Where are your Friends Tonight? Is FoMo More Serious than we Thought?

The Gryphon explores FoMo beyond the common depiction, casting light on FoMo as a form of social anxiety, which has the effect of engulfing the lives of so many people.

‘FoMo’, otherwise known as the ‘Fear of Missing out’, is a term that is regularly circulated in both our social vocabulary and the media. There are trivialised examples of FoMo that we are familiar with: somebody upset when friends congregate without them; a person agreeing to attend events that they may have no personal interest in. Indeed, the top definition for FoMo in Urban Dictionary describes the phenomenon as ‘the fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great’.

The unrelenting need to stay connected with what our peers are doing and be involved in the interactions around us arguably affects all of us to a certain degree. A study at the University of Essex has revealed the psychological basis of this insecurity, suggesting that people who suffer from FoMo may display lower levels of satisfaction than the ‘average’ person. The less people feel personal autonomy, competence, and connectedness in daily life, the more likely they are to display insecurity regarding their social lives. Essentially it is those who have unsatisfied needs, such as wanting to be loved, that are more likely to suffer from FoMo. This first-of-its-kind-research implies that FoMo needs recognition as a serious constraint on the social lives of much of the population. If there are people experiencing the compulsion to say ‘yes’ to everything so as not to feel regret if they miss out on an event, feeling anxious when friends are involved in conversations that do not include them, dreading the thought of spending time alone, and repeatedly checking Facebook and Twitter, the colloquial representation of FoMo seems an inadequate label for what can be seen as a curse that impedes upon lives and reflects or exacerbates personal self-esteem issues.

It seems natural to conclude that the main cause of FoMo is the frenetic use of social media that defines this modern age. Following our reliance on the Internet and an insatiable need to stay connected to the world throughout every hour of the day, FoMo becomes an inevitable consequence. It can be questioned whether this ritualistic use of technology causes anxiety or whether people’s fear of missing out drives them to engage with social media in an addictive cycle. We already know that the Internet has the power to greatly influence us; we are merely acting as consenting recipients through our willing use of smart phones. When there are photos of events and beautiful, smiling faces plastered across the computer screen, it appears somewhat inevitable that people may experience feelings of jealousy or insecurity. A major implication of social media is that it is one-sided; the bad times and arguments are often brushed under the carpet and so people only see what other people want them to. The solution to the problem may be to quit social media and simply deactivate Facebook. However, it is probably the case that the mere thought of this racks most people with the fear that they might lose touch with the world and be forgotten amongst friends, laying waste to the online presence that they have cultivated over a number of years.

It is thus important to establish exactly who the ‘Fear of Missing out’ affects. At first glance, it seems reasonable to conclude that it is young people and teenagers that are the primary sufferers. It is amongst this age group that consistent social media use is a given, and the presence of a peer group can be seen as most important and influential in comparison to any other time in a person’s life. Already pressurised by new social trends, perceptions of ideal body image, and the online presence of friends on the internet, it comes to no surprise that young people feel the need to constantly seek approval from friendships and put forward into the social sphere the ‘best’ version of themselves.

However, the idea of the ‘life-long FoMo sufferer’ is very much real; surveys conducted by a team of social scientists and tech experts under the marketing communications network, JWT, indicates that in many cases it is adults who are closely linked with the ‘Fear of Missing out’. Higher proportions of ‘Adult Millennials’ (between the ages of 18 and 34) felt left out when they saw that their friends were doing something and they were not, a percentage greater than that of the teenage group. Claire Cohen, a journalist, has suggested that the phenomenon can be felt in the workplace, with adults checking work emails before 7.30 a.m. so as not to lose out on new projects and feeling the need to constantly browse the professional network LinkedIn for potential opportunities. When such a vast range of the population is consumed by social fear, the pervasive impact of FoMo becomes all too clear.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 13.27.25This issue was explored further when The Gryphon spoke to a focus group of students at the University about keeping up with friends and maintaining a social life. First year student, Joe, said that this is about compromise; a balance between doing what you want to do but also acting upon what makes someone else happy. Another student, Sophie, described how she has grown out of FoMo: where when she was younger she would be upset to the point of crying if she saw her friends had met up without her, FoMo no longer bothers her and she enjoys a night in alone. On the other hand, university arguably intensifies social anxiety with open-ended opportunities to be ‘living like there’s no tomorrow’ and the challenges presented by living in halls of residence alongside other young adults. In this discussion, FoMo is evidently a common experience associated with the pressure to be going out and be seen to be having fun. A student, Will, said that he fears missing out so much that he will pay money to go on a night out when he does not even want to go to. And Sociology student, Shalanda, agreed that there is pressure to go out all the time but ultimately it is a personal decision; it is about whether you care to keep up or choose to go to a place where you actually enjoy yourself.

These viewpoints illustrate not only the magnitude but also the harmfulness of FoMo. It is something that has the capacity to make people sacrifice their own satisfaction and character in order to become something they are not and remain a part of their social circle. Getting to the heart of FoMo is important because it reflects how we are stuck in a cycle of constant comparison with others. In believing that those around us are more socially active, successful, attractive, and popular than we are, we look at our own lives with a sense of inadequacy. In this sense, FoMo can be interpreted as a further manifestation of low self-esteem and the cause for which many people put themselves down. To only speak of FoMo in light-hearted discourse seems to downplay a feeling that affects the lives and mental states of a lot of people in varying degrees. Brought to the forefront is the reality that this is a generation which is relentlessly striving for better; social appearance and status often takes priority over personal fulfilment and actually doing things that we want to do.

If people regularly experience FoMo, we are left with a bizarre paradox where the people around us are all aiming for a social ideal that nobody can achieve and from which nobody is left satisfied. So, why we do this to ourselves and to what extent is FoMo self-inflicted? Social media is supposed to bring people together and enhance our social lives. In many ways it is an inspiring technological feat which connects people and enables what was previously unthinkable. However, it also meddles with our own self-perceptions, endorses the daily comparison of the lives of others with our own, and tragically heightens feelings of loneliness and isolation. To move beyond FoMo, it seems that we must both invest in meaningful friendships, which do not require a ‘show’ or fakery, but also rebuild our own confidence and be grateful for the things in life that we enjoy and make us happy.

Meenakshi Parmar

Images: CleanAndSoberENT, Eventbrite

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