Jaden* stood away from his friends while they drank at a party. Jaden had never drank before, but watching his friends drink, and all of the pleasure that ensued, proved to be too much for him. “I would have felt left out,” he said. “If I had not seen my friends drink that night, I do not think I would have [drank].”
Jaden is careful to point out that he did not choose to drink that night because of peer pressure, but rather he feared not being able to experience the same amount of enjoyment as his friends without drinking.
At 11 a.m., after spending a night at home with her parents, Mariam Sousou (’18) could not help but feel slightly lonely while she scrolled through her various social media outlets, catching glimpses of what her friends did without her.
On both of those occasions, Sousou and Jaden experienced a common form of social anxiety commonly known as “the fear of missing out” (FOMO).
Zeb Berg (’17) would define FOMO as “forcing yourself to go out and do things so you feel that you aren’t missing out.”
For many, FOMO is hardly just a short lived feeling, as often it turns into a greater social angst which influences many of the decisions students make.
When Ayesha Bhalla (’16) returns to school after the weekend, she is sometimes greeted with the realization that she missed out on some of the things her friends did.
“I am not allowed to go out one night and everybody else is. We will talk the next day and they will have all these [memories] and I don’t. It really does not feel good,” she said.
Sousou has observed a very similar trend and, as a freshman, she feels FOMO more since entering the high school. Sousou believes attributes the feeling to the “clique-y” culture in the high school. “Last year you [had] your close friends, but now you have to expand [into other social groups] more, and so sometimes you are not friends with certain people while your friends are, so you are not invited to certain things,” she said.
After Jaden’s bout with FOMO, he claims to no longer struggle with the social pressure. “After you have caved once, you will either cave every time or you won’t cave again. For me, it’s the latter and I learned a good lesson about control and maintaining balance,” Jaden said.
When thinking about the rationality of FOMO, Berg believes that it is a completely rational feeling. “Everyone wants to do stuff with others and no one likes the idea that they missed out on something potentially big,” he said.
Jaden on the other hand finds it irrational, but justifies its prevalence as an inherent feeling in high school. “It is basic human nature,” Jaden said.
Social media is one of the primary promoters of FOMO, demonstrating what Sousou describes as “a constant need to feel connected.”
While Sousou has not had a Facebook page for very long, she thinks it greatly contributes to FOMO in her grade, along with other special media planfroms. “You see [your friends] Snapchat stories, their Facebook pictures, their Instagram pictures: Everyone is constantly updating social media sites,” which results in an overwhelming feeling of “regret for not going out,” Sousou said.
On some nights, when Sousou could not go out she would get the gist of what her friends were doing through Snapchat stories, but as she went onto Facebook, the experience became overwhelming. “When I saw [posts on] Facebook, I saw all these different pictures that I had no idea about, and I was not upset, but I realized there was a lot more things going on than I [knew about before],” Sousou said.
Sousou has also observed that people often post certain photos on social media with the intention of boasting about their plans for the night. “I think people have been using these social sites a lot more this year to say ‘Oh I am at this party, oh I am hanging out with these people’,” Sousou said.
High School Technology Coordinator Mariam Mathew agrees that social media having a large role in FOMO. “FOMO has a broad context and everyone has things they value, whether it’s their social circles or their knowledge of what is happening in the world, and that missing out makes them feel like it will loosen them out [of the friend group],” she said. Mathew believes that social media can act as a magnifying lens to the good and bad of relationships.
Jaden believes that FOMO is a very personal feeling. “FOMO is an internal conflict where you have the devil and the angel on your shoulders where you’re thinking whether you want to have a good time or want to be safe. Do I want to take risks in order to have a good time?” Jaden said.
*Editor’s note: Names that are followed by an asterisk are aliases used to protect sources’ anonymity.