May 09

Are you suffering from FOMO?

Kids and adults text while doing other things all of the time. I see it all around me. What could possibly be so important that some adults even text while driving?

Are we suffering from FOMO?

We are constantly social networking while we are waiting, travelling, walking and even when we are talking. At times I find myself thinking that too many people find social networking more important than their own lives (and the lives of others). They interrupt one call to take another and check their Twitter stream while on a date. Is it because something more interesting or entertaining just might be happening?  Often we are so connected with one another through our Twitter streams and through our Facebook and LinkedIn updates, that we can’t just be alone anymore. The Daily Mail.uk and the New York Times recently wrote articles about the fascinating concept of FOMO:  fear of missing out. This is so intense, even when we’ve decided to disconnect, we still connect just once more, just to make sure. What about yourself? Do you suffer from FOMO?

Connected to this fear of missing out on something better that’s going on without you, are these “fake” personas we promote on websites like Facebook. I say “fake” because we often present only the best side of our lives on social networking sites. After all, who wants to be “friends” with someone who’s posting depressing status updates and who seems to be doing nothing interesting in their lives? So they are indeed a little fake, because instead of us being completely real, we tend to censor what we post to our social media profile these days. The people on Facebook are often simply their idealized selves — with a bit of misery thrown in from time to time to “keep it real.”

As Sherry Turkle says in her book Alone Together;

“Sometimes you don’t have time for your friends except if they’re online,” is a common complaint. [...]

When is downtime, when is stillness? The text-driven world of rapid response does not make self-reflection impossible, but does little to cultivate it.

Turkle’s descriptions of some of the teens who’ve told her their story is rather scary. Teens who believe they need to be available 24/7 to their friends, because, you know, someone might get dumped or into an argument with their parents. They need instant gratification and solace. Nobody can wait anymore — not because they can’t — but because they don’t need to.

“We aren’t used to seeing the world as it happens,” he said, “We as humans can only process so much data.” Kevin Systrom, the chief executive of Instagram is clear that we might not be ready for the quick changes around us. Is this the reason for allowing ourselves and our children/students to constantly be online? Are we all trying to keep up? Is this why social networking is so attractive? Do we all suffer from FOMO because of this new digital fase?

Turkle thinks along the same lines as Systrom, when she says;  “In a way, there’s an immaturity to our relationship with technology,” she said. “It’s still evolving.” She is spot on. We all must agree that our relationship with technology is still very fresh and new. We don’t quite know how to interact well — mindfully, meaningfully — with it. Let alone without it. Where is the balance?

Teens think they “get it” — that technology is a natural extension of their social lives. But I think they’re mistaken — they’re only just beginning to craft their lives around the technology and have just begun to understand how to create a digital footprint.

The fear of missing out is a very real feeling that’s starting to permeate through our social relationships. My question is – what are we teachers doing about it? Are we teaching our students what FOMO is and how to deal with it? I think we should! It is important to teach and learn that we can settle for what we have, rather than cling to the fear that we may be missing out on something better. We need to balance our lives and this needs to be added to an AUP.

Image: some rights reserved to Angela Mayfield


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  1. Avatar of Gwen Martin
    Gwen Martin

    What a great article. FOMO. I am adding that to my vocabulary and sharing your article with lots of people. I can’t tell you how irritated I get when someone is driving (usually in rush hour traffic) and texting. I don’t even want them to use the cell phone! DRIVE, or pull over and talk. If I were out to dinner with someone and they kept checking their Twitter or email I would have to leave. I think we are losing the capability of sitting face to face with people. Even in meetings someone will pop up, “Oh I must take this call.” Why, is your house burning? Not that a sick child wouldn’t be a priority but dimes to donuts it isn’t that important.
    Keep us posted on ways of sharing with students, parents, and teachers on how to decrease our FOMO. (My friends often complain that I forget to turn on my phone or that it is out of battery power. Opps.)

  2. Avatar of brad thies
    brad thies

    I led a retreat for high-school students a couple of years ago. There was one stipulation: students had to agree to put their cell phones in a basket and would be allowed to use for one hour each morning(hey we’re not crazy!) of the retreat and were to remain off the rest of the time. 1 1/2 hours later we still had two students holding out. It was all we discussed in that 1 1/2 hour period. After getting the final hold-out to at least agree to not to using it during the retreat we began what we came to the retreat for. Yeah, FOMO is real. Students would be the first to admit that it’s real. Incidentally, I caught the hold-out texting during our first break.

  3. Avatar of Justin Marslender
    Justin Marslender

    This was a great post. I think I might have FOMO in the sense that I enjoy being connected to the news and what is happening around me; I’ll check the news, but I don’t need to constantly be on my phone. Maybe if I had a fancier phone I’d want to check news and Facebook on it. I agree with Gwen above that it is rude to be with someone and need to take calls. I’ve been out to dinner with my wife and watched another couple sit and text…we wondered if they were texting each other. Sometimes kids with their cell phones remind me of Linus (from the Peanuts) and his blanket.

    1. Avatar of Sanne Bloemarts
      Sanne Bloemarts

      @ Justin; yes, I think we are all a litte guilty of FOMO. And why? I think it’s just because everything is so accesible now a days. We don’t have an excuse for not knowing and don’t we all want to be up to date with the news, stock market, our friends, etc.
      On the flip side, I think it is unrealistic to expect students be up to date on all of their teacher’s websites/blogs while we are also expecting them to find a balance. Where will they find the time? The time to check in with the teacher’s online communications, their social networking, their sports and all this in addition to their ‘regular’ homework. Something has got to give!

  4. Avatar of Merilyn Winslade
    Merilyn Winslade

    An interesting post. I disagree about Facebook pages being “fake” vs what the person is “truly” like. Surely in our face-to-face interactions, we are also presenting a particular side of ourselves. Certainly I behave differently at work than I do with my close family. I present a different person with my close friends than I do with new friends. I think that a facebook profile is a true reflection of the person for that environment. Just as the way someone behaves at work is a true reflection of that person for that environment.

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