On 14 April 2011, the 'word of the day' of the urban dictionary was FoMo. That wasn't a typographical error. FoMo is an acronym for Fear of Missing Out--the new social anxiety disorder gripping ardent users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms.
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I haven't heard of FoMo until a new article about it was featured on Metro, which I always pick up to read on my daily commute to work. So yes, I've been FoMo-ed myself. Between fashion trends and social phenomena, my appetite for the latter is bigger, but when I occasionally indulge in the former, I gorge myself.
Several articles have been written about FoMo, with The Guardian amongst the first ones to talk about this new technology-driven affliction. Journalist Hephzibah Anderson was one of the writers who called FoMo the modern-day version of 'keeping up with the Joneses.' She wrote about technology being "...ready to whisk you away [and] into someone else's "reality". Being in the moment and owning our experiences have escaped us as they're most often broadcast online. She further said that, "We're too busy tweeting about the scent of those roses actually to breathe it in." Click here to read the full article.
Claire Cohen, writing for The Telegraph, confesses that she suffers from FoMo. She tells of how easy it is to feel being left out when friends' life events are plastered all over your screen. Consumed by finding out what others are up to, she's found herself checking Twitter--with one eye open--in the middle of the night. She goes on to discuss how FoMo has spilt onto the workplace with our obsession for creating a personal brand. I remember people-watching as a pastime when you sit al fresco with a cuppa and let the world go by. Nowadays, online people-watching lets you monitor how others are getting on while thinking that you're just getting by. Read more on Ms Cohen's article here.
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I can fully identify with Martha Beck's write-up on FoMo for Oprah.com which was published just two months ago. As a child, I was seething when I was forced to take my afternoon naps. Like Ms Beck, I feared missing out--missing out on group games, hanging around with playmates, and just wasting the day sleeping when all the other kids are out having a great time. The difference with 80s and 90s FoMo was we simply imagined what we're missing out on. Now, with the push of a button or password entry, everything you're missing out on is staring at you.
She has very interesting tips on how to beat FoMo. Click here to read.
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FoMo, to my understanding based on definitions and descriptions online, means fear of missing out on all the rewarding (or so we perceive) happenings and life events around us, especially that we see our online friends posting what we ideally would like to do but can't because either we're stuck in the office, stuck in life in general, or we just made some choices which aren't as fun, exciting or prestigious as our friends' life choices. Or luck.
That's clearly just an aspect of it, which by the way, can now be thought of as a psychological malady. We may argue that it's simply a case of jealousy and envy, but Dr. Andrew Przybylski, a psychology lecturer at the University of Essex and well-versed in the psychological processes of human motivation in virtual and real-life environments, says that FoMo "...arises from deprivation of basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness."
In other words, an individual feels he or she is missing out when insecurities about real-life connections, relationships, identity, and recognition are highlighted by online friends seeming to have what the person lacks at that particular time, whether they're opportunities, experiences or material possessions. I suppose brushing off FoMo gets better with age, but as I wrote in a previous piece about Facebook users' annoying habits (which you can read here), social media platforms have reduced many of us into online juvenile delinquent social butterflies, so this FoMo ailment is suffered by all ages across the board. But while it may be so, Dr. Przybylski's study found that FoMo is most common in younger men.
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In a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of MyLife.com, a portal through which you can receive updates from all your social media accounts and personal emails in one place, 56% of people are afraid of missing something if they don't keep an eye on their social networks. Only 24% plans to take a break from using one of their social network accounts this year.
To find out if I'm a part of the 56% statistics, I took the RateMyFoMo test, which you can also take here. Below was my test result:
I took this twice because I was in denial that my FoMo level was medium. Allow me to defend myself though by saying that my work set-up and load allow me to idly check all my social media accounts everyday. More than snooping on friends' lives, I genuinely love commenting and 'liking' feeds not just for the sake of robotic and glazed-eyed mouse-clicking. And as I've said in my write-up about Facebook, my friends and family are spread across continents and time zones--social media fills that gap between us. Everyday, I 'talk' to families and friends in the Philippines, UAE, Singapore, US, The Netherlands, Canada, Australia, among others. I am connected despite the distance.
Do I feel I'm missing out? More than anything, I feel I'm missing out on my niece's growing up years (and my future nephew due in December); my mum's indigestion-inducing cooking and repetitive tales of days gone by; night outs with my sister who's nine years my junior; my other sister stuffing me with food whenever I see her; my old friends who are always ready to meet up on short notice; and other friends with whom my connection has never wavered despite not seeing each other in the flesh for years. Yes, I occasionally feel that I've missed out on or have even been robbed of certain life stages when I see childhood friends churning out babies or posting anecdotes about their kids or never ever wandering off a career path. But you see, life happens in different ways to everyone.
So there you go--my FoMo confession.
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Social media networks are more than just white noise and boredom buster to me. I rarely get bored anyway. Via Twitter, I learn about corporate news from Women's Wear Daily (WWD) months before my work's press office sends us a memo; real-time tube travel news; pollen level updates (I suffer from hay fever so that's very handy); stories to check from my favourite news and fashion magazines which give me ideas for posts; and best of all, I get a thrill from interacting with and being followed by inspiring chick lit authors.
Fear of missing out doesn't bother me as much as it bothers other people. What bothers me is the fear of burning out. I know when I'm on the verge--I forget about the books I borrowed from my local library. So, I'm pacing myself and I encourage you to do as well. One thing's for sure, the iPad's not sleeping next to me tonight.
How did you do on the RateMyFomo test?
Read about the annoying things lots of Facebook users do that make others feel they're missing out, via Facebook's Status Quo.
*RateMyFomo test and MyLife.com are not connected to each other. The combination of MyLife's survey with Dr. Przybylski's test is simply to illustrate my point.