The fear of Missing Out: an obsession with those we hardly know

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Over the weekend, I had a realization about our generation.  Let me paint a picture for you.  I was fully prepared for an exciting evening of drinks, drinks and more drinks. No, I’m not an alcoholic, although Santa did put a travel sized breathalyzer in my stocking this year. I was attending a 21st birthday party.

These parties always tend to fall into a similar pattern, dinner with the minors then bar crawl around downtown Omaha.  However, while sitting at this particular dinner, I noticed one very alarming trend.  Every three minutes, the lock button of peoples’ phones get quite the workout.

Mid-conversation, girls would politely nod while they check their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Vine.  Then the eye contact is back and they are in the conversation again.  Then they glance down again, checking their phone in the exact same order.  At one point, I looked around the table and everyone was on their phone.

Why is that such a strong compulsion for people? Don’t get me wrong, I am completely guilty of this as well, but am I the only one who has noticed how extreme this has gotten? Are we all that afraid of missing out on something that we forget to pay attention to those around us?

While browsing Buzzfeed the other day, I noticed several mentions of the fear of missing out, or as it is now called FOMO. Apparently, people have such an intense fear of missing any sort of social event, that they become obsessive.  Is that FOMO what drives people to obsess about their social media accounts?

It seems to contradict itself though.  By checking their phones every few minutes, people are actually missing out on the current social event.  We could have been sitting at this birthday dinner and One Direction could have walked into the restaurant and nobody would have noticed.  Obviously, I would have been the only one to notice, meaning I could have politely excused myself from the table, approached the British phenoms, fallen in love and been asked to join them on their upcoming world tour. My friends would have still been checking their Twitter.

People become so paranoid about whether or not others are having more fun.  Isn’t it more important to focus on actually having fun instead of worrying about how many likes your latest picture got on Instagram?  It almost seems as though people are in some sort of “Hunger Games” style competition to see who is more popular.  A bitter fight to the death to see who can attain a higher Klout score with each passing post.

What exactly makes us so obsessed with the lives of those we knew in high school that makes us paranoid about showing them how much fun we are having? Maybe it is not about showing them, but convincing ourselves. Perhaps we all have such a severe case of FOMO that we ARE actually missing out. Maybe we are so distracted by the knowing what our peers are doing at any given moment that we are missing out on the things that matter most.  Then again, maybe we are just really interested in seeing what the girl we sat next to in our freshmen level math class is doing this weekend.

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