Turn that FoMO upside down
My name is Em Webster and I'm graduating this year from the University of Manchester with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and 1st Class Honours! I was born and raised in Singapore where I completed all of my education at an International School. In sixth form, I did the International Baccalaureate (IB) where I studied Psychology, Economics and English as my 3 Higher Level Subjects. Coming from a humanities background, when I first started my BSc in Manchester I didn't really know what I had myself in for! Now that I've come to the end of my degree, I can say that Psychology has been a challenging but extremely rewarding course, particularly in this last year. My Final Year Project enabled me to focus on my personal interests - our motivations for engaging with social media and the social connectedness that we perceive as a result. My research also inspired me to pursue my love for writing and enter the School's Science Writing Competition, specifically focusing on how the social phenomenon, the "Fear of Missing Out" (FoMO), influences our online behaviours. I hope you enjoy reading it!
It’s the digital equivalent to the Swiss Army Knife – a personal computer, telephone, camera, GPS, music player, alarm clock, TV, newspaper. It has revolutionized your social life and keeps you in touch with everyone you know. Your Smartphone.
No other device gives you a connection as easy, as powerful or as real-time. A connection that’s mobile and offers you unlimited social opportunities on the go. Facebook tells you everything that your friends are doing. Instagram shows you the world through pictures. Snapchat records events as and when they are happening. Push notifications constantly invite you back to your phone to check what others are doing.
According to Needs Psychology,you and I have six fundamental needs that we seek to satisfy. Our Smartphones help us to do so – they give us a sense of certainty and variety, they make us feel significant, they facilitate our growth and our contribution. But above all, they help us to experience love and connection. Our Smartphones have become our companions – they live in our pockets and they help us meet our social needs wherever we are.
Unsurprisingly, Psychologists are becoming increasingly interested in our online behaviours. Back in 2009, a team of researchers at Georgetown University found that students use Facebook to strengthen pre-existing relationships. They suggest social media helps users create an online identity that feeds their self-esteem. Another study in the Computers of Human Behaviour Journal associates social connectedness with positive psychological outcomes including greater life satisfaction and happiness.
But it’s not all good – Smartphones and mobile social networks mean we often struggle to escape from the constant presence of social information. In fact, knowing what everyone is doing all of the time leads to the pervasive apprehension that others are doing more exciting things than we are. Sound familiar? Jenna Wortham first wrote about the phenomenon known as “FoMO – the Fear of Missing Out” in a New York Times Article. Her quiet evening spent in quickly turned into a night riddled with anxiety, irritation and even jealousy that her friends were out at gigs or at fancy cocktail bars instead.
We are social creatures, we like to feel included by others and we feel anxious when we are not – so FoMO is nothing new. But as Ann Mack discussed at the 2012 SXSW Conference, our Smartphones are amplifying our fears of missing out and have brought the phenomenon to light. Though previous empirical research suggests high social media engagement is associated with positive well being, the first study to add FoMO into the mix revealed something interesting.
Andy Przybylski and colleagues developed a scale for FoMO in 2013 (ratemyfomo.com) and used it to determine whether Uni students fear missing out on what their friends are doing. Their pilot research revealed a number of things – firstly that the people experiencing the highest levels of FoMO were also the ones engaging most frequently with social media. Secondly and perhaps more alarmingly, these people were more likely to text whilst driving and to be distracted during lectures. Turning their attention to the wider impact of FoMO on people’s lives, they found that the desire to stay continually connected was linked with lower life satisfaction.
One explanation for low satisfaction falls in line with Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory. As Ann Mack suggests, we compare ourselves to others in similar situations doing seemingly enviable activities. Although an edge of competitiveness is a good thing, it becomes a problem when we start to feel bad about our own lives simply because our Smartphones are a window into everyone else’s.
Sherry Turkle, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology touches on something important – our relationship with technology is still relatively immature. We are still adjusting to the constant presence of social media in our lives and still learning how to limit its influence. As Dr. Przybylski looks at it – social media is a double-edge sword.
In order to reap the benefits and forget FoMO, we need to learn how to manage our use of social media. So how can you turn your FoMO upside down?
Remember that social media shows all the good stuff. Life isn’t always full of amazing adventures, relationships and job offers – so don’t be fooled by people leaving the boring or embarrassing things out.
Enjoy being out of the loop. Social media is a circus of sorts and you’ll probably find that even a day spent away from it makes you happier in what you’re doing.
Go on adventures. Stop wishing you were doing what everyone else is doing and go and do it.
You might not experience FoMO often or you might be too reluctant to admit that you experience it at all – but I can almost guarantee that at some point you have had pangs of it. So when it happens again, remember how it all works and turn it upside down!
Grieve, R., Indian, M., Witteveen, K., Tolan, G. A., & Marrington, J. (2013). Face-to-Face Or Facebook: Can Social Connectedness Be Derived Online? Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 604-609.
Mack, A. (2012). FOMO: How Can Brands Tap Into Fears Of Missing Out. Retrieved April 14, 2016 from http://schedule.sxsw.com/2012/events/event_IAP10651
Pempek, T. A., Yermolayeva, Y. A., & Calvert, S. L. (2009). College Students' Social Networking Experiences On Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(3), 227-238.
Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, Emotional, and Behavioral Correlates of Fear of Missing Out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848.
Turkle, S. (2012). The Flight From Conversation, The New York Times. Retrieved April 14, 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1
Wortham, J. (2011). Feel like a wallflower? Maybe it’s your facebook wall. The New York Times. Retrieved Online April 14, 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html