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Imagine that there is a boisterous party going on in your house. As you sit in your bedroom, you can hear a mixture of conversation, laughter, and singing. You overhear two people discussing a recent trip to Bali—from what you gather, it sounds as if they are showing pictures of their trip to the group located right next to your bedroom. Do you join the group?

Of course you do. You don’t want to be left out.

The internet is one giant house party. It’s exciting and loud, filled with interesting people who are constantly conversing. Being that we are a pack animal, it stands to reason that we would join the party. If there is something going on, we want to be there. We want to be in the know.

Enter a malady of modern day—the fear of missing out (FOMO). Our ever-increasing ability to be connected has created a situation where we feel left out when we are not at the party—a party that is always within reach. No longer is there a clear separation between our analog and digital life. For many people, they are intertwined.

We are constantly changing our conception of the internet. In the age of dial-up, it was a virtual world that we visited (or the Information Superhighway that we drove down). While there were strong reasons to want to visit (message boards, information, email, pictures), it was still viewed as a distinct entity from one’s real life. The comparative difficulty to be connected created an ignorance of what we were missing—therefore we had no reason to miss it. For example, you didn’t feel like you were missing out on updates from high school classmates because never really gave it much thought. Now they are always smiling at you.

Most of us are now aware, thanks to updates and near permanent connectivity, that there is a tremendous amount of activity going on. It’s so easy to join the party. The hook for sites like Facebook is that the ongoing stream of updates, pictures, and videos promotes a feeling of missing out when you are not on the site. The danger, however, is that it can be mentally exhausting to always be on. In addition, studies have shown a negative correlation between time spent on Facebook and user happiness. We tend not to feel good about ourselves when everyone else seems to be having more fun.

The dirty truth is that most people are not as cool, attractive, wealthy, witty, or wise as they appear on Facebook. It’s a curated projection of self which is often miles from the authentic person. As a viewer, however, we can feel uncool, ugly, poor, dull, or dumb by comparing ourselves to these curated projections.

The fear of missing out has created a paradox: we are often so worried about not being at the proverbial party that we become unable to appreciate the activity that is going on in our bedroom. As you forget about the party for a little while, you start to notice the details of your bedroom. There’s a harmonica on the night stand and a beautiful painting on the wall. Looking to your left, you notice your significant other sitting on the corner of the bed. You certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on that…

Fear of Missing Out