The rising tide of FoMO: The Fear of Missing Out

By Chris Lee

Social media users are becoming hung up on other people’s apparently exciting lifestyles while overlooking what they themselves enjoy, according to a study by three universities. The study concluded that while “Fear of Missing Out” (FoMO) is not a new phenomenon, the rise in social media – especially aided by the proliferation of mobile devices – has led to increased occurrence.

According to Dr Andrew Przybylski of the University of Essex in England, one of the academics involve in the study, the study found the below interesting traits of FoMO:

  • FoMO is a driving force behind social media use
  • FoMO levels are highest in young people and young men in particular
  • FoMO levels are influenced by social circumstances; low levels of need satisfaction and life satisfaction are linked to high FoMO
  • FoMO is associated with having ambivalent emotions about social media
  • FoMO is high in those who engage in distracted driving
  • FoMO is high in students who use social media during classes

Przybylski believes that “the rise of social media and frictionless sharing” is to blame for FoMO and that it can distract Internet users from making the most of their time in the here-and-now.

Data-driven anxiety

For Julie Atherton, planning director at customer engagement consultancy Indicia, those with a “heightened sensitivity to their place within the wider world” could potential be scared by the sheer amount of data being created in the world today.

Once upon a time, gossip and hearsay could take a week to do the rounds. Today, it’s a struggle to simply avoid knowing everybody’s business,” she told NMK. “Particularly with geo-location and image-led social platforms, we’re not too far away from having a live video feed of those we want to follow – whether it be a celebrity, friend or family member.”

Atherton believes that FoMO could be channelled by brands to make people feel special instead of missing out.

A sense of perspective

According to social media specialist Katie Moffat of PR and Social, social media provides a “constant background hum” to other people’s lives, making it very easy to fall into the trap of believing that everyone has a better job, happier relationship or more exciting social life.

“If you find you’re feeling like that, there are two key ways of dealing with it,” she advises. “Firstly and most importantly, remember that the vast majority of people are only sharing the best bits of their lives and leaving out a great deal more that will certainly not be as exciting. Our social media selves are usually very carefully curated. Secondly, switch off the devices more.  It’s a fact that the less you use social media, the less you miss it and the more, when you return to it, you spot the veils of artifice.”

Study author Przyblyski discovered that if “psychological needs” were deprived then people under 30 in particular were more likely to seek out social media.

Moffat summed up: “Social media can be loads of fun for many reasons but if you’re finding it’s causing you more anxiety than delight, it’s time to take a reality check."

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