that particular friend that posts photos of your groups together, where they look amazing, and you look less than the best you 😛
    It was really with photo posting of people actually. 5 years ago, I had a lot more people ask me whether it was okay to post a photo that I was in…but no one asked permission anymore by the time I left. I’m not sure if I minded but I did notice the change.

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