Update your status. Send out a tweet. Scroll through your social media newsfeed. Repeat.
It’s a typical night for many college students, but for some, it’s beginning to become much more.
“Fear of missing out,” or FoMO, is a social phenomenon linked to high social media usage, according to a study that will appear in the July issue of Computers in Human Behavior.
The study, which is the first of its kind, implies the rise of social media has led to a fear among users of missing out on something important in their friends’ lives, as well as rewarding social opportunities they could be engaging in.
The research team, composed of individuals from the University of Essex, the University of Rochester and the University of California-Los Angeles, found that FoMO levels are highest in individuals under 30 years old, particularly young adults and adolescents. Research conducted through the Pew Research Center in 2010 showed 72% of college students had at least one social media profile — 45% checked these sites daily.
“I probably spend at least six or seven hours a day on social media, if not more,” says Ben Wax, a business major at American University. “It’s not continuous; it’s just bits of time scattered throughout the day.”
Wax, 19, a social media intern for Comcast, says he is active on Facebook and Twitter, in addition to other platforms such as Google+, Vine and Instagram.
“I would still be a big social media consumer, even without work,” he says. “I’m always on there looking for something to do.”
Wax says checking sites and scrolling through newsfeeds have become a mindless habit for him.
“I’ve had an iPhone for about three years; it’s just a habit that I don’t think about that much,” he says.
Rachel Walker, 19, a Blue Mountain College biology major, says she feels “psychologically ingrained” to check her social media.
Even when socializing in a public setting, Walker says, she and her friends are on their phones reading newsfeeds.
“You can hang out without really hanging out,” Walker says. “Everyone’s there, but they’re scrolling through their social media sites the entire time.”
Though the term FoMO might be new, University of North Alabama psychology professor Richard Hudiburg says the phenomenon is not.
“We’re simply extending what occurs in the dynamic of social situations that have been studied for a long time,” Hudiburg says. “This idea of missing out comes from existing social behaviors. … If you’re influenced by these behaviors already, you probably have high reactionary levels and will continue to check (social media).”
Hudiburg says individuals are accustomed to the role social media play in society.
“You’ve been marked by the circumstances of technology,” he says. “If you haven’t joined social media, the rest of the social group tells you that you’re already left out.”
The fear behind missing out on rewarding opportunities is only natural, Hudiburg says.
“Any time you have a lot of people using something, there’s going to be a group of people saying they feel left out,” he says. “And a lot of it stems from marketing techniques. They’re saying, ‘This is what everyone has — don’t you want it, too?’”
While some people live every moment connected to every status update, Paige Pack, an elementary education major at UNA, says it’s unnecessary.
Pack, 21, says she rarely checks her Facebook and Instagram accounts.
“I don’t want social media to consume my life,” she says. “I think it’s good to know what other people are doing, but I’d rather focus on and enjoy my actual life.”
After studying abroad in China and doing volunteer work in Costa Rica, Pack says, she was surprised by the actions of fellow students.
“People were hooked on their phones,” she says. “I don’t get it. You’re probably never going to go back to that place, so why not enjoy it while you’re there?”
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