DEPRESSION
May 13, 2013

Wistfully Watching Other People's Fun

The fear of missing out — we all suffer from it at times, but social media is making it worse.

Do you find yourself spending time looking at the photos of other people's parties or vacations on Facebook and elsewhere? Do you often feel others are having more fun than you are? If so, you're not alone.

FoMO — the Fear of Missing Out — is a common feeling. In fact, researchers have even devised a test to measure it. It is one of the darker aspects of the explosion of social media.

FoMO isn't new. It's part of the human condition. Some Romans probably felt it during a day at the Forum. But it's only recently that people have been able to watch their friends enjoying themselves in so many ways and in so many places just by pressing a few keys on their phone or computer. There, being treated to photos of other people's homes, children, meals or trip to Paris can make them feel left out.

Once FoMO starts, people spend more and more time watching what others are doing instead of living their own lives.

People with a high level of FoMO can become so involved in watching what their friends are doing that they forget that until they started looking they were actually feeling pretty content. And once FoMO starts, people spend more and more time watching what others are doing instead of living their own lives.

Looking in from the outside at a live stream from a concert, a party, or two friends sharing a bottle of wine can give people the blues. A simple tweet can be even worse, with the imagination supplying extra sparkle that really isn't there.

Seeking to better characterize FoMO, researchers from the University of Essex in Great Britain surveyed both local and international audiences to find out more about its causes and effects.

They found that FoMO is more than just a case of people feeling bad. People with a high level of FoMo were more likely to send and read text messages while driving and get distracted by social media during their college classes. Two extremely counterproductive uses of the medium.

The people most susceptible to FoMO were those whose psychological needs were not being met, (perhaps by jobs, friends or romantic partners) and people under the age of 30.

The researchers say the solution to the problem is for people to learn how to control and moderate their usage of social media. In other words, the FoMO-obsessed need to spend less time on Facebook and Twitter and more time focused on living their own lives.

It's a lot like what people face when eating at a buffet. The spread may seem to be beckoning to them to eat everything, but that's not only a bad idea, it's impossible. People are much better off when they just nibble, picking and choosing what they want.

There's a huge upside to social media. Viewing posts, tweets and streams from others, particularly those who are far away, does keep us more connected to them. But overdoing it can be just as bad as eating the entire buffet. It is also worth considering that some people are good at presenting themselves in a positive light. It's not a bad thing, but they are selecting what they show of their lives. You can test your own FoMO at www.ratemyfomo.com.

An article on the study appears in Computers in Human Behavior.

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