The Social Pandemic of FOMO

The issue with FOMO is that it isn’t just about the fear of missing out on experiences or things that you think will change your life. Instead, it is also about envying those who seem to have it all. The problem is that appearances are not just deceptive but also confusing and depressing at times!

FOMO is used by marketeers to sell products

 Inspiring jealousy

How many of us feel good checking out a friend’s post who is having a great time in London or a celebrity cosying up to their partner or showing off their palatial homes? As humans, we love to outsmart our peers and when we cannot do that, jealousy follows.

“Perhaps, the most negative aspect of social media is the envy and jealousy that you experience when seeing someone else’s success,” says Dr. Abhimanyou Siingh Raathore, a psychologist, brain health coach and clinical hypnotherapist, “There are somethings that can be changed but there are somethings that cannot be changed. So, for example, if you are browsing posts of rich people like the Ambanis or some actors or some other celebrity or influencer, you are bound to sigh over their lifestyle. That causes not just jealousy but a fear of inadequacy because for some people, no matter how hard they try, they will never be able to match up to that lifestyle or affluence or wealth which sometimes can inspire people to go in the wrong direction too!”

“In the earlier times, there was a distinct difference between a celebrity and a common man”, says Dr. Mansi Dubey, a psychologist. “Celebrities were people who were popular in the media and had a fan following. “Earlier, the celebrities were known as stars. Just like the stars, they could be seen but not every one could acquire that kind of status or position. Today, things have changed. As a result of the social media, the celebrities have become more relatable and hence people have started believing that they too can become a celebrity. However, if they aren’t able to command that kind of following on the social media, jealousy and dissatisfaction invariably follow!”

Fault finding

“FOMO also causes an inferiority complex which leads to a constant mental chatter in the brain. Most of this chatter is about whatever is wrong  or missing in our lives and how our lives will completely change if we find that one thing that everyone has,” says Dr. Manasi Dubey.

Dr. Abhimanyou believes that our brains were wired for fault finding. “That was because we had to survive in harsh conditions and our internal critic kept us on our toes. To ensure our survival, we had to constantly scan the environment for any threats or predators or problems. Now, we are no longer living in the jungle but the instincts haven’t changed. Now the fault finding has become internal. We have a mental radio which keeps playing one sided conversations like “My clothes aren’t as good as the other, my house or job or even spouse isn’t as good as the other” or “I should be at this event or that event otherwise I may miss out on something” or “I should find a better partner, a better job or better city”. This fault finding has a lasting effect in relationships, jobs and levels of mental satisfaction.”

Comparison kills

One day, my daughter burst into my room and said, “Why cannot I be like her? Why can’t I sing like that friend of mine and dance like this other friend of mine?” When I asked her why she was upset, she said that she was tired of them constantly bragging about their skills and accomplishments in the class and she felt that she did not possess the talent that they had.

“How can you compare apples to oranges?” asks Dr. Abhimanyou. “What we don’t understand is that human beings are not mass produced. Each one of us completely and distinctly unique in how we realize and express our creativity. If each one of us is unique, the question of comparison does not arise. So, when one compares a celebrity’s post to an engineer’s post, obviously the audience and every thing else will be different. But when the engineer sees the likes he has received and unconsciously compares it to those received by the celebrity, he feels frustrated.”

For likes or experience?

Whether it is about the latest gadgets or travel, every one seems to be posting well clicked selfies all the time. The constant upload of clicks and pictures makes people feel that they are missing out on such a lot of fun! “These days, I wonder if people visit new places to take selfies or enjoy or touch or feel the experience,” says Abhimanyou. “They are more bothered about clicking the picture of the food rather than relishing its taste. The validation of their entire experience is not about their own pleasure but about the likes they received on their social media. I sometimes feel we have commoditized ourselves to such an extent that most of our lives are not driven by owning the experience. Instead, we are just looking for a tick in the box.”

FOMO copycats         

If you are on the social media, you may have noticed that if a song or meme goes viral, everyone starts copying it and posting it on their channels. According to Dr. Abhimanyou, this is again about the fear of missing out- this time on success.

 “ As a result of FOMO, no one wants to miss out on the success and thus people are now scared of rejections and failures. This also creates a lack of consistency and displaced motivations. Today, people don’t work on something for the greater good or for creating something. Instead, they do it to get likes, attention and publicity. So, the moment they realize that their plan will not give them what they are looking for or an easier path to it, they drop the idea and follow the herd. It’s so simple, isn’t it? A song goes viral and every one from celebrities to influencers create videos around that song. People are not interested in creating something new or something for the greater good of the society because that requires time, patience and dedication.”

Deceptive Appearances

“Fake Famous”, is a documentary film directed by Nick Bilton. The documentary is about a social experiment involving three ordinary people who attempt to become social media influencers by “faking” fame. For example, one of the people pose next to a toilet seat cover which is passed off as an airplane’s window giving the viewers a false impression that she has a very jet setting life.  Dr. Abhimanyou feels, “The problem behind FOMO is the information asymmetry. What we don’t ask or wonder is that is all this really true? Are these smiling people truly having a great time or is this all a farce?”

Freedom from FOMO

In the movie “Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani”, Ranbir Kapoor tells Deepika Padukone that he wants to see everything in Udaipur and does not want to miss the light and sound show. Deepika Padukone replies, “ Jitna bhi koshish karo, kuch na kuch to miss hoga. Isliye jahan hain, wahin ka maza lete hain na.” (No matter how hard you try, you will end up missing something or the other. So, its better to enjoy this moment here). 

“Today, though we have more affluence and comforts than our ancestors could ever dream of, the lack of gratitude does not let us appreciate our own blessings,” says Mansi Dubey. “We are constantly trying to collect things and experience rather than live them. The gratitude aspect is missing in our lives.”

Dr.Abhimanyu agrees, “The best way to get rid of FOMO is to disconnect from the social media and count your own blessings. Not even the Queen of United Kingdom has it all, so why even try? Instead, count your own blessings and walk your own path. That is what is the purpose of our lives,”

This article was published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit Section on 22 September 2021

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