Fear Of FOMO

What do you miss out on, by worrying about missing out?

It's pathological; it's a mental condition.

For most of us, however, we understand reality, but still we have a sneaking suspicion way back in the depths of our psyches, a sense of unease and horror that can be the reason for all kinds of weird behavior. We rush to be first to plunk down our hard earned cash for the 'once-in-a-lifetime, never-to be-repeated sales' events at our local Walmart, spending whole nights in line in shivering cold just to save $11.79 on a new Kraplon sweater.

It's a contagious disease of 'me first.' And even the most jaded and blasé of us looks upon the available opportunities to select the latest so we can ditch the rest. We all have the notion that the person who makes the pioneering effort is somehow worthy of a higher regard and has proven themselves more worthy of our adulation than those who follow. "I am the inventor of the Tuna Dream sickle!! But Toledo wasn't ready."

Which leads us to FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out: Be the first!

One who is not the fashion leader, the avant garde, first in line is somehow relegated to a vastly inferior position in the hierarchy of those who have made achievements. Christopher Columbus is well known, but who were those other guys that followed his lead. Vasco da Gama? Phooey! They were somewhat famous people in their time, but their names are hardly heard today.

Nobody wants to be an 'also-ran.' Everybody wants the acclaim due when their ideas and tastes are copied by others. Everybody wants their contributions known. And they want to be first doing something, no matter how stupid and inconsequential.

From the red-neck teen screaming "Watch 'is y'all!" as he tries desperately to juggle kitchen knives while jumping off the high board, to the motorcycle leaps of Evel Kneivel, the daredevil in us is desperate for attention. It is this compulsion that leads to FOMO.

Mostly we are minimally involved in these things, dabbling, in a rather unserious way. We spend a little time, a little money, put up with a little inconvenience, to achieve our tiny need for notoriety.

But there are those among us, like the teen boy above, who will go to great lengths to push his ego upon us. And these people let their FOMO get out of control.

FOMO: Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.

- Oxford English dictionary

And that is it. The nutshell is that simple. There are a lot of us who do not want to be left out. We are social animals and we want to be included.

We are the beings who make up Tom Wolfe's "The Kingdom of Speech," (This writer's last article) who make our own rules for compliance in our little sects with their own particular rules for fitting in. We are the sentient ones who demand notice for ourselves and our actions. We are separate from animals, made so by our intellect and demonstrated by our capability of speech, but we have enough in common with them to have the same needs for approval and acceptance.

But, unlike FOMO, the Kingdom of Speech is peculiarly human. No other species - none - share in the level of communication which humans enjoy.

There are many species which revel in the ability (or necessity) to flaunt themselves in the way that humans do. Birds come to mind as the most obvious example, with their haughty ways, preening and grooming at the most inopportune times. All the simian species are guilty, as are the cats and others.

This seems to be a trait of many of us. We can all laugh at our own FOMO compulsions just as we can cry over them also.

FOMO is both the mechanism by which approval is given and is the human need to receive it. The whole reason for Facebook and its ilk is FOMO. And the success of social media demonstrates the fact of this need in our society.

The Bezoses in happier times.

A case in point: Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man.

Mr. Bezos has decided, after a quarter-century of marriage to the same woman, that he will split with her - a move that may cost him half his fortune. Mr. Bezos founded Amazon with his wife in 1993 in a Seattle garage, working tirelessly for many years building the business with his wife at his side.

For more than two decades, Mr. Bezos had built a public persona of a low-key billionaire who did the dishes every night, had a happy home life, valued frugality and was a bit of a nerd at work.

The Wall Street Journal

Spending his life as a low-key workaholic, he led Amazon to the very top of modern business, putting all of his competition far behind him.

But then, with the predictable expansion of his business into movie and television production, our rock-steady businessman gets a case of arrested development when he finds the opportunities available in the world of entertainment.  Who could resist the lure of sharing a table with Mick Jagger and Scarlett Johansson, or rubbing shoulders with other big stars. It sounds like Mr. Bezos is making up for his FOMO in spades.

Bet Jeff never thought he'd end up here!

Tales of the rich and famous are replete with the story of the sturdy businessman being converted into the hell-raising middle-aged turncoat who ditches the wife and pursues 'other interests.' It seems that FOMO is a common thread in this story, too.

From the table of the stars to the Touchdown Club of the SEC team, there are celeb wannabes seeking their gratification in every way they can.

Much of our FOMO fascination goes past, and is relatively harmless. Most of us spend our lives living with this minor obsession which we hold in line, only allowing seasonal bursts of fervor which we hide at all other times. But, there are some who have a much more involved case of the disease.

And, in these cases, disease it becomes. FOMO is a symptom of many of the ills that dwell in our society.

From Forbes magazine: Recent studies have shown that FOMO is often linked to feelings of disconnection and dissatisfaction, and that social media fuels it.

 - Forbes magazine

Does all this talk of something that you know you participate in to one degree or another make you question your sanity? Does the implication that social media is somehow unhealthy make you question the way you spend your time? It should.

Social media is the culprit in much of the mental anguish that people go through these days. They bring it upon themselves. All the fear and loathing that is the subject of the conversations that otherwise perfectly sensible people have within their groups on social media becomes far more in all aspects than it really is.

If you're concerned with what social media is doing to your head, there is a test. It is certain to be reliable and can be trusted to reveal even the most deep-seated psychological effects of modern life. And it's only two pages long!

Just kidding. No test will reveal the depth that social media has influenced our society. Questions about how social media has assumed such a large role in our society have arisen, and are awaiting our response - but blaming it all on FOMO won't help.

Thomas Anderson is a multi-state registered architect and an ex-Air Force electronic technician, who is a keen observer of the human condition.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Thomas Anderson or other articles on Society.
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