It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of ‘Predictably Irrational’ and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.” (“Feel Like a Wallflower? Maybe It’s Your Facebook Wall” New York Times, 4/9/2011)
I mentioned last week how excited I am for the release of Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). The title alone tells me hers will be my kinda stories.
The titular concern is a universal one—no one wants to feel left out—but I didn’t know until yesterday that there is an actual scientific term for this sentiment: FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. According to this article’s author, FOMO “refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.”
The author says she was struck with FOMO on a quiet Friday night when, while she was curled up on the couch, her phone went bonkers with alerts about her friends’ whereabouts. Three ladies were at a nearby music venue, without her. Other pals posted pics from a trendy restaurant. Suddenly her cozy night in didn’t seem so luxurious.
I can relate. I catch a bad case of FOMO whenever I see Facebook pictures of my New York BFFs out on the town together. I feel it even if the pics are simply of them lounging at someone’s apartment. That’s when it hits me: Everyone is hanging out without me.
And it’s not just feelings of being left out. Looking at someone’s photos or reading their Tweets often makes me feel like my life is too plain. I’m not spending my evenings at movie premieres like my friend Adam apparently is. Or eating sushi in Japan like Lauren seems to be. Or having babies like, um, EVERYONE.
These are the moments when I remind myself that Facebook photos and other social media updates are self-selecting. No one is going to post pictures of their lazy Friday evening on the couch (though even that might be enough to inspire FOMO in a super-busy overscheduled type). We document the events that are unusual and exciting, the minutia of every day doesn’t warrant such online real estate.
I’m just as guilty of this as the next girl: I’ve only posted photos to Facebook once, and it was pics of my Croatian vacation. Hardly an everyday occurrence.
FOMO is only going to strike more and strike harder as social media continues to grow. “Streaming social media have an immediacy that is very different from, say, a conversation over lunch recounting the events of the previous weekend. When you see that your friends are sharing a bottle of wine without you — and at that very moment — ‘you can imagine how things could be different,’ Professor Ariely said.”
The solution? Unplug. Step away from the computer or, as the author did, turn your phone screen-side down.
No mo’ FOMO. (Yeah, I said it.)
Have you been struck with FOMO after perusing one too many Facebook pictures or status updates? What’s your cure?