Do you find yourself staring at your phone every other second? And when you put the phone away, as soon as you hear a notification pop up, go straight back to your phone. You are curious to see whether it was a text message, a new like on Instagram, or, "oh, a new follower."
If this sounds like you, you may likely suffer from FOMO: the fear of missing out. FOMO is a type of social anxiety experienced by individuals who are compulsively concerned about missing out on social gatherings and opportunities to partake in valuable and novel experiences. This anxiety stems from the worry that one is absent when friends and family may be going through a gratifying experience. Social media and digital technology further amplify such emotions.
Research has related problematic smartphone use to FOMO. Adolescents, in particular, view their smartphones as a tool to express themselves, establish their social identity, and indulge in peer culture. An excessive amount of time is spent on social media to maintain their social relationships and not be left out. A study by Song & Kim (2022) investigated whether smartphone use correlated with FOMO among Korean adolescents. Results showed that smartphone screen time was positively associated with FOMO, social media, and games. These results are not surprising, considering Internet addiction has been labeled a public health crisis in South Korea.
Larry Dossey, the author of "FOMO, Digital Dementia, and Our Dangerous Experiment" (2013), states that a vicious cycle exists amongst individuals with high levels of FOMO. These individuals replace face-to-face interactions with social media contact. This shift, in turn, increases feelings of loneliness and isolation, which then prompts further retreat into the online world, thus adding to FOMO. COVID and related lockdowns amplified this cycle. Pandemic isolation led to significant changes in how people stay connected, as manifested in the explosive success of social media sites like TikTok.
It's fascinating how many people are aware of FOMO but cannot find ways to control it. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to fight feelings of FOMO. But researchers have proposed different tools such as digital detoxes, change in mindset, and reducing screen time to reclaim agency and therewith counter-act the fear of being absent.
Martha Beck, American sociologist, and best-selling author, recommends a 3-step guide to resist FOMO.
Step 1: Realize FOMO is based on lies.
Social media is premised on portraying people's most beautiful, adventurous, and accomplished side. You might have wished to trade your everyday life for the lifestyle depicted by the people who give you FOMO. However, it's time to realize that picture-perfect moments do not exist and that you probably are not missing out on as much as you think.
Step 2: Fight FOMO with FOMO.
Adopt a change in mindset. Rather than fear of missing out, think of it as "Feel Okay More Often" or "Find One Magnificent Object." Don't dwell too much on what you missed. Focus on moments you have already lived in the past or will experience in the present and future.
Step 3: Stop.
Be mindful of your surroundings. Rather than worry about your social media presence, be present in the moment. Make the most of the present. You can scroll through your phone anytime, but you will never be able to take back the time spent in front of the screen: while on a date, eating dinner with the family, or hanging out with friends.
That's not to say that FOMO is entirely bad. It's all right to have FOMO, but like most things, too much is never good. Constantly feeling bad about yourself and pushing yourself to maintain social relationships can be exhausting and detrimental to your long-term health and well-being. And as you read earlier, it can lead to excessive smartphone use. The next time you open your phone, take a minute and ask yourself: "Do I really need to check my Instagram now?"
Editing: Alper Baysan
Dossey, L. (2014, March). FOMO, Digital Dementia, and Our Dangerous Experiment. EXPLORE, 10(2), 69–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2013.12.008
Song, H. Y., & Kim, J. H. (2022, March 16). Smartphone Use Type, Fear of Missing Out, Social Support, and Smartphone Screen Time Among Adolescents in Korea: Interactive Effects. Frontiers in Public Health, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2022.822741