The past few years of my life have been interesting. Going from travelling around Europe, to launching a failed startup, to then travelling around Indonesia, and then to deciding not to go to university, in order to pursue the world of business. But one thing has remained a constant throughout that, and that thing was FOMO.
‘FOMO’, or Fear of Missing Out, is a feeling which we have all, without a doubt, felt at one point in our lives. Hearing about our friends going off skiing together, not being invited to a party, not being picked for that study group at school, but all of this has been amplified in recent years by the one thing that probably and ironically keeps us together.
Social media, or ‘anti-social media’ as some satirists call it, is one of the most magnificent inventions of our time. It allows us to communicate to our friends and family in real time, to share photos and videos, to partake in political discussions, to express our opinions and concerns to a wider audience and to revisit childhood memories by finding age-old friends we hadn’t spoken to in years.
But at the core of it, lies something which I believe is a lot more destructive and sickening than it is beneficial to our everyday lives.
FOMO, back in the day, wasn’t as widespread. You would usually hear about things your friends or family had done through word of mouth, and by that time it’s so long after it happened that you rarely cared. Nowadays, we are being fed this information in real time, as it happens, causing our mind to wonder freely into the dark realms of imagination.
Think about the time you saw that photo of your ex, or that group shot of your mates at a club, or a photo of someone travelling the Andes, or even (to delve into the depths of social anxiety) looking at fitness models with immaculate bodies and tans flourishing in a gorgeous tropical setting. The one thing missing, ultimately, is you.
And that causes most people to then feel like they have missed out on a memorable occasion or a period of fun that will resonate throughout these people’s lives until the day they die. Your mind plays tricks on you, conjuring up weird and depressing scenarios of what else you may be missing out on.
In a way, this feeling is similar to that of the untrustworthy partner. The person who always has a feeling of doubt and worry whenever their other half goes clubbing or goes for drinks with people from the office. Instead this time, it’s happening on a society-wide scale.
Bringing you down
The thing is, nine times out of 10, these scenarios that your mind makes up that cause you to feel so depressed and low never happen, and ultimately you’re just bringing yourself down. So what would happen if the trigger to this mental downfall never actually occurred, what if you never saw that photo or that video or that post or that check-in? Would your mind begin wondering then? Probably not.
The problem, however, is that most of us are social media addicts. We don’t want to miss out on a part of a conversation where our friends or family refer to something they posted on social media. “Oh, didn’t you see the photo of the family I put up?” “Oh, didn’t you see my Snapchat?” — This means that most of us are therefore afraid of ‘quitting’ social media.
I guarantee you though, that if you stopped for one week checking your Snapchat stories or your Instagram feed, that you would feel like a weight had been lifted off your shoulders. Sure, you might get the occasional thought here and there, but it won’t be nearly as bad as what you were feeling previously. Because all of a sudden, there’s no reason for you to feel like you’re missing out.
Quitting social media, or at least reducing your consumption of it, would force you to go out and create your own experiences to keep you occupied. Whether that’s going out doing exercise, or going travelling for yourself, or going out with friends, or anything at all. All of a sudden, posting that photo to Facebook or that video to Snapchat becomes entirely irrelevant to you, and to everyone else.
You’re focusing on creating memories and moments that are important to you and that will stick with you for as long as you can remember them, rather than immortalising them for the sake of getting a short burst of satisfaction as your post hits 50 likes or in a desperate attempt to show the world that you too are having fun.
It also seems immensely ridiculous that ten seconds of one person’s day can be enough to cause a whole day of depression or anxiety in another’s day. A traveller takes a photo of them at the top of a mountain, but doesn’t show you the arduous 4 hours trek, the near-death experiences on the climb, the overwhelming stench of sweat, the irritating tourists with their screaming children, and any other innumerable problems to have plagued the journey, all in order to get that one photo to say “Hey, look where I’ve been and you haven’t”.
It’s time that we woke up to the reality that social media has become a way for people to seek justification and acknowledgment of their lives, and a way for the rest of everyone to suffer in silence.
We are all guilty of this, and probably will continue to be, but for those that are particularly struggling with it then please I implore you to quit social media for a day, a week, a month or even forever. If you don’t feel you can do that, then do what I do and just reduce your consumption. Only check Snapchat once a week, or when you check Instagram only spend a minute or so on there rather than endlessly scrolling. Most of us communicate by Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or text, so you will still be able to chat with friends or family without having the problem of FOMO.
We need to start focusing on our own wellbeing, experiences and life journey, rather than constantly focusing on those of others.
This post originally appeared on Oliver's Medium page.