The fear of missing out (FoMO)
What is that and how has social media worsened the problem?
What is the fear of missing out (FoMO)?
The Fear of missing out (FoMO) is a form of social anxiety. It describes the obsessive fear of missing out on a social interaction, an unusual experience or some other satisfactory event.
This feeling is particularly associated with or reinforced by modern technologies such as cell phones and social networks.
In 2004, former Harvard student Patrick J. McGinnis first mentioned the term in an article for his campus newspaper. He used it to describe a feeling of the then still young digital generation.
Without technical devices
The fear of missing out is as old as society. People organize themselves into groups, but are only temporarily part of them. Group membership is a human need, so the feeling of being missing can become uncomfortable.
Duke University psychologist and behavioral scientist Dan Ariely calls the phenomenon the fear of making wrong choices about how to spend one's time, possibly missing out on the most popular parties, the most fun actions or the best experiences.
This leads to a constant inner turmoil, rushing from event to event. Often there is a constant glance at the clock and the worry that one might miss something somewhere else. Thus, the loss of the ability to enjoy things often goes hand in hand with the phenomenon.
In connection with technical devices
In its manifestation in connection with technical devices, FoMO refers to the pressure to be constantly present on the internet so as not to miss any experience or encounter. This feeling, which has always existed, has intensified in recent years under the influence of digital media and mobile means of communication.
Media is accessible at all times, making society accessible regardless of time or place. Social media provide a faster and deeper insight into the lives of friends and acquaintances than would otherwise be possible. Through constant status updates, users of Facebook, Twitter and Co. can be informed about the activities of their friends.
Behavioral researchers believe that this increases the fear of missing out on important things. In addition, social networks offer the opportunity for constant comparison with others. Experts assume that overload is behind the phenomenon, because the amount of information one receives via social networks is too great.
FoMO occurs both in people who use social networks only occasionally and in those who use them excessively. The condition is often considered a syndrome for the communication-dominated age.
FoMO in connection with vaccination against COVID-19 2021
Computer science professor Gloria Mark considers Fomo to be the decisive factor pushing people to vaccinate against COVID-19. Then-word creator Patrick J. McGinnis, now a best-selling author and investment advisor, sees this herd pressure as a positive. During the lockdown, he says, our digital devices became even more a part of our social world, and so photos of vaccination cards are steps on the road to herd immunity.
FoMO can manifest itself as follows, for example:
- You feel sad when friends get together and have fun and you are not there.
- One is afraid that friends' or other people's experiences are better than one's own.
- You feel restless and nervous when you don't know what your friends are up to at the moment.
- When one does something, one wants to share it with others online, for example on social media platforms.
- One is on social media very frequently and habitually, even while eating or socializing.
- One has concentration problems while studying or working because one feels the urge to be there online.
- One feels the need for cell phone use while driving.
To counteract the phenomenon, it must first be recognized that media are being used problematically. Media use must therefore be reflected upon, with questions such as: Was that really important news today, or was it a pointless distraction?
In the second step, one can reduce the distraction, if necessary, by turning off notifications, switching the cell phone to silent or similar. If the use of technical devices cannot be reduced - for work, for example - communication processes can be optimized and made more efficient.
For example, the e-mail now only contains the most important information, or one reaches for the faster solution: the telephone. Automating processes can also help, for example through "social media opening hours".
In this way, messages can be collected and thus read and answered more quickly. To combat anxiety, insight and self-control are necessary.