Fear of missing out
Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent". This social anxiety is characterized by "a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing". FOMO is also defined as a fear of regret, which may lead to a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, a profitable investment, or other satisfying events. In other words, FOMO perpetuates the fear of having made the wrong decision on how to spend time since "you can imagine how things could be different".
Self-determination theory (SDT) asserts that the feeling of relatedness or connectedness with others is a legitimate psychological need that influences people's psychological health. In this theoretical framework, FOMO can be understood as a self-regulatory state arising from situational or long-term perception that one's needs are not being met.
With the advent of technology, people's social and communicative experiences have been expanded from face-to-face to online. On one hand, modern technologies (e.g., mobile phones, smartphones) and social networking services (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) provide a unique opportunity for people to be socially engaged with a reduced "cost of admission". On the other hand, mediated communication perpetuates an increased reliance on the Internet. A psychological dependence to being online could result in anxiety when one feels disconnected, thereby leading to a fear of missing out or even pathological Internet use. As a consequence, FOMO is perceived to have negative influences on people's psychological health and well-being because it could contribute to people's negative mood and depressed feelings.
The Fear of Missing Out phenomenon was first identified in 1996 by Dr. Dan Herman, a marketing strategist, who researched it and published the first academic paper on the topic in 2000 in The Journal of Brand Management.
Author Patrick J. McGinnis first used the term FOMO  and made it popular in 2004 when he published an op-ed in The Harbus, the magazine of Harvard Business School, titled "McGinnis' Two FOs: Social Theory at HBS", in which he referred to FOMO and another related condition, FoBO (Fear of a Better Option) and their role in social life at the school. The etymology of FOMO has also been traced to the 2004 Harbus article by academic Joseph Reagle.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) refers to the apprehension that one is either not in-the-know or is out of touch with some social events, experiences, and interactions. People who grapple with FOMO might not know exactly what they are missing but can still hold a fear that others are having a much better time or having a much more rewarding experience on the spur of the moment. FOMO could result from a variety of social activities in which one is absent, such as a conversation, a TV show, a wedding, a party, or a delicious restaurant in town.
FOMO could simply exist as a pervasive mental state, but it can also lead to different physical reactions (e.g., sweating) and real-world behaviors. According to a survey conducted in the US and UK, the majority of adult Millennials (current age between 18 and 34) stated that they want to say yes to everything due to the fear of missing out; over half of the respondents said that they barely invest sufficient energy or time in delving into topics or new interests. Moreover, FOMO serves as a motive for an increasing use of social media, which could distract people from learning in the classroom and operating motor vehicles. Furthermore, unhealthy digital habits, such as constantly checking for emails and social media updates, could be developed and thus lead to insufficient engagement in present social interactions.
Besides its impact on real-world social activities, FOMO could also influence the formation of long-term goals and people's self-perceptions. Around half of the respondents stated that they are overwhelmed by the amount of information that allows them to stay up-to-date and it is almost impossible to not miss out on something. Through the process of relative deprivation, FOMO is also found to be conducive to people's dissatisfaction with their experiences and a feeling of having less. Moreover, FOMO also plays a negative role in people's overall psychological well-being. FOMO is believed to trigger negative social and emotional experiences, such as boredom and loneliness, through social media usage. Consistent with earlier research, an empirical study on FOMO in 2013 found that FOMO has a negative effect on people's overall mood and life satisfaction.
In terms of the cognitive effects, FOMO could further instill a belief that an interruption is more like a "connection". FOMO may drive someone to constantly look for a better or more interesting connection with others, abandoning current connections to do so, without realizing that what they move to is not necessarily better, just different. Moreover, the importance attributed to the potential possibility of social interaction or continuously staying abreast of current events is so intense that personal safety may be ignored. For instance, it is common to find people texting while driving.
Causes and correlations
From the theoretical lens of psychological needs, FOMO could be attributed to situational or long-term deficits in psychological needs satisfaction, the prevalence of which contributes to an increasing transparency of other people's social lives and an escalating amount of real-time information. According to uses and gratifications theory, people actively choose and use social media to fulfill their specific needs, such as their needs for information or staying connected with others through socializing. For people who grapple with FOMO, social media involvement could be attractive because it serves as a convenient tool to be socially connected with a relatively low cost.
Self-determination theory contends that an individual's psychological satisfaction in their competence, autonomy, and relatedness consist of three basic psychological needs for human beings. People with lower levels of basic psychological satisfaction reported a higher level of FOMO; in other words, a significant correlation was identified between basic psychological satisfaction and FOMO. In addition, nearly four in ten young people reported that they experience FOMO sometimes or often. FOMO was found to be negatively correlated with age, and men are more likely than women to report FOMO.
Social media services like Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter are technological tools for seeking social connection and provide the promise of greater levels of social involvement. However, unhealthy digital habits can discourage sufficient engagement in present social interactions. When people use technology to define themselves by sharing their thoughts and feelings even as they're having them, they indirectly deliver an "I share therefore I am" message, which may lead people to distortedly misunderstand the essence of social connection or interaction. If more and more people attempt to seek novelty to share with others and catch their attention, perhaps they would progressively feel more isolated and empty.
Social media sites have become a large contributing factor to the FOMO sensation. People develop negative feelings and emotions from social media sites because of envy toward others’ posts and lives. Social media has created an easy-to-access, centrally located spot for people to constantly refresh their feeds and find out what others are doing at that exact moment. Snapchat has taken this idea to the next level. People post Snapchat stories, which are a collection of photos and videos that last 24 hours, of almost any and everything in their lives. This may be anything from pictures of the meal they just ate to a video of the country music concert they are attending. This allows users to see all the fun things their friends have done throughout the last day, causing FOMO to really set in. Researchers at two German universities looked at Facebook data and found that people had negative feelings when using social media because they saw the seemingly “perfect” lives of their friends. People who experience FOMO are more inclined to use social media sites because they feel the need to always "stay connected". Before social media and the cell phone surfaced, people typically only knew what their friends were doing by being with them. Today however, people can search for what they missed with a click of a button.
It is not uncommon for advertising and marketing campaigns to employ the appeal of FOMO in an era of new technology. Brands and companies often inform their customers of "can't-miss-out" experiences or deals (e.g., AT&T's "Don't be left behind" campaign, Duracell's Powermat "Stay in charge" campaign, Heineken's "Sunrise" campaign). Heineken's "Sunrise" campaign, in particular, aimed to encourage responsible drinking by portraying excessive drinking as a way to miss out on the best parts of a party, eschewing the more common warning that such drinking is a risk to personal health. However, there is also a tendency for brands to counter FOMO in their advertisements and campaigns, such as Nescafé's "Wake up to life" campaign. One very common FOMO marketing technique is to include a countdown timer as a way to explicitly show customers how long they have until they miss out on the sale.
FOMO is also perceived to foster higher TV ratings. Real-time updates about one's status and major social events allow a more engaged media consumption experience and faster information dissemination. Real-time tweets about the Super Bowl are considered to be correlated with higher TV ratings because of the appeal of FOMO and the prevalence of social media usage.
In popular culture
- Within the context of “The Curse of the Blitz” episode of the American TV series How I Met Your Mother, the curse often causes a character to miss out on fun and amazing events, in particular by prompting the character to leave just before the event occurs. The curse could foster a strong anxiety of FOMO, which makes the character continually try to make sure that he or she does not miss out on anything. In one scene, the curse causes Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) to miss out on amazing events including a coin toss that defies the laws of physics.
- FOMO is a theme that permeates all of the Orange is the New Black seasons, particularly 5, which opens with the episode "Riot Fomo" and which emphasizes numerous examples of various characters' fears of missing out. Examples of how the theme plays out throughout season 5 include numerous instances: of prisoners discussing their FOMO on significant events in their children's and families' lives, and their efforts to stay connected; of prisoners' loved ones and other stakeholders showing up at the prison or trying to stay abreast of what's happening there via Internet or news sources; of the prisoners using cellphones and computers they have confiscated to learn and keep up with developments in the outside world; of the tendency of TV shows to - as Zirconia puts it - "keep talking even when there's nothing more to talk about"; of the schisms between those who prefer separate themselves from the fray versus those who prefer to keep up with or even participate in what is happening; the conflicts that arise between those who want to know the truth of what's happening (e.g., Suzanne and Aleida) and their anger with those who withhold the truth from them (e.g., Black Cindy and Janae in the first instance, and Gloria in the second). "Loco Lorna", who is in prison for stalking a man she was fixated on but who wanted nothing to do with her, and Kasey, who becomes increasingly upset when she sees photos on social media indicating her significant other has become serious with her gal pal, demonstrate extreme reactions to the FOMO on romantic relationships.
- Lush has a jelly face mask called FOMO.
- Hyperbolic discounting
- Loss aversion
- Missed connections
- Murray's system of needs
- Opportunity cost
- Relative deprivation
- Self-determination theory
- Social media
- Status anxiety
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