The Fear of Missing Out in the Internet Age

In an age governed by social media, the fear of missing out (perhaps better known as FOMO) is more prevalent now than ever. And it makes sense. Think about your own use of the internet and how often you find yourself scrolling through news feeds and timelines. We feel the need to constantly update ourselves with information when it comes to what others are doing, what memes are cool, the latest celebrity (or lately, political) drama, etc.

This isn’t healthy. Some of us are more susceptible to this type of behavior than others. If you’re anything like me, you’re highly susceptible.

I first heard about FOMO as like an actual concept in my ninth grade English class when my teacher made us read and annotate an article about it. Unlike some boring articles we are forced to read in our academic careers, this one piqued my interest. Because I connected to it, and it scared me. There are few things in life that really take me aback and make me feel the need to evaluate my life, but this was one of them.

And to this day, FOMO is still something I struggle with from time to time. I find it becomes more of an issue when I don’t have anything going on. If I have no plans for a day, if I’m not out in the world living my life… but if I’m at home bored out of my mind, that’s when things go awry.

The other day a friend of mine made a comment about how I basically live in the group chat because I’m always the first one to see his messages and I am constantly talking (or sending memes) in there. He wasn’t wrong, and again this was one of those moments that kind of made me go into self check mode. I began to notice the frequency of how much I message people and how quick I am to respond and it got me thinking: Is something wrong with me? Do I have no life? Is my cellphone glued to my hand? Forgive me for wanting to talk to my friends…

Because I do like to think I have a life. I work part-time, go to college full-time, and my social life outside of the internet doesn’t suck, but this goes back to what I said earlier. When I am doing all these different things like walking around campus, stocking shelves, getting coffee with friends, or whatever it may be, FOMO becomes practically irrelevant. It’s on the back shelf in my mind because I become so preoccupied with my life that I no longer feel the need to preoccupy myself with the lives of others.

However, part of the problem also arises when FOMO does manage to creep its way into my responsibilities. This is bad because now it is not only something that fills the void, dead space of my life when I’m bored, but it interferes with me being present and experiencing things in the moment because I’m more concerned with social media and various group chats than I am with the very things happening right in front of my physical being. An example I’ve noticed in my life recently is that I’m pretty bad about being on my phone and texting during lectures, but I don’t think that’s probably unique to me as a college student. However, every now and then when I start to do this while I am also trying to have a conversation with someone in person, I think that’s when it really becomes quite alarming. I feel guilty for choosing to neglect the relationships and events unfolding right before my eyes just so I don’t miss the latest Buzzfeed video or some bullsh*t like that.

So why do we experience FOMO? After some soul searching, for me personally, I think it really comes down to two things: being attached to people and fear of the unknown.

I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who are important to me, and after graduating high school, I don’t get to see them as much. I really do feel like I get more attached to the people in my life than they get to me. Maybe it’s because people fascinate me and my heart is big. I don’t know. I know I’m not the first person to make this claim about themselves, but in my case it’s not that hard to believe it to be true when you noticeably make others a big priority in your life to talk to (like I said, I message people constantly) and they take ages to respond, as if they don’t care as much about you as you do them. Kinda hurts to be honest, but what I’m getting at is this susceptibility to form attachment to people leads to my constant need to interact, to know what’s going on in the group chat, and what everyone is up to that feeds perfectly into my experience with FOMO.

In addition to that, fear of the unknown keeps me constantly scrolling. This is probably a psychological thing, but I don’t like not knowing what’s going on or the idea that I can miss something important in a matter or minutes. I guess it bothers or freaks me out on some level that I could miss an update or plans made in a group chat. My brain isn’t fond of that possibility, so it thinks that the only logical way to solve that is to constantly be plugged in and in tune with what’s going on online. Basically, the deeper level of my mind is like, “You’re scared of missing something important? Not a problem! Just never put your phone down!” This is of course not healthy, but the truth of it is, the chances of you missing something truly important are slim. It’s just a matter of what you deem important. A funny joke in the group chat? A new meme? Not important. That call from your manager at work? Important. There comes a point where you have to realize and think, “Ok what’s the worst thing that’s gonna happen if I don’t see my friend’s message the minute they send it?” And when you realize the answer is “nothing,” that’s when you have freed yourself. Your iPhone is no longer an anchor you are chained to.

I want to leave you with this: Don’t worry what others are doing. Worry about what you’re doing. The people who matter will matter regardless. There is nothing to fear; you are not missing anything. Close Twitter, close Facebook, put your phone on silent, and just live.

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