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FOMO: Fear of missing out. A form of social anxiety where someone is excessively or compulsively concerned that they miss out on an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, a profitable decision or other satisfying event.
Abbreviations have a remarkable ability to trivialise major shifts in our behaviour: just as YOLO makes light of impulsive, spur-of-the-moment, reckless decision-making, FOMO has become the personal, internalised excuse for doing things you’re not sure you really want to do. How often have you thought to yourself: “I really don’t feel like going out, but I can’t not go out.” Worrying about the “what ifs” is nothing new, but the extent to which it influences the decisions we make, is symptomatic of the modern social condition, “FOMO”.
The Fear of Missing Out is not all bad. Having a peripheral awareness of the flip-side to your decisions helps you to see situations objectively, evaluate the pros and cons so as to reach a realistic, thought-out judgement call. It prevents “tunnel vision” and holds you to account. But it also makes you vulnerable to peer-pressure and status-anxiety – you reject your instinct or gut feeling and reluctantly give in to the social norm.
FOMO can be held responsible for many of the alarming, destructive or illogical behavioural trends that we see all around us. Back-to-back partying, excessive drinking, reckless sexual activity, impulsive purchases, media obsession and social dependence can all be traced back to a mind-set of acting in a way “so as not to miss out”.
At university, FOMO often displays itself when deciding whether or not to go out. You’re tallying up all the reasons why you’d rather stay in, when in comes FOMO like a precipitous pendulum, striking out every rational defence with the enormous weight of social pressure. Although there are many logical explanations for staying in – deadlines, exhaustion, money, ‘clubbing-fatigue’, or maybe you just want some time alone to chill and unwind – when FOMO sets in, you convince yourself you will be outcast as a social recluse, labelled “boring” or “tame”, and that the one time you stay in is bound to be the night of the year. In other words, you blow everything out of proportion, and rationale, out the window. It always amazes me how many people vocally express what a rubbish time they are having, during their night out, but nonetheless choose to stay, and go on to repeat the decision time and time again. Or alternatively, they try to improve how they’re feeling via alcohol, hoping that a state of remote drunkenness will redeem the anti-climax of going out.
Of course, a night out versus a night in is an isolated and relatively insignificant event (though arguably, students with FOMO experience this anxiety multiple times a week until symptoms show up in their academic performance, physical health and emotional wellbeing). More worryingly is how this state-of-mind crosses into all aspects of life.
It’s commonly accepted these days that there is an emotional underpinning to overeating, and I would argue that the Fear of Missing Out plays a part. The “last supper” mentality isn’t simply a case of lack of willpower – we could reframe it as response to FOMO. Overeaters explain the need to try absolutely everything on a buffet spread as a coping mechanism to make sure they don’t miss out on something really good. They find themselves unable turn down second helpings, because they might regret saying No if they get hungry later or don’t get to eat that dish for a while. Again, these may seem trivial observations, but they are the everyday manifestation of FOMO culture.
Ultimately, as humans, we are social animals. Commonality is a powerful force when we communicate, so it is natural not to want to miss out. Participating in shared experiences, being able to relate to other people, and having points of comparison help us to engage in meaningful interactions.
But the big problem is people often feel they have to do the same thing in order to have something in common. We fail to see how “shared experiences” are not made up of specific actions and events, but by being able to relate to the emotional or cognitive impact of these instances. “Shared experience” crosses those arbitrary and pedantic boundaries – it’s the ability to connect seemingly unrelated events and see how they bring you together.
The FOMO fallacy isn’t something we can entirely erase from our lives, but being aware of how this mind-set affects our decision making is the first step to asserting your own will and making your own choices. So next time you find yourself caught between what you want to do, and what society dictates, think twice before fearing missing out.