Social Media is Bringing An Unhealthy Amount Of FOMO Into Your Life

It is no surprise that social networking — revolutionized by Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey — has altered the landscape of our generation's social interactions. But these websites may actually influence users' habits and attitudes to an unhealthy extent. 

If you haven't heard the term "FOMO" you're most likely not a member of the millennial generation. The term stands for a fear of missing out, and it is a very real thing that many millennials experience. It is a complex concept that has been exacerbated by our generation's reliance on social media, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; many are so overwhelmingly consumed with the way they appear online that they experience anxiety, sadness, and stress over maintaining an "impressive" or "desirable" image. 

I've heard my mother's accounts of her high school and college experience. She and her friends would set a time and a place to meet and be there, no exceptions. There existed neither group texting to change plans nor social media to post pictures of private events, thus transforming private affairs into public spectacles for hundreds of acquaintances to witness. What is the point of members of my generation publicizing their social lives for the internet to see? And more importantly,what are the effects of the trend?

I will be the first to say that members of my generation are more concerned than ever with how their lives appear to others. As an article from Fastcompany.com explains, Instagram presents life as a giant party. "We all want people to think that our lives are shinier than they really are," and Instagram is one way of presenting such a lifestyle; through filters and blurring effects, mundane activities look glamorous. The right filter makes your TV dinner look like a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant or your standard house party look  like a scene from Project X.

The effects of social media are far-reaching; many social networkers base every small decision — from who they chose to associate with, how they dress to how they spend their time — off how those decisions will appear to the public, broadcast through websites like Facebook and Instagram. We want to fit in and have a good time so we use social media in order to conjure that image. Most importantly, we want everyone to see it. 

A recent article in the New York Times declared that "we are, in other words, one another’s virtual enablers." We are at fault here, driving one another to become more heavily dependent and influenced by social media through a "collective compulsion to document our lives and share them online combined with the instant gratification that comes from seeing something you are doing or experiencing get near-immediate approval from your online peers." 

FOMO might seem like a modern form of peer pressure, especially in a society that claims to value individuality above following the choices of others. But among some circles that base popularity off the number of likes an Instagram receives or the guest list of an exclusive Facebook invite, it is understandable why some individuals are so affected by social media appearance.

I often witness friends who, on the brink of exhaustion, choose to forgo a good night's sleep to take part in a mediocre night out. These worn-down college students know that the night will end up exactly like the last — unexceptional, average, and, ultimately, forgettable. They also know that eight hours of sleep would benefit their health and school work. But they imagine the pictures on Facebook the next day, the pictures of everyone that attended having the time of their lives. Just the thought is enough to choose partying over sleep. 

No matter how many times we confess the desire to simply disconnect from social media, the act is easier said than done. It is a definitive action, an acquiescence that we desperately miss the luxury of privacy. For instance, a common response to a breakup is to give your Facebook profile a makeover to appear like you are doing great; or, on the other hand, you can de-friend the Ex so you can't see that he or she has moved on. Some even opt for the most drastic measure — deactivating Facebook completely.

We are all to blame for our generation's obsession with social media and the FOMO that comes with it. We rely upon social media as a mirror into other's lives and we use it to portray ourselves according to an image we want others to see. The image we give off on our Facebook page may not reflect who we are, but who we want others to see. For better or for worse, such is the reality of the millennial generation. Have Facebook and other social media hijacked our lives? Perhaps it is time to disconnect or at the very least, give ourselves some limits; after all, there is far more to each of us than what appears on a Facebook page.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Hannah Loewentheil

I am a Senior at Brown University where I am studying international relations and non-fiction writing. Follow me on twitter @hrl792.

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