You might have heard of FOMO--fear of missing out--but is there joy in missing out? Try limiting social media time to reconnect with true relationships.
Social media sites bring Meetup groups, seminars, parties, and other networking opportunities to our attention, but it’s impossible to attend every event. Some of us experience the fear that other people are enjoying life more than we are. Are we really missing out, or is it time to embrace missing out and consciously disconnect from social media?
Need to know
This anxiety has been named the fear of missing out (FOMO). Those who experience FOMO continually need to be connected, whether it’s through texting, tweeting, or messaging, so they know what their peers, friends, and family are up to.
Dan Herman, PhD, a consultant on consumer behaviour, marketing, and branding, claims to have defined and described the concept of FOMO in 2000. Although he first related it to consumer behaviour, it’s become identified with social media use.
According to Herman, FOMO is based on our fear that without adequate time or money, we’ll miss out on something. He likens it to a child in a candy store with a quarter to spend. Whatever the child chooses to spend his or her money on, there are other things that the child can’t buy. What those who experience FOMO forget is that missing out is inevitable.
Who experiences FOMO?
A global phenomenon, researchers in Essex, Los Angeles, and Rochester conducted the first empirical studies of FOMO in 2013. They identified some common traits in those who experience it.
The fear of missing out
- drives social media use
- is highest in those with low levels of life satisfaction
- is prevalent in those with low needs (competence, relatedness, and autonomy) satisfaction
- is highest in young people and particularly in young men
Is there an antidote?
In 2012, tech entrepreneur, blogger, and writer Anil Dash coined a new term, the joy of missing out (JOMO). After the birth of his son, Dash realized that after a month offline, he wasn’t missing anything. In fact, focusing on his newborn son’s care left him “in a state of joy.”
Psychologist Lori Kay, PhD, offers three-day workshops and online counselling courses, as well as regular therapy sessions, to help people rebalance their lives. She works with many women whose use of technology has contributed to an unbalanced lifestyle and relationship problems. She believes the term “JOMO” is a misnomer.
“When we hear the words ‘missing out’ our brain immediately tells itself ‘I’m about to be deprived of something,’” she says. “It’s interesting that JOMO has caught on, because from a psychological perspective, I feel like we’re setting ourselves up [for failure] with that word.”
She believes a more realistic approach to disconnect from social media successfully is to make the conscious decision to unplug. “It’s about empowering yourself. When you say I’m choosing to do something as opposed to I’m choosing not to do something, you’re moving toward something positive. It really is a choice.”
Taking a social media break
According to a 2013 survey conducted by MyLife, a website that provides a social networking and email management dashboard, 56 percent of respondents were “afraid of missing something such as an event, news, [or] important status update if they [didn’t] keep an eye on their social networks.”
And 52 percent had taken or considered taking a break from at least one of their social networks during the previous year. Reasons cited were too much time spent on social networking and that updates weren’t relevant or important.
The consequences of FOMO
Kay points out that our social media accounts “are tools, not lifelines, and I think that line has become blurred for so many people.” Some of the major effects she sees in her counselling practice are a diminished quality of life, health, and relationships.
“It’s not that I’m blaming technology,” she says, “but I think that it causes a certain amount of distance between people. When I’m doing couple counselling, the first rule I tell them is no phone at the dinner table. Unless they’re a doctor on call and it’s their night on call, they can miss an hour without their phone.
“They look at me and say, ‘That’s going to be a really hard exercise,’ and I say, ‘I know, you’re going to have to look into each other’s eyes and talk to each other.’ And sometimes that’s all they need for marital counselling to work—is to remember that they fell in love with this person.”
A consequence of spending so much time checking our electronic devices is that Kay believes the way we communicate has changed—and not for the better.
People are becoming much more comfortable hiding behind a computer, and she believes “we’re losing the edge on calibrating how someone is actually feeling; we’re losing the ability to banter back and forth. On the phone or live, [emotional] intonations are there and communication is deeper.”
Kay worries that our use of technology is creating less personalized and less authentic communication. “When you’re on Facebook and Twitter, people who are in their twenties, thirties, forties, or fifties are putting out really basic stuff like ‘I’m having a great day. I just got a raise.’ It’s a great way to share snippets of your life with a massive amount of people, but no one’s there [in a physical sense] and it’s creating tremendous cognitive dissonance.”
More and more people are embracing JOMO and making the choice to limit the time they spend on social networking sites in order to reconnect with the “real” people in their lives.
Disconnect to reconnect
Kay uses these two techniques with her clients to help them determine whether their use of technology is problematic.
1. Ask yourself, what is the last thing you did that brought you pleasure? For people whose lives are out of balance, this is a difficult question to answer.
2. Don’t use your cellphone during dinner for one week. Your reaction to this challenge will tell you whether you have a problematic relationship with technology. If you find it extremely difficult or impossible to eat without checking your phone, you may want to consider counselling or joining a group to learn how to be in the moment.
To help you unplug
Take a quiz
Researchers have put together a quiz at ratemyfomo.com to help us determine whether we suffer from FOMO.
Sign a pledge
Each year people worldwide take the Unplug Pledge to turn off electronic communication for 24 hours and enjoy simple pleasures such as getting outdoors or reading a book at nationaldayofunplugging.com.
Use a software program
Unable to unplug? Try a software program such as Freedom, Cold Turkey, or Anti-Social that limits computer access to social media sites for a length of time you specify. Cold Turkey donates 50 percent of the cost of their program to charity.