F.O.M.O. is a defining ethic of our generation and a psychological issue that results in anger, irritation, and/or jealousy. It is short for ‘fear of missing out’ and is rooted in our over-dependence on social media and self-documentation. On social networks, individuals typically broadcast events and outings in their lives. While doing that, individuals are also constantly bombarded with bits and pieces of the lives of their family, friends, and acquaintances. The simple act of knowing what others are doing sparks many emotions that range from anxiety, to envy. Every picture on their news-feed is screaming, “Look at me! Look at how exciting my life is! Look at what I’m doing!” Although we knowingly curate our own social networks to represent our idealized selves and although others do the same, F.O.M.O. ensues and brings those negative emotions along with it.
Social networks provide the perfect space to play the social media game. It’s ideal because there are countless people involved, the places you can go are endless, and everyone is connected in one digital realm. To play this game, all you have to do is make your life seem much more exciting than it actually is. Whether or not your motive is to make others jealous, it’s the unfortunate, irrevocable result. We see these images of others having fun with their friends and family, and we want that. We see pictures of our friends hanging out without us, and we question why we weren’t invited. These pictures are what could have been. We may not mean to, but we are subconsciously comparing ourselves to what we see. We forget that there’s always more to the story and that what we see is not always real. This results in individuals not feeling satisfied with their lives, being envious of others, and fearful that they are missing out on all that life has to offer. Then we add our own pictures to the mix to show that we are also living fun lives, thereby contributing to this cyclical cycle of fakeness. I’ve done it. I’ve gotten all dolled up, gone out with my friends, and have taken pictures throughout the evening. The next day, despite how the evening went, I choose the best picture, edit it, and then caption it something usually along the lines of, “Best time last night with my girls. Love you all. *enter heart emoji or hashtag here*” But was my night truly that exciting? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I guess you had to be there to know.
On my Instagram, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not my evening was amazing, or if it was simply mediocre. For St. Patrick’s Day, I remember going out with my friend group and ending up having an awful time at a party. The next day, I hung out with them in their suite. While they put in a movie, I uploaded a picture to Instagram and captioned it, “Had the best St. Patrick’s Day celebration ever!” My friend checked his Instagram a few minutes later, saw my picture on his feed, read my caption, looked at me and said, “Felisa, you didn’t have fun last night…” I giggled. It didn’t matter whether or not I actually had a good time, what mattered was that it looked like I had a good time. I’ve been playing the social media game for years and I know exactly what I’m doing. So yes, my Instagram is curated. My social networks are almost like my own personal digital museums starring me, myself and I. There’s a reason behind everything I choose to post. But similarly to how the majority of museum artifacts are not displayed to the public, the majority of my life is not either. You will see what I want you to see, when I want you to see it.
I’m adding to this brutal, psychologically straining cycle, the only difference is that I’m fully aware of my actions, and know not to get jealous from other pictures. They might be posting a picture of themselves on the beach, but they are also on their phones right now. They can’t be living in the moment if they had to stop their ‘fun’ to take a picture of it. For all I know, they’re probably uploading it from their part-time job. I know exactly what they are doing, because I do it to. Thanks to social networks and technology, we now have a psychologically dangerous, yet consistent stream of visual reminders of how we could be spending our time. To make matters worse, all the apps are on our smartphones, which are always in the palm of our hands.