It has been almost exactly nine years since I graduated high school. A few months ago, I curled up on the couch and watched Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, a little bit for the laugh, and a little bit so I could have a good cry about what was then and what is now. Romy and Michele’s anticipation of their reunion is a little foreign, though, as I have spent the last ten or so years connected – at the last, from a far distance – to my high school classmates. Whether my peers remained friends or “frenemies” there remains a constant attention to what we are doing, who we are seeing (and now, marrying) and what success we have each (or have not) achieved. At the least, Facebook has now allowed each and every one of us – and our new friends, too – to keep up with the pace of each other’s lives. And to compare accordingly.
In an article published this past weekend in the New York Times, Jenna Wortham says that the overwhelming use of social media has created a fear amongst this generation of missing out. This “FOMO” ultimately creates a constant “fear we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time,” according to Dan Ariely, a author of “Predictably Irrational” and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. The use of social media both as consumers and users allows for this generation to constantly share every detail of their lives – and compete with their peers accordingly. The use of things like Instagram and FourSquare provide intrinsic rewards to our peers for doing even more cool, fun things, which further drives not only this competitive spirit, but might trigger that FOMO if you are not out and about at any given time. Technology has made these differences in lifestyle – whether by choice or otherwise – particularly harder to swallow for this generation. Being “always on” means we’re constantly bombarded with stories, pictures and videos on Facebook with titles like “Addicted to FUN!” – and no matter how much fun your own life is, it is still hard to wonder what else you are missing out on.
And it’s not just a fleeting moment of jealousy on a Surday night – Wortham points the FOMO does not just apply to envy of friends with a fun nightlife but also to entirely different lifestyles. Which makes me wonder – if I am normally happy and secure with my successful life, how is a simple photo on a Friday night on Facebook the cause of such stress? Is Facebook really making us crazy?