As we navigate our way through the second round of prelims and approaching thesis deadlines, we are often faced with a trade off: work or play? Do you spend those extra few hours studying or go out to dinner and a movie? Abandon the Uris Cocktail Lounge for an actual cocktail? Tequila sunrise or sunrise over the Slope? While there are the obvious factors influencing these choices — such as how many days until that paper is due and your rate of productivity (or lack thereof) after a night out — there may be a a subconscious rationale dictating your decision: FOMO.
FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out,” is a disease plaguing thousands of American youths. Our generation is broadly categorized as one that craves immediate feedback, delays the transition into adulthood and cannot commit to future plans. However false these characterizations may be (“No, I really think taking the Camino de Santiago will allow me to find my most true self, and I need that before I begin my dental school residency …”), they do have an outlet in the social sphere, particularly in our lives as college students. FOMO is a term for those times when you feel anxious about your decision to attend, or not attend, a specific event, believing that choosing one function or another may have grave consequences.
The idea for our column this week came as we stood on College Ave. on this spring’s opening weekend of “Club Sidewalk” for 45 minutes, debating our best after-hours strategy. As the crowds gathered, one member of our party pointed out that our inability to decide was actually a debilitating case of FOMO.
The very next morning, it came to our attention that FOMO is actually afflicting people nationwide. In an impeccably timed article for The New York Times blog “Bits,” Jenna Wortham wrote about FOMO, attributing it to the increasingly pervasive use of social media that are constantly available on phones or tablet computers. For Wortham, services like Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram serve as constant reminders that you could be doing something else — something better — than you are, and in fact hundreds of your friends are doing it at this very moment! With one look at your Facebook home page or by refreshing your Twitter feed, in a second you know the whereabouts and activities of your friends. And do not forget about your “friends,” the people you say hi to when you see them around campus but have never otherwise hung out with … yet who have managed to populate your Facebook friend list. Even the activities of mere acquaintances, like that girl who transferred out of your elementary school in second grade or the kid who sat behind you in drivers’ ed, are readily available to you.
A fear of missing out is not a novel disease for our generation; however social networking sites may exacerbate it, the problem existed in the days of pay phones and library punch cards as well. The disorder can take many forms and be incited by a range of events. Opting for one evening activity over another, it turns out you missed the drink specials and the fight that everyone keeps talking about because you decided to go to a concert instead. Haunted by this miscalculation, you now suffer from FOMO when debating which venue to attend or party to go to, praying you never make a similar mistake. Or maybe you went home the weekend the Ithaca weather finally got nice and could not participate in that impromptu wine tour. From now on, you might second-guess your decisions to leave campus. FOMO can also manifest itself in contexts outside of social situations. During course enroll last semester, three of the classes you wanted to take fell in the 1:25 p.m. time frame, and you were forced to take the one that would allow you to graduate on time (goodbye, Magical Mushrooms). From now on, whenever your friend in Modern Irish Writers (just us?) tells you about the class discussions, you experience a severe case of FOMO.
Now that we’ve shed light on what that looming feeling of anxiety was, the best advice we have is: proceed with caution. Make your decisions wisely, and it’s OK to mess up sometimes. While FOMO may be lurking on the tail end of any RSVPed engagement, allow it to serve as motivation. There’s always next time.
Jane Mermel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hilary Oran is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She may be reached at email@example.com. The Shorthand appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.