Fear of missing out 

Author: Tina Kikalishvili

Topic: Health

Imagine you are having dinner with your family. You’ve agreed in advance that you would not use smartphones, but your smartphone continues to shine. Yes, you can turn the internet off, but will your mind be able to communicate peacefully with your family members? How would you rate the stress you are experiencing on a scale of one to seven? If you are anxious when you don’t know what your friends are chatting about, and if you can’t wait to check the red blinking messages, chances are fear of missing out (FOMO) is a part of your everyday life.

We experience FOMO when we think about the experiences and opportunities that others had, but we’ve missed. This feeling also leads to an intensified sense of belonging and the search for spaces where we feel like we are part of a group. In the age of social networking, our anxiety is even stronger and more intense. Having access to information about other people has increased our tendency to compare our lives, our achievements, and our daily lives with theirs. As a result, we feel less satisfied with what we are doing. To feel alive and a part of the digital world, we also strive to involve others in our lives. Consider, for example, the Facebook Story feature, which is all about building a closer and more intimate relationship with a brand or individual. It makes you feel like you know a particular person or a brand better. His/her daily life is accessible, and you somehow become its part by reacting to it. If you aren't interested in this feature, Facebook may send you a notification offering you to check the Story of your close friend or potentially interesting person. Similar offers and many other features can be turned off. However, the constant updates are full of more and more sophisticated and attention-grabbing features. As one Google employee says, "if you don’t pay for the product, then you are the product," and this is what social media is actively trying to sell.

It may be driven by curiosity at first, but we enter an infinite loop of control and pursuit over time. My project aims to explore this unquenchable digital curiosity, which is one of the things driving FOMO. More specifically, I am interested in what impact FOMO has on the mental health of Georgian youth and what feelings they have in common. My research focused on people in their 20s and 30s who actively use various social networks and experience anxiety offline. I think my interest in this topic was driven by working in digital media and studying its impact on a person's behavior. Our Newsfeed is a safe zone filled with interesting people, ads, and ideas. On one hand, it’s very comfortable, and we feel calm. On the other hand, however, when we encounter a different reality, our anxiety grows, and we doubt our ability to adapt to the outside world. As a result, we return to a place where we feel comfortable; where we can control who does what (Newsfeed, Story), more easily belong to the group we like (private groups), and maintain constant communication (messenger).

I chose the GIF format because, like scrolling, it creates the illusion of motion and infinity.


Illusionary self-confidence

“As soon as I have a difficult period in my life, I become active in all social networks and start sharing information more intensively. I want them to pay attention, their interaction feeds my self-esteem, and I like it. It may be illusionary, but activating the Digital Me helps to regulate the crisis of the Real Me. During this period, I'm constantly checking who has commented on my posts, clicked the heart icon, etc. I’m becoming a part of digital paranoia of my own free will. I don’t count how many comments I have compared to others, but I do have a limit in my mind and sometimes I think that a particular post did not work. It's ridiculous as I feel like some kind of brand, like if I don't get a great response, ‘the boss’ will punish me.”


Feeling of insecurity 

“Checking my smartphone has become such an organic part of my body that I can't even comprehend that it could be a problem. I check Facebook first in the morning, and if I see red notifications, I feel more alive and satisfied. I have observed that when I'm with close friends, I'm not very interested in social networks but as soon as I am alone, I want to feel like part of something again. This feeling was even stronger when I was in love, and whenever we were not together, I wondered where he was and what he was doing. If he was hanging out with friends, I would check out their Stories and worry that I was not there with them. I thought that something special would happen there, and I would not be a part of it. I feel most insecure when I don't have this control mechanism, and I can't check what's happening on my digital wall or in private messages.”


Unhealthy dependence

"I was constantly invited to different groups, but I never stayed in any of them. But lately, I’ve found myself reading some group posts all day long. Basically, I love the groups where they share personal stories. I read all the sad stories; sometimes I cry, but at the same time, I enjoy this process very much. I’m most disturbed by the fact that this process gives me some kind of masochistic pleasure, and sometimes I doubt my sincere sympathy for these people. I actively follow all the comments and give a lot of advice as well. When I am at work and can not check new stories, I always feel like someone is looking forward to my advice, and I can’t wait to read it. I think I have a bit of an unhealthy attachment to other people's personal, intimate stories, and it all makes me more vulnerable in everyday life."


The problem of identity

“I used to think that my social network provided enough information about who I am and what my values ​​are. However, once a Facebook friend told me in real life that he had no idea what type of person I was. It was a very unpleasant feeling, as if I was told that I didn’t exist at all, and every time I wanted to share something, his words came to my mind. I thought it didn’t matter what I shared, and no one would be able to understand what I was really like. And this is why I like Stories: I can see how many people I’ve reached, and I relax. Periodically, when I receive too much information or become addicted to constantly checking everything, I temporarily deactivate my social media accounts. After that, I feel as if some part of my existence has been paused, and I feel sad because I think no one will remember me, but then I get used to it, and I know I can go back whenever I want."


The illusion of home

“I have my space on Facebook. I’ve personalized it from the beginning to the end and I almost feel like it’s my own house, which I’m slowly building, renovating, beautifying, filling with my favorite things, and getting happy when the guests come. I don’t have my own house and this digital space fills the gap. I only have this feeling about Facebook and not about any other social network. I look at my photos, posts, and texts from time to time, and evaluate how I’ve grown up, what I’ve changed. In short, I have gathered my whole life here. If I’m interested in others, I think I can understand everything through their profiles. My friends often complain that I go everywhere with a laptop or I’m stuck to my smartphone. Actually, I have to be online because of my work, but at the same time, I enjoy it, and I feel comfortable in this space. I imagine I can carry a digital house like a snail and feel much more at home in any situation.”


Anxiety about failure

“The feeling that I am missing something intensifies the most in the summer when everyone is on vacation or having fun somewhere, and I constantly see this information on social networks. It’s as if what I’m doing is a waste of time, and I’m just waiting for the moment when I will shine. I think that in the absence of the same experiences, I am missing out on life, and I do not live life to the fullest. At the same time, due to economic inequality, the difference in opportunities is more visible. I do not envy anyone, I’m happy for their success, but when I constantly compare myself with others, I get tired, and I start to feel like a loser.”


Crisis of values

“I work as a social media manager, and I actively follow the trends in all networks. I think I know brands better than real people, and when I stop managing a page, I still check what kind of posts they publish for months. At first, I liked this process very much, and I considered all the brands I served as my own. Now, I have a feeling of resistance when I know what kind of garbage the brand is, and yet I have to tell the customer how this product or service will make him/her happy and free. Today, no one just sells the product. We invent extra emotional values ​​and tell people that it will fill what they are lacking. It's as if we ourselves are creating that feeling of loss, and sometimes, in this endless scrolling, we are looking for something to replace that loss.”

This story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES.

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