Nir’s Note: This post is co-authored with Stuart Luman, a science, technology, and business writer who has worked at Wired Magazine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and IBM.
“I wish that I could be like the cool kids,” goes the catchy hook for the hit song by Echosmith. The official video has been viewed over 15 million times on YouTube, perhaps tapping into something deeper than mere adolescent angst.
We all want to be like the cool kids.
In 2013, the word “FoMO” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The “fear of missing out” refers to the feeling of “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.” Although the terminology has only recently been added to our lexicon, experiencing FoMO is nothing new.
Most people at one time or another have been preoccupied by the idea that someone, somewhere, is having a better time, making more money, or leading a more exciting life. For those who skew towards such feelings, smartphones and social media have made it easier than ever to track what others are doing.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to keep tabs on people we care about. An important part of what makes us human is our need to be social. But recently companies have found ways to tap into this impulse to keep users coming back to their apps and websites habitually.
Whether social media induces FoMO or simply makes it easier to indulge in our feelings is up for debate. It’s not surprising that something as new and transformative as this technology would have complex implications on our daily lives, both positive and negative.
According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, habitual Facebook users were motivated by their need to socialize and connect with others, to escape boredom, and to monitor their friends’ activities (what the authors called surveillance gratification). The study also found a correlation between depression and anxiety and higher social media usage. A 2013 study in Computers in Human Behavior featured a series of ten statements such as “I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me,” and asked participants to rate themselves from one to five on how well those statements correlated with their own lives. The study found that three-quarters of respondents (mostly college-age students) experienced FoMO. Those who scored higher were more likely to report lower life satisfaction and use social media immediately before and after sleeping, during meals and classes, and to engage in dangerous behaviors such as texting while driving.
Not all studies reach such negative conclusions. A 2014 study found shy and depressive individuals benefited from increased social media use and online relationships. While a 2009 study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found a positive correlation between college students’ use of Facebook and increased life satisfaction, civic engagement, and political participation.
It’s clear that we can’t yet fully grasp how new technologies affect our psyches. Regardless, it appears that they are here to stay. Therefore, it is up to us as users to figure out where, when, and how often to use these products and services.
Here are a few suggestions for keeping gadgets and FoMO in check.
Clearly, what we see of others online isn’t a full representation of their lives. Instead, it’s personal social-media marketing, similar to the images of airbrushed models in fashion magazines that highlight and exaggerate only their most positive aspects. The inevitable disappointments, cringeworthy embarrassments, personal failures, and existential doubts are rarely seen in Facebook posts.
It’s also important to remember that most people experience FoMO to some degree and at some time. The uncomfortable emotion is normal and with the advent of social-sharing tools, increasingly common. However, understanding the feeling and finding positive ways to deal with it can help us be happier with our own lives without getting wrapped up in a fear that we might be missing out on what the cool kids are doing.
Photo Credit: Yaniv Golan
Originally published at www.nirandfar.com on January 22, 2015.
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Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and blogs at NirAndFar.com. For more insights on using psychology to change behavior, join his newsletter and receive Nir’s free list of research-backed tips and tricks to increase your personal productivity.
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