Social media casts a magnifying glass upon all kinds of anxieties — including the fear that somewhere all of our friends are leading exciting, audacious lives, while we are stuck at home in our pajamas, watching their adventures unfold via our Facebook news feed.
Professor Sherry Turkle, writing for the New York Times, labels this anxiety FOMO, or “fear of missing out.” She discusses how Facebook and other social media sites have exacerbated a problem that already existed before the technology came about and that has become “emblematic of the digital era.”
Before Facebook, most of us had to wait until a class reunion to start questioning how our achievements stacked up to those of our old classmates. In the weeks leading up to the reunion, we would secretly cross our fingers that “most likely to succeed” was still living in his mother’s basement playing “Dungeons and Dragons“ with the family dog.
We would envision the mean-girl prom queen in a million scenarios, from a stripper in Las Vegas to the mother of 14 illegitimate children. We would face our insecurities head-on, wearing designer gowns and over-priced suits as our armor, arriving to the event in rented luxury cars, all in the hopes that we might measure up to those we failed to impress 10, 20 or 30 years past.
However, thanks to social media, we now know the moment someone “most likely to succeed” becomes chief executive officer of a multi-million dollar corporation. Our secret hopes are dashed before they even have a chance to cloak us in a pseudo-security of the unknown. We are constantly measuring ourselves against our friends’ achievements, all the while wondering if our own achievements are even worth posting in our status updates.
Turkle is right – FOMO is exacerbated by social media. But, FOMO also serves a direct purpose in many of our lives. Many people are motivated by the successes of their peers. Human beings are competitive by nature. When the prom queen is a top-selling real estate agent, some of the girls she trampled during her high school reign are motivated to top her accomplishment, and thus push themselves to make better choices in their educations, lifestyles and even mates.
So, while FOMO may be growing, it ‘s not a completely negative phenomenon. It might push some people to better their own lives, and it motivate others to find acceptance about who they are sooner than they would have without digitally accelerated FOMO. Through maturity, we learn not to measure ourselves to someone else’s ruler, but we must usually suffer through anxiety and insecurity to reach this enlightenment.
Do any of your friends appear to suffer from Facebook envy or FOMO? Does seeing your others’ accomplishments and adventures posted in the news feed make your more or less motivated to achieve more with your own life?