Social media and the Fear of Missing Out: Why are you reading this? Shouldn’t you be doing something cool?

We’re all aware of the existence of the black sorcery that is social media.
We all use it and we’ve all read the disparaging articles, heard the misinformed talking heads going on about its corruptive influence and then seen it all replayed again on TV – so it’s to our credit that we’re unaffected by this supposedly insidious force.

Mostly.

The thing is that whilst most forms of social media do not directly harm anyone, its extensive use has been seen to correlate with a high dissatisfaction of several fundamental psychological needs – the result of which is the phenomenon referred to as “The Fear of Missing Out”, or FoMO for short.

A psychological research study conducted by Andrew K. Przybylski, Kou Marayama, Cody R. DeHaan and Valerie Gladwell in 2013 defined the term and aimed to discover it’s social, mental and emotional correlates amongst those most heavily affected by it – social media users. The results of the study were predictable for those of you that have gleaned the onus of this blog post already; amongst users of social media, those individuals who felt they were lacking in autonomy (self-authorship), relatedness (closeness with others) and competence (ability to affect the world) were extremely likely to exhibit FoMO, defined in the study as: “the uneasy or sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in the possession of more or something better than you”.

Now ignoring how much of a pain in the ass that definition is to say, this has dire implications that users of social media should be aware of. The first of which is its potential impact on those individuals already suffering from depression or other depressive mental illnesses. For those fitting the above criteria for dissatisfaction of basic psychological needs (well over half of social media users, according to Przybylski et al.), use of social media can feel like you’re looking through a two way mirror: you can see everyone else getting on with their lives, seemingly unaffected by need-deprivation and un-afflicted with the all-too-common Fear of Missing Out, whilst you’re stuck on the other side, unable to be seen or interacted with. For an individual in a depressive state this could be damaging, and according to the study, FoMO is heavily correlated with pre-existing negative mental states.

Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way this can be combatted. The purpose of this post is to bring awareness of the phenomenon, and awareness of the fact that someone close to you is likely affected by it – on its own FoMO is unlikely to provoke any negative mental effects that aren’t already there, but hey, nothing bad ever came from caring for your fellow man.

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