I was reading an article this week and it referred to “FOMO”. As a TechnoTeacher, I was keen to found out more about this 21st century phrase.
FOMO = the Fear Of Missing Out.
In terms of being addicted to social media, FOMO is the reason that so many of us stay plugged in, according to an article by Przybylski, A.K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C.R., & Gladwell, V (2013). tIn ‘Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out’, the authors discuss the dual nature of being connected and engaged with social media. In this piece, they create and evaluate a self-report measure for FOMO and explore how FOMO links to our needs and our relationship with social media. This relationship between our ‘fears’ and looking at social media as entertainment alone made me think. How harmful it is really to want to stay connected? Should we be checking our online habits as a matter or urgency?
Question: To those of you out there who don’t really post status updates, share links or get involved in discussions, why are you online and visiting social media sites? To those of us who constantly check our devices and share our lives online, why are we bothering?
The answer is that you, and most of us, don’t want to miss out. We want to be relevant. We need to join the party. (PS Please watch this viral video about what happens if you left a real party like people leave Facebook - hilarious!).
This quote from Sam (played by Emma Stone) to her Dad in the Oscar-winning movie Birdman (2014, Dir:Alejandro G. Iñárritu) seems to sum it up nicely. Sam says,
“You hate bloggers. You mock Twitter. You don’t even have a Facebook page. You’re the one who doesn’t exist. You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter and, you know what, you’re right.”
Sam is on to something. There is a real modern-day fear that being online helps us to “matter”. To have a presence and exist, in either real or constructed worlds. We need to ‘be’ at the party, to be invited and be mentioned afterwards. We fear the idea of missing out.
I, like many of you, love wasting time online. Being able to connect with a friend (in real time) who lives on the other side of the globe is still a buzz for me. I love reading funny parenting and tech blogs, being judgmental of my ‘friends’ posts and do most of my work online. I feel that being online means I do not miss my friends as much - as I can reach out to Spain, the USA or Australia anytime I like, all from my little village in the UK. We can be in constant contact and really seize every day when it comes to tech. We can be involved in global webinars (I did a Harvard one this week), email anyone with an @ address and join in the conversation by literally adding our ‘comments’ all over the world wide web.
But I also wonder whether the idea of YOLO (You Only Live Once) is at the heart of FOMO. By this I mean the carpe diem nature of YOLO means that many users chuck all aspects of their life online. ’No filter for us -YOLO! ‘. ‘Look what we are doing - YOLO!’ .’This is what I think - YOLO!’ But once we have posted an image or comment online, it is there forever, and for longer than that moment. It is there for a lifetime.
As I have written previously, many people (including people I know - responsible adults and parents) upload and (over) share what matters in their lives - weddings, babies, milestones and ‘good’ nights out. Also relationship breakups, private images of their children and offensive campaign memes. By sharing these personal messages online, we basically show off unedited moments of our lives for others to judge. We don’t want to miss out. And we don’t want our followers to either. Our lives matter so much that everyone must want to be involved with all aspects, right?
My concern is that once posted these ‘updates’ are rarely private. Once they are online, they are there forever. We are creating a digital footprint for others to see. Family and friends can see those cute baby milestones and funny drunken nights, but so can others who will search for us in the future, meaning future employers and future bullies.
The posts that matter to us right now (YOLO) and our FOMO could mean that we have lost our perspective. We don’t really see how we are presenting both ourselves and those we are responsible for.
So back to FOMO = ‘What about you?’ I hear you ask, When it comes to FOMO, I am as bad as my students for checking my “me-machine” (taken from Joshua Ferris’ novel, To Rise Again. I spend too long checking my iPhone for notifications, reading articles often for the comments, and love watching Jimmy Fallon YouTube uploads. However, unlike many teens, not everything that I have done is online. Luckily for me Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. I was unable to document my frequent falls from grace at uni for all the world to see. Because I came of age in a pre-digital era, my digital footprint isn’t too bad.
I have ‘used’ the internet for work and therefore my digital footprint online is mainly about my work. If you Google me (as I did in the name of research), the first four pages of 35,000 items are (mainly) about me and my work. I have I have moderated and assessed exam work online. I even managed to write a book online. I write for lots of publications and have a large digital footprint that is mainly professional (as I am in the biz). And although I chat with friends and relatives online, this is all done through private and secure apps/sites.
Ultimately I have created two constructed online versions of myself, one for friends and family (mainly on private sites), and the other for work.
For me, being online is not due to the FOMO (or so I tell myself). It is a means to an end as an online writer. I am aware of my online footprint and how I use social media, but I wonder who else is this aware. Is becoming aware the next step in our online evolution? We have the Internet. Now we need to make sure it works for us rather than against us. We need to control the Internet as well as our need to be on it.
That’s why this group of teens decided to go offline, to challenge why they liked being online so much. Could they do without it and go ‘cold turkey’? These Year 11 students from Hackney, London reported it as part of the BBC Schools Report. Have a read and I will wait for you.
One student said, “As we shut off our devices, I already felt as if I had lost a limb. I then had to think what I would do with the extra time I had which I would have spent 'wasting' on social media sites.”
How many of you out there would feel the same?
Another student remarked, “I also learnt that taking a little break away from all the mainstream chaos did me good. Although I felt disconnected for a while, I ultimately felt more secure with myself because now I didn't have to impress anyone or be jealous of anything online.”
This student’s choice of the word ‘chaos’ is very interesting. We do all feel part of the Facebook party (see video above) but also we can ‘quit at any time’… But can we?
Part of FOMO is that being online allows us to connect with others. We are never alone. We receive attention and immediate responses from people who matter to us in the most positive sense of being online. These two statements by the teens illustrate how the need to be respected and loved manifests itself through compulsive social networking activity. Although this is great, I do feel that we need to be aware of the darker side of participating online. By that I mean trolling, cyber-bullying, the digital footprints we create and that not everyone online shares our joy with us.
Therefore I have two conclusions.
1. The things that matter to us should only be shared with those who matter to us.
2. If we stopped calling our devices phones and tablets, and ‘me-machines’ instead ,we might start to realise what we do online is more about us than others. Sometimes we don’t think about the consequences of being online and what we say - what the impact is on others and even ourselves/our future.
So, I leave you reader with these questions:
I would love to hear your responses!
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