Fear of missing out (FOMO)
Fear of missing out is defined on Wikipedia as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social anxiety is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.
Before I started writing this blog I thought it was just a cultural term that’s become popular but on reading a bit more about it, I realized that is an actual social anxiety and can become a serious threat to psychological stability of people.
FOMO is as pervasive in our lives as electricity or internet. The most popular source of FOMO is social media. However it is also the most invisible. When people post to social media, they post about the things that are good, are beautiful and the happy moments. Not only that, people post when they are better, feeling happier or more beautiful than normal. Hence vast majority of the content online is not a depiction of normal life but maybe the best 20% of our time spent. However as we scroll these feeds continuously our brain interprets this as what daily life is supposed to be. We start feeling anxious about how empty, sad and worrisome our lives by comparing ourselves to the content we see online.
This leads to viral trends and hype that get generated. If enough people like something, you are pressured to like it as well. The drive to have an equally exciting life as portrayed online makes us follow things, consume content and buy things that everyone else is owning are some ways this manifests itself. Posting that thriller selfie on the edge of a mountain, showing off that expensive car or lining up in front of Starbucks so you can check-in there are some examples of how FOMO drives us. We feel unequal, inadequate and hence we are driven to be equal to the content we consume. However the flip side is that even the content producer themselves are not always as happy as they show themselves.
The other aspect of FOMO is what modern advertising is all about. Ads are built inherently to tell you what you are lacking or missing out in life. They stress and sell you on how incomplete your life is, how inadequate you are. Ads keep reinforcing how dirty your clothes are, how you stink when at work and how your class / status is determined by the watch you wear and the car you drive. At the same time, the richest people somehow wear the same clothes, don’t own a car and are completely carefree on how they might stink (due to lack of deodorant).
Finally crypto-currency is the pinnacle of FOMO right now. Everyone feels like they would be left behind, that they would miss out on the next gold rush if they do not buy bitcoins. People are borrowing money to buy bitcoins or selling everything they own to buy some as well. They have heard the stories of million and billion aires from the Bitcoin ride and now they see what they have missed out on. This FOMO again would lead people to make poor choices and we have already seen some negative impact due to this worry. There were definitely people who bought Bitcoin at it’s peak and now they do not know what to do (since it is down 30%).
The fear and anxiety is all around our society. We are trying to sell people everything by creating an environment of how they lack every material object. At the same time, people who do have something, are trying to upsell and show ahead / above they are by flaunting that same thing and by portraying it in a better way than it is. People are trying to generate happiness by showing the world how happy they are and then depending on the # of likes on that picture to find joy themselves.
The reason I write about it is for myself and for anyone who decides to read this. FOMO is a real problem in our world today. It’s one of that unsaid issues that is source of massive grief. We feel like we are being left behind, that our lives and existence is pathetic based on what we see around ourselves on all the screens we have. The best way to be able to deal with it is to first accept that it is real. It is a problem. It is the economic model of the world we live in so the tactics that create FOMO will not go away overnight.
Once you admit there is a problem, you can start finding ways to deal with it. Switch off, tune out and reduce the time you spend in front of the screens which create these anxiety. Curate the screens you do interact with to reduce exposure to overly exciting (and unreal) content. The last piece is to inculcate mindfulness in your life. Realize that what you see does not portray the complete picture. Do not let it impact you in the way it does right now. When you see something beautiful, appreciate it and savor it instead of berating your life. Also live in the moment instead of trying to dazzle your news feeds. Take time to do small, simple things that are unrelated to your social media. And when you see a trend, a viral video or a new currency sweeping the world, take a moment to ask yourself if this is even relevant for you.