Phones, social media posts make us afraid we're missing out on something
By Rachel Weaver
Published: Monday, July 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Scrolling through friends' social-media feeds can be a way to pass time, a way to stay connected or, in some cases, a way to feed a sneaking suspicion that you're missing out.
With social media letting us know about everything and anything our friends are up to, a concept called Fear of Missing Out is getting more attention by psychologists and sociologists, who are researching its causes and effects.
Fear of Missing Out, popularly referred to as FoMO, is the apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences without you. Those experiencing it have a pressing desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.
“On social media, you're seeing all these choices, and all these options out there,” says Christine Whelan, University of Pittsburgh visiting assistant sociology professor. “You don't know which one to pick. With too many choices, we can get overwhelmed and then can't make a decision.”
A study released this month called “Motivational, Emotional, and Behavioral Correlates of Fear of Missing Out,” by researchers at the Universities of California, Rochester and Essex, examines the concept.
The team created a quiz that asked participants about their social-media use, such as when and how often they check it, and how they feel when they see friends' posts. The study found while social resources provide a multitude of opportunities for interaction, there are more options than could ever possibly be pursued. That can affect people's moods and overall life satisfaction, researchers claim.
“More than 40 years of empirical research indicates that the need to belong, to be cared for, and to care for others is a fundamental human need,” says Andrew Przybylski, one of the study's authors. “Social media allows us to connect and share in new ways that open us up to a host of social opportunities we would have never known existed. I think that fear of missing out is a symptom of us having to balance a new deluge of social possibilities against our need for quality relationships.”
Experts agree that constantly checking social media also can make people feel like their own lives are less interesting than others'.
“If you see everyone else posting these glamorous shots, you think you should have a similar life,” Whelan says. “You have to realize that people are just posting the good stuff. Their lives aren't perfect. It's not a representative version of reality, but it does play into your insecurities.”
In some cases, those insecurities can develop into real problems, Whelan says.
“If you think all your friends are more successful than you, it can really give you a complex,” Whelan says. “If you take everybody's Facebook posts at face value, you'll think everybody is incredibly witty, all jet-setting off to Timbuktu all the time. Life doesn't work this way. Most people have pretty mundane lives.”
Dr. Alicia Kaplan, a psychiatrist at Allegheny General Hospital, says particularly for the young adults who grew up with social media, being away from it can produce a sense of anxiety.
“People have always cared about what their friends are doing, but the pace wasn't as immediate,” she says. “It's important to be aware that people have a lot of anxiety to begin with. Feelings of not being welcome or getting your feelings hurt can intensify that.”
William Reynolds Young, 24, of Castle Shannon, checks social media all day long — “part of this is my job, and part is the love!” he says — and it does sometimes make him feel as though he's missing out on things.
“The beauty of social media is, just like everyday life, you can't do it all,” says Reynolds, who admits he does gets anxious if his phone has poor service and he can't connect to social media.
“The most recent and obvious example was at opening day of the Pirates. The cell coverage was horrid, and I found myself lost unable to read along with Twitter, share pictures or reply to folks,” he says.
Social media is also a regular part of Katie Biehl's day.
“I check what I've missed overnight while I'm getting ready for work. I check periodically through the day at work. And I'm usually chatting with friends and other people throughout all of that. It's one of the last things I look at before bed as well,” says Biehl, 32, of Monroeville.
“Do I feel like I am missing out on things? Sometimes. If there is a cool event that I'd love to go to — for example a gallery crawl or one of the food-truck roundups — but I've got prior commitments or the kids can't go, then I do kind of feel left out. But I also kind of feel included because lots of people upload pictures and retweet things, so I still feel like I know what went on.”
Social media recently made Shawn Graham, 40, of Cranberry, feel like he was missing out on Pittsburgh's concert scene. Someone he follows on Facebook frequently posts photos from shows around town. They were enough to make Graham want to have similar experiences.
“I decided I was going to go to a concert and take my own pictures,” he says.
Michael Kane, 30, of Greensburg, who uses social media primarily for business, makes a conscious effort to keep his phone out of his hands.
“It certainly does pull my focus from the ‘real world,' ” he says. “Am I able to do this successfully? Most of the time, unfortunately not.”
Kane says he gets discouraged when seeing children constantly on their phones. “Man, I used to build forts and walk barefoot through the creek catching salamanders,” he says. “Kids today spend their lives on Facebook.”
According to Przybylski, there is not a lot of good research that points to specific amounts of social-media use being bad for someone. “I think the quality of engagement is what is important in social media,” she says.
Social -media use usually only becomes a problem if it keeps people from real-life experiences, experts say.
“It's a fine line,” Whelan says. “If you're always on Facebook, then you're always on a device and not interacting with people in the real world.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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