FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

It’s a pretty common feeling for the likes of me. You know when you’re too skint, too tired, a bit ill, drowning in a torrent of seminar reading and essay deadlines? Yet all it takes – for me, as I seem to be lacking in any sort of solidarity – is one word. “Pub?” And as if by magic I’m suddenly dressed to the nines and still in the club when the lights come on at the end of the night. Always an obvious indicator that you’ve had too much and it’s time to go home.

This is all because I’m paralysed with fear of being the one who doesn’t go out and ends up missing out on the best night out that ever took place ever. If something so rare and amazing might happen which will never be repeated, how could you say no? This feeling has plagued me for as long as I can remember, yet a new trendy acronym has come out, dubbing it “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) and it’s a movement that has been gracing headlines of the likes of The Guardian and The New York Times.

While feeling like this is nothing new, it seems to be getting worse, and calling it something abbreviated and stylish only solidifies it into a concrete phenomenon. Yep, it’s yet another new acronym for the BBM, ROFLMAO, ASBO generation, and it’s not going anywhere.

Depressingly, this problem has apparently been getting worse over the last few years. With the advent of social networking and mobile internet, we can get updates of how amazing other people’s social lives are 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Somehow spending the evening with your Friends box-set in your pyjamas isn’t a luxury, but a source of social stigma and pity. You’re the one that’s missing out.

Thanks to Foursquare and Facebook, you can find out that your course-mate is having the time of their life, shedding light on the fact that you haven’t actually moved from your duvet for a while now. And what about having all those fabulous parties you weren’t invited to displayed before your very eyes. Makes you feel brilliant, doesn’t it?

Not that I’m trying to imply that being perpetually tuned in to Twitter makes you any cooler. In fact, I get pretty annoyed when people constantly post about what a nice time they’re having – do you actually speak to people? Is it really possible to interact with your peers when you’re glued to your iPhone, updating every last one of your acquaintances twice a minute with what you’re up to? But does this mean missing out in a different way? Are social networks actually counter-productive to your social life? It seems to me that, when used excessively, they have two main effects: firstly, to make those not out on the town feel bad about it. Secondly, to distract and detract from how much fun the people who are actually out are having. As Hephzibah Anderson put it for the article on FOMO in The Guardian, “We’re too busy tweeting about the scent of those roses to actually breathe it in.”

Comfortingly, I’m not the only one plagued by FOMO. Anna Sproul set up the blog NOMOFOMO (www.nomofomo.com) in 2009 exploring the phenomenon. She writes that “FOMO makes obsessive cataloguers of its sufferers.” Not just social networking updates, but photo albums, blog posts, pins on maps. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a world map with X’s drawn on it on my bedroom wall. Why is having been there not enough? We do we feel the need to prove it? I have hundreds of photographs stuck on my wall, am I just trying to show that I’ve been there, done that?

In addition to cataloguing what I have done, while contemplating my obsession with FOMO, I considered something. How much does trying to be a social butterfly detract from the other important elements of your life? If you say yes to every single social engagement you’re invited to, what else do you miss out on? If you’re anything like me, a particularly heavy night out leaves me feeling fragile to say the least. I don’t respond well to being hungover, and it can often leave me looking and feeling like an extra from Shaun of the Dead (minus the blood). This surely means I’m missing out on other things. My studies must suffer at least a bit, and my finances definitely take a hit. If I didn’t transform every student loan into vodka, what else would it have gone on?

So you’ve got your degree, and maybe a part-time job. Then there’s the recommended number of hours of work towards your degree that you’re supposed to do outside of lectures – it varies from course to course, but the general consensus is that it’s far more than the average student would possibly consider. Add to that a social life, a couple of nights out, and for the lucky ones maybe a significant other. This poses the question: how do we fit it all in? It seems as if the only way to have it all and get everything done is to be severely sleep deprived.

Unfortunately, we live in a city where there’s quite a lot to do. The University boasts a million and one things to spend your time and student loan on, plus you can’t walk through town without getting bombarded with leaflets and flyers, all claiming that their venue is the one and only place to be. Their offers are the cheapest, their music is the best. They even have a DJ set by that celebrity you’d forgotten existed. How can you refuse?

As it turns out, some people can, I’m just not one of them. My beloved housemate can just say no, if she reckons she won’t enjoy it that much, suspects it’ll be expensive, is faced with the dread of a 9am lecture the following day, she’ll just stay in, quite happily. She’s lucky enough to not be plagued with FOMO, and as a result is probably a lot better at life than I am. She saves her money, doesn’t get the burning ache of the pain of high heels, and isn’t crippled by a hangover while she’s at uni. And she’s also perfectly content with it, but I don’t understand her.

After some consideration, I’ve decided that an element of FOMO is probably a good thing. If you’re a student, then it’s probably better to spend these few years living up to the rowdy, depraved reputation, because let’s face it, it doesn’t last forever. To be frank, if you graduate and all you’ve got to show for it is a degree, then you have missed out; being a student basically gives you a free pass to stay out all night, sleep til noon and spend the rest of your day watching Countdown. Although it’s sometimes a chore to find, I guess the best thing we can hope for is to find a balance.

I reckon there’s worse things in life than a bit of FOMO. Especially if you call it something a bit more favourable. Something that sounds more exciting and positive like a lust for life, a desire for adventure, carpe diem and so on. Although it might be slightly detrimental to your degree, your health and your finances, fear of missing out ensures that most of the time, you don’t miss out. Fellow FOMO-ers, I salute you. I don’t care if you have a 9am lecture tomorrow morning, I’ll see you on the dancefloor.

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