We are all surrounded by FOMO

11 February 2020 | Columns

Justicia Shipena

It’s ever-present and thought consuming. It’s the itchy mosquito bite on your leg you need to scratch but know you shouldn’t. It’s the fear of missing out (FOMO), and it is ingrained into our psyches.

Everyone experiences FOMO at some point in their lives. When we face choices regarding how we want to spend our time, there’s always the doubt that we are sacrificing something that will never present itself again. This fear is rarely based on reality. Most of the time, the thing that we have ‘sacrificed’ and spent our time fretting over is not as spectacular as we initially hyped it up to be in our head.

Despite this truth, we always end up wishing and wondering whether we should be somewhere else. It isn’t hard to speculate where FOMO comes from or why it’s so prominent among people of our age compared to members of older generations.

Social media has become an essential and daily part of our lives that is often taken for granted. The statistics on how harmful social media is and the rants and judgements of older generations about how we are addicted to our phones can frequently go in one ear and out the other. While technology and social media undoubtedly have downsides, they have also given our generation immense advantages in the way we interact with each other and our surroundings.

It is useless and unwarranted to completely berate this generation’s use of technology and social media. However, it is important that while we recognise all the good, we also confront the bad.

Instead of condemning our generation’s use of technology, we should be devoting attention to the necessity of personal reflection, self-awareness and intentional living when it comes to social media. If we don’t pause and think about how we’re engaging with social media and each other, then the negative side of it media will continue to have an adverse effect on us.

I hadn’t really considered any of these issues until a friend of mine told me he wanted to delete all his posts on Instagram and start fresh. He told me he wanted to create a profile that was a better representation of who he is currently. In reality, he wanted to create a profile that was a better representation of what he wanted others to think of him.

During our conversation, he said he was only going to post when he was genuinely happy and had something purely positive to share with the world. In reality, he only ever posted when he had something to prove or when he wanted others to believe that he was happy. This kind of denial led him to be wary of social media: Instead of taking advantage of the benefits the platform could offer, his mindset had created a competitive and harsh environment in which he would no doubt always lose.

This mindset is only one aspect of the complicated and messy culture of social media I and many others feel the effects of. Social media encourages us to not only present a perfect version of ourselves, but to judge others with the same kind of unfairness we experience. In essence, we must strive for the approval of others when we should be looking inward for validation. Similarly, our constant connectedness has great benefits and great costs. On one hand, we’re able to reach parts of the globe we’ve never seen and learn new and unique perspectives. On the other, we feel the pressure to always reach out to others, leaving us uncomfortable when we face any sort of disconnectedness.

We might not realise it explicitly, but social media has a massive effect on our mental health. Especially as young individuals, it can connect us with people around us while simultaneously isolating us.

Deleting our social media profiles can make us feel freer and less obligated to keep up with every little thing going on around us, but, in a culture where a lot of our communication is done through our phones, it can also lead to many unintended consequences.

Instead of choosing one extreme or another, we should be reflecting more on the role we want technology to play in our lives instead of simply accepting it as the status quo.

Taking a break from social media or limiting screen time may be hard at first, but it will most likely help you feel more present and happy.

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