Why it’s so hard to break the FOMO mindset, and who’s affected by it most

While social media is amazing for so many things, including but not limited to sharing breaking news, building communities, and drunk live tweeting your favorite shows, it’s also the biggest driver of FOMO: The dreaded Fear Of Missing Out.

Though you might’ve guessed that looking at other peoples’ life highlights online might make you feel weird about your own seeming lack of such highlights, a new paper in the Computers in Human Behavior journal gathered data on teens, FOMO, and social media, and found that FOMO is directly correlated to social media use, particularly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. But as New York Magazine‘s behavioral science column Science of Us points out, people look at other peoples’ fabulous lives because they’re bored or not happy with their own.

This, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you’re caught between your own IRL unhappiness and the curated URL joy of not just your immediate friends, but seemingly every single person on the planet. The outlet you seek for feeling connection or sating curiosity ends up furthering your dissatisfaction, which in turn… leads you to seek more outlets for feeling connection or sating curiosity. Social media competition, at its best, can fuel your ambition; at its worst, it can metastasize into depression.

Though most people are connected to at least one channel of social media, according to the Computers in Human Behavior paper, the demographic most affected by FOMO is young men. This part personally surprised me; the pop culture stereotype of social media curators/obsessors is oftentimes young women, so subconsciously, I believed that competitive young women, working in media or another super-social field, would be the ones most likely to feel FOMO. But, this was my own personal bias at play, and opens the door for conversations about male-centered posturing on the internet and within social networks.

In general, the paper draws the following, perhaps obvious conclusion: That it’s the teens who most want to be IRL popular that end up turning to and tuning into social media the most, and that their online unpopularity feeds back into their FOMO anxieties. As younger and younger kids get sucked into the digital vortex, what can older generations do to help them re-center themselves in their own lives? We’ll let them know, as soon as we figure out how to do that ourselves.