Media Moment: Fear of Missing Out
I received my first phone and first tablet when I was in middle school. As soon as I got them, I couldn’t help but start to check out everything they offered. Being able to see and do so much so easily and quickly on two small gadgets was fascinating to me. It was totally a new world.
It did not take too long before I started to sit still without moving and use my phone and tablet for hours. Whenever I used them to read the news or search for something, I would find so much other relevant information that was equally or even more interesting. And I could not stop myself from reading more and more.
Learning so much about the outside world from these devices did not satisfy me. I continually wanted more. I spent even more time reading the news and diving deeper into things I was interested in, be it politics and the history of a foreign country, or stories about a celebrity. Being exposed to information from other parts of the world made me wonder, “Why did I not know all of this information sooner? Why didn’t I get a cellphone or a tablet earlier?” I had a strong feeling that my previous worldview was limited to my hometown—Xi’an, a city in China—and that I had very little knowledge of what was taking place in other parts of the world. I wanted to travel and have experiences living in different places because I felt that I had missed a lot, however, I knew I could not because of my commitment to school. As a result, I started to feel dissatisfied with my life.
I also started to feel anxious. Whenever I was not on my phone or tablet, I felt anxious about missing exciting things happening outside my circle. I was concerned about losing opportunities to learn something new and interesting. My anxiety caused me to spend more time on media, which in turn led to me becoming even more anxious.
Recently, I learned that what I was experiencing is FOMO, or “fear of missing out”. In my case, I experienced FOMO when it came to information or events that could potentially make my life better. Even now, I still experience FOMO occasionally. When I lose access to social media or the internet, I get anxious, have difficulty concentrating, and am afraid that I am missing important messages. Only after I have access back can I feel a deep relief.
Now that I am able to recognize when I am experiencing FOMO, I have learned to apply strategies that help me cope, including:
- Turning off notifications from apps that I don’t use often and unsubscribing from websites I don’t find helpful.
- Deleting apps on my cellphone and using only the web version when I need to.
- Being mindful of my social media use and taking a break after using them for half an hour.
- Planning my day out and setting aside specific time for using social media.
By trying out these strategies, I find myself spending less time on social media and am less concerned about potentially missing out on important information. I can concentrate on my studies, or work for a few hours without checking my phone. I even experience higher life satisfaction and emotional well-being!
My hope is that others will also become more mindful of the impact technology is having in their lives, and use similar FOMO coping strategies to the ones that I have found to be beneficial in my life.
– Yuxuan (Eleanor) Dong, student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and intern at the Digital Wellness Lab
– Edited by Kristelle Lavallee Collins