The grass, according to an ancient proverb, is always greener on the other side of the fence. Ever since grass and fences have existed, humans have been afflicted by “fear of missing out” (FOMO), the nagging conviction that whatever we have is inferior to what is out there to be had.
FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, and defined as…
Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.
TIME writer Eric Barker quotes web entrepreneur Caterina Fake, who once said, “Social software is both the creator and the cure of FOMO. It’s cyclical.” Barker says that three-quarters of young adults surveyed have reported experiencing FOMO, because…
[…] confronting your seeming inadequacy 24/7 against an unachievable false reality can hammer your already vulnerable self-esteem.
This is worrisome, for reasons other than the individuals’ personal growth. FOMO kids are the ones who text and tweet while driving, so the consequences can be far-reaching. People, and not just kids, lose all perspective and make bad decisions.
Although FOMO is centuries old advertising came along in the relatively recent past and boosted its power considerably. Now, the influence of FOMO has been exacerbated by the huge phenomenon called social media.
Instagram keeps showing pictures of other people enjoying the things that you are by rights supposed to have. How dare they? It is infuriating. Now, we no longer harbor a mere suspicion that other people are having a better time. They flaunt an endless stream of photographic proof that better things are happening somewhere else.
The FOMO factor afflicts the youth
The desperate delusion is that Life, with a capital “L” is happening in other places, for other people, and it can become quite obsessive. Other people will possess memories of, and bragging rights to, important events, and you will be left out of that collective experience.
Nobody wants to feel “less than,” and missing out is similar to being less than; it is having less than. Even worse is failing to obtain what you are entitled to, what you deserve. Because then you are being cheated, and who will tolerate that?
Dr. Pretlow’s team has asked many young people what is the feeling that drives them to overeat, when they know perfectly well that they don’t want the consequent weight gain. On the poster that was part of Dr. Pretlow’s World Congress of Psychiatry presentation, there are three quotations:
Age,12, male: “Like, it would feel like I’m missing out on something.”
Age 17, female: “Disappointment of missing out [on eating]. If the disappointment continued I’d probably find something else to eat later, making up for what was lost.”
Age 12, female: “Like at a party, someone else is going to eat it, like oh my god I could be eating that now, enjoying that piece of chip.”
Dr. Pretlow elaborates on this mental quirk:
I sensed an apparent fear of missing out among several young people in our studies. If they managed to resist eating some tempting food, they seemed to experience an almost compulsive nagging feeling, which they couldn’t shake, that they should’ve eaten the food, and the feeling tended to persist.
A corollary to you not having something is, other people do have it — probably, people who are much less deserving than you. A main component of FOMO is the sense of entitlement. To experience the fear of missing out, a person must first feel entitled to have the desired thing. There is a conviction that one is owed something. Where does it come from? Has everyone’s sense of entitlement been toxically bloated by the “You deserve a break today” mindset?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!