Ask Alicia How She Feels About Being Left Out

The fear of missing out

by Derek Fisher

FOMO, or the "fear of missing out", is not a new concept. However, the digital age has magnified the ability for others to broadcast their best moments in life. While many of us look at that as an opportunity for celebration, for some, it can lead to a desire to be or have something else.

This desire or frustration can stem from wanting to be somewhere else, to want something else, or even be someone else. It can also lead to anger or sadness when we are not invited to something that others are.

We must remember that when we are posting, texting, sharing, or otherwise engaging in the digital world, we are typically only showing the best parts of our lives. We do not often share pictures of the dishes piling up in the sink, the loads of laundry left on the floor, or the bad hair day we are having. We are only sharing pictures of vacations, exotic meals, expensive gifts, and other fun and exciting things. There is a simple reason for this: we control what we post, and we only want to show the best side of our lives. Yes, this is not always the case, but it is generally our instinct. And when we see the digital lives of others, we are in turn, seeing the best of them.

Avoiding FOMO pushes us to look at our devices frequently. And when we engage in the digital landscape through something like social media, it makes us feel like we have someone listening. It means that we can feel as though we are never alone. And we feel anxious when, even for a few moments, we are alone. Like at a stop light in traffic, waiting for your server at a restaurant, or standing in line. We begin to search for something that will fill that moment of solitude with a window into other people’s lives. Chances are, you will not see pictures or sitting in traffic, waiting for a server, or standing in line.

Sherry Turkle, a professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, had a perfect summarization of this concept in a 2012 TedTalk: "I share therefore I am. We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings even as we are having them. So, before it was: I have a feeling, I want to make a call. Now it's: I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text." Being connected to our devices, social media, and other forms of communication provide us the ability to feel like we are less alone. Having followers, and following others gives the sense of community. However, continuing with Sherry Turkle's thoughts on this: "But we are at risk, because actually it's the opposite that's true. If we are not able to be alone, we are going to be lonelier. And if we do not teach our children to be alone, they are only going to know how to be lonely.”

So, what does this mean for us? First, we need to recognize that what we currently have is enough and it is easy to forget to appreciate what we have is enough to sustain us. We need to have open conversation with ourselves, our partners, and our children over the use of technology and it is impacts on our lives and emotions. We must also stay connected with the people that are physically around us as much, if not more, than those we connect with in the digital world.

This does not mean that we need to throw our devices out the window and go running through the woods to be with nature (sometimes I feel like doing that though). Similar to television, books, and music, digital life offers a level of escapism that most of us find exciting and interesting. As with most things in life, context and moderation matter.