23 May 2024

How often have you been asked whether you have seen the Barbie movie yet or are on Threads in the past few weeks?

These are the types of questions which drive people to keep up to date with what’s happening around them. If they don’t, they feel they could be “missing out” or won’t be able to keep up in a conversation – a common fear stoked by many entertainment TV presenters who like to warn their viewers that they will miss the juiciest gossip of the day at their peril.

The trends we see on social media can overwhelm users, to a point where we might need to step back and ask ourselves whether we are keeping ourselves updated because we really want to, or is it plain FOMO?

FOMO in a nutshell

Fear-of-missing-out, or simply FOMO, is an anxiety or insecurity that one might be missing out on “exciting” things that everyone else is doing or seeing.

FOMO is becoming much more relevant today. Whenever a new social media platform is born, be it Instagram, TikTok, Clubhouse, and now Threads, people seem to be excited to follow the trend. This also includes a long list of “must-have” items or “must-check-in” cafés in and around the city, heavily influenced by posts seen on Instagram, netizens jumping into dance challenges on TikTok and fast-trending conversations elsewhere.

Though it is somewhat necessary to stay updated with the news and latest trends, FOMO is much more pervasive than that. It’s the feeling that we have to jump into things straightaway or as soon as possible, insecurely believing that they will be (shamed by their peers for) falling behind.

Frankly speaking, this fear-of-missing-out is already a problem, even before the Zuckerberg era.

In the offline world, people are often pushed into situations that trigger the fear-of-missing-out. One example is whenever Thailand welcomes something famous from Western cultures, be it burgers or doughnuts. There are often super-long queueon their launch, which drives people to jump on the bandwagon.

We have probably all experienced this anxiety since we were at school, such as being excluded from “girly” gossip, not taking part in certain after-school activities or not having the latest toy, game or even glitzy coloured pens like your friends. If you didn’t have any of these, you would be marginalised for not being “cool” enough.

Even during the early days of Facebook, almost everyone in class was “pressured” to sign-up for it, or else they would be missing out on all the fun. The “fun” in those days was a long list of games and applications that users can stick onto their profiles, such as the “Top Friends” list, your music jukebox and virtual presents sent by your Facebook friends.

What does FOMO say about us?

Dujdao Vadhanapakorn, a psychotherapist and founder of Empathy Sauce, a company with “a mission to promote the significance of empathy in Thai urban society”, explains that the fear-of-missing-out can stem from advertisements, celebrity endorsements and even our friends. These things come with one shared reality – fear of being embarrassed for not being “updated” enough. Social media, apparently, triggers this anxiety.

“Whenever they don’t know something, they would be teased or shamed by their peers. So, they feel the urge to be better, to keep themselves updated a lot more and to become a ‘global citizen’ who knows what is happening around them.”

Though many people nowadays use social media to keep themselves up to date with the news and the latest trends, those who spend long hours on social media become not only be overwhelmed by the influx of information, but also get tricked into believing that what they see on their newsfeed is the reality.

“If we cannot deal with our emotional strength very well, we would tend to forget that we’re not in the online world; but our real world is here, outside the screens,” Dujdao explains, adding that having the mental strength to deal with such anxiety and emotions is vital.

“If you don’t know how to deal with this, FOMO will not be just anxiety or insecurity, but it will evolve into a bigger fear. Some people (with extreme FOMO) may be frightened to go outside or avoid seeing their friends, because they must be glued to social media to know what is happening in the world.”

FOMO is not only about wanting to stay updated though. If we dig deeper, what this kind of anxiety reflects is people’s deepest insecurities; wanting to be socially accepted and included in a “group” of friends. Therefore, at least knowing what people are talking about can help them fit in with others.

“It can begin with how we were raised, when we may have been compared to others when we were children or treated as being “less than” when we did not have something like others had.”

As Dujdao explains, people who were not raised with emotional strength are more likely to be insecure. Therefore, these people are attached to the idea of keeping up with the trends, to make them feel that they “belong” somewhere in society or in a group of people, hoping to boost their self-esteem.

On the other hand, those who are raised with a strong support system or a sense of belonging, which allows them to grow up with self-esteem, do not feel the necessity to scramble after fast-changing trends to be accepted by others.

“Some people may not have what others have, they don’t buy new clothes as often as their friends, but they’re still happy with their lives,” Dujdao said.

Can we ever find JOMO?

Many people have caught themselves obsessively scrolling through their feeds, to see what other people are doing, and running recklessly after the crowds whenever there’s something new and exciting.

In this fast-paced online world, many people end up being mentally exhausted and, in the worst cases, devaluing their self-worth. We barely take the chance to step back and to listen deeply to ourselves, questioning what we really want and what we think is necessary.

“The joy-of-missing-out can be healthy; happy, peaceful, and secure,” said Dujdao.

To be clear, joy-of-missing-out is not the same as living under a rock, but rather avoiding fatigue after being bombarded by information and fast-changing trends that are flooding into our personal feeds.

Joy-of-missing-out can, however, be very challenging in this digital age, but it’s not that hard to achieve, if we really set our mind to it. The empathetic-psychotherapist advises that people should try and think about the flip side, and learn to find happiness from missing out on certain things which are not necessary.

“Ultimately, if we are mindful and have the mental strength to focus on ourselves in the real world, we would realise that we don’t need to know everything,” Dujdao advises.

“How is it possible for us to know absolutely everything? Right now, there are so many things going on around the world. With more and more channels to receive that information, it’s exceeding our capacity for what we need to know each day.”

Even though keeping yourself updated on what is happening around you is important, there’s also nothing wrong with missing out on things that don’t feel right for you. Also, there’s no need to pressure yourself to jump into everything that is trending and we should certainly never pressure others to do so.

One way to strengthen your mental well-being, Dujdao advises, is to keep reminding yourself that your life is not in the online world. Most importantly, focus on the present and on what you have, instead of what you’re lacking. This could be your family, your supportive group of friends or your strengths.

“Find something for which you are thankful. Use your own gratitude to see the best of today. Learn to appreciate things around you and be thankful for them.”

What if you end up being teased for being out of date, or pushed into situations that force you to run after the trends, while you’re trying to maintain your sanity? To answer this, Dujdao goes back to the most important thing – mindfulness.

“Don’t be made to feel insecure by what other people say about you,” the psychotherapist advises.

“You can also tell yourself that it’s okay. I’m okay with not knowing about certain trends or some of the news, and that must be a big deal for them. Set yourself these boundaries, or you could be panicking about what everyone says. How is it possible for someone’s fear (of missing out) to affect your inner peace? Don’t allow anyone’s fear to affect your mental stability.”

By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World