The Fear of Missing Out

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The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is arguably the psychological phenomenon that drives social media. Directly related to the growth in social media, the urban dictionary defines this issue as “the fear you feel that you will miss out on something huge if you don’t do something/participate in an event.


The purpose and function for most people on social media is to become aware of everything that is happening to those people around them. The malevolent intention being to connect, network and interact with friends and acquaintances. However, as these social networks continue to develop and integrate themselves into society the negative side of belonging—or not belonging—has arisen.

Parties You Weren’t Invited To

A recent post by Caterina about FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out) has sparked awareness in the blogosphere of this growing issue. She describes that “FOMO is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on.”

Caterina is one of the founders of Flickr, which has been described as “Parties You Weren’t Invited to Channel” by Maggie Mason who responds to the idea of FOMO with “I still love social media, despite the occasional sense that everyone is popping bottles of champagne on city rooftops while I watch The Office reruns in my yoga pants.”

Another Party For Those Afflicted

While it is not an affliction officially recognized by the NHS, there are support groups and even a Facebook page for sufferers. Members work through their FOMO challenges together with claims that they “will turn up for the opening of a letter” in order to avoid feeling left out, where they “sign up for more things than I can possibly attend and wish I could be everywhere…because I’m always worried I’ll miss out on something.” and admit to agonizing over not being here.

For those afflicted with FOMO the benefit of the actually participating is much less than the fear of not being included. The misery is compounded by imagining conversations that are happening at the event as well as online between other people at the same event.

The Scholars Weigh In

It turns out that this concept has not been born of social media. Social exclusion and rejection have inspired endless poets, songwriters, sociologists and anthropologists. After all, human beings are deeply social creatures. We desire to live, love and work with others whom we know and who know us. We are driven by the desire to belong and it’s dark side: the fear of being an outcast. Anthropologists have been exploring the the desire to belong as a universal human trait for decades before social media existed.

FOMO Drives Investment Bubbles

FOMO transgresses industries and can also be found in finance. The prospect of regret is also common in finance and can be witnessed in investment bubbles. When investors become more concerned with their fear of being left out than losing their original investment, they invest in a bubble at the worst possible moment. The common sense of an investor’s understanding of the bubbles and the market can be overridden by the social implications of their competitive neighbor chiding them for not “getting in on Google”.

Conquer the Fear

Do forays into social media make you feel more connected or less adequate? The majority of the angst of FOMO exists within those who are lurking on the Facebook pages of their ex, stalking their favorite celebrity, and Googling the names of all their high school classmates. If you have these problems, get away from your computer and spend less time with social media and create your own unique reality that makes you more interesting to follow.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charamelody/4757913318/)

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  • I know that FOMO is real, but that doesn’t mean I understand it. To me, it’s a lot like quantum physics–it is real (I guess), but it is beyond my ken. I am a dedicated misser-outer (a DMO?). I highly recommend it. No support group required.