FOMO Fever


With each new generation come many new words (or ‘neologisms’, which is perhaps quite a nice word in itself!), and this is certainly true of the Millennial generation.  They have grown up ‘txting’ and instant messaging other people with news, stories and gossip as part of their everyday experience.  Acronyms have been popular, what with space being at a premium in some services (Twitter, for example, has only recently lifted the maximum 140 characters allowed in a single ‘tweet’).  Abbreviating allows more to be said with fewer characters and means of course that it’s quicker to type on that tiny keyboard.  You might be familiar with text-ese, knowing your LOLs from your ROFLs*, or you might scratch your head on seeing these alien utterances.  Whether you are ‘Millennial-savvy’ or ‘old skool’, there is no denying that the cultural phenomena denoted by some of the new terms popping up here and there are permeating society as a whole, and on a global scale.

Recently I came across the term YOLO, which (I am reliably informed) means ‘You Only Live Once’.  This phrase I guess is synonymous with older messages put out by brands over the years – the slogan of the sportswear company Nike comes to mind here; ‘Just Do It.’  As I am writing this blog post I happen to be sipping on a cola drink made by Pepsi which, if I recall correctly, has exhorted me for some time to ‘Live Life To The Max’.  Advertisers have for a long while sold us a lifestyle rather than a product, as such, yet in the age of social media and constant connection this message I think can sometimes now be paraphrased thus; ‘Everyone Else Is Having A Great Time, Just Look At Their Snapchats – Why Aren’t You Feeling Great?’  Enter another phrase: ‘FOMO’.  The ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ seems to add pressure to the younger generation that arguably previous generations didn’t have to cope with.  After all, if everyone is looking good on their Facebook feed or Instagram stories, what’s wrong with you?

The controversial US pastor Steven Furtik made a comment which seems to add something to the debate here: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”.  Born in 1980 himself, Furtik’s point is perhaps obvious when we think about it, but in the face of status updates, retweets and viral videos that lead us to think that what we are up to is just so average and boring, we can quickly forget that all these posters and Youtube-ers are just as ‘ordinary’ in most respects as we are.

People I see in therapy sometimes want to change their whole self.  While it might be tempting to fantasize about slipping our skin and taking on the situation of someone else, I wonder sometimes whether – if we actually could do that – we would be any happier or have any fewer problems.  I would imagine that we would have the same number of challenges, which might be different, of course, but nonetheless present.  Sometimes I guess we are all dissatisfied with the way things are going, but in the digital age where the ‘shop window’ of our lives constantly needs re-dressing if we are to keep up with our friends and connections, such periods of sameness might feel quite disconcerting.  FOMO?  I wonder if there’s room here for another new coining – FOBFO.  I would hazard a guess that those busy stylishly showcasing their active lives on social media could well be living in ‘Fear Of Being Found Out’.  One thing that being a therapist has taught me over the years is that under the gloss and surface presentation, we are all remarkably similar.  That fact might not sell more trainers or soft drinks, but may hopefully remind us that the dreams and worries we have are more likely to be shared by the trendsetters than we might at first be led to believe.  YMMV 

(* A young person recently confirmed to me that LOL = laughing out loud and that ROFL = rolling on the floor laughing)

~ Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc

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Rob runs Ashwood Therapy, an online counselling practice which provides discreet, confidential and professional support by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email.  More details can be found at Ashwood Therapy .  He is also a graduate of and online tutor for Online Training for Counsellors.

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