Fear of Missing Out

You were away for a five days of vacationing and you didn't have phone service. It was kind of nice to be disconnected. But now, you're back home and reconnected.

You check your email accounts. Half junk and half things you now need to read and respond to. But what about all the posts you missed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks?

It is difficult to actually scroll through days worth of social media. Leave your Twitter feed unread while you're at work and when you sit down after supper there are hundreds or thousands of missed posts.

If you can just shrug and say "So, I missed some things while I was gone. No big deal," then you have a healthy attitude.

But if you feel like you have to go back and at least glance at what you missed, you may have "fear of missing out" or FoMO.

FoMo is real. It is defined as "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent."

If you suffer from this newly-recognized social angst, your desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing is strong.

Of course, almost all of us don't want to miss out on good things. The crew from your office went out last Friday after work for drinks and had a great time. You were away at a meeting all day and missed it. Do you feel regret?

With FoMo that regret is a compulsive concern. It makes you question decisions on how you spend your time.

"Things could have been so different if I had only..." is a a common FoMo thought.

This didn't start with the Internet. Fifty years ago without the Net or mobile phones people were worried that they might miss out on important things. I have given up subscriptions to print magazines and newspapers because they were piling up unread and I couldn't bear to just recycle them unread for fear that there was some story or article that I would really love. (Somehow I can easily ignore/delete digital issues of those same publications.)

25 years ago, if I went on vacation, I would come home and wonder what I missed. I'd look at the local paper and talk to friends. There usually wasn't much that had happened.

But technology has moved so much social and communicative experiences online, and it moves so fast and with so much content that we just "know" that we have missed a lot.

It is said that social networking services allow us the opportunity to be socially engaged with a reduced "cost of admission." I have more contact and "conversations" with people I went to high school with on Facebook than I ever did when we were in school together. Is that sad or wonderful?

A psychological dependence on staying connected can certainly produce anxiety when you are disconnected. Fear of missing out has become more than a meme. It is something that has a negative influence on people's psychological health and well-being.

Advertisers have known about this for a long time and used it. Campaigns based on "not missing out" and feeling included in the popular or "in" group are classics. I once belonged to the Pepsi Generation and was also a "Pepper."

1979 Commercial for Dr. Pepper soda with David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London)

The cure for all this seems simple: disconnect. But that is no more of a solution than telling anyone with an addiction to just stop giving in to the desire to use.

Step One: Recognize the problem.  Disconnect from all media for a weekend. No phones, TV, or news in any form. Go to a desert island of your own making. Then, monitor how you act during the weekend and also how you when you return to the world. Any fear that you missed out on some good things?


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