Popular Culture  •  January 14, 2018   

Ever-increasing Fear of Missing Out

Our fear of missing out (FoMO) appears to be increasing over time. I think it’s because the information technologies (such as email, texting, social media) are increasing the number of possible choices for any given decision. The effect is not limited to online dating. Anecdotally, the number of people complaining about their inability to make appointments to see friends is increasing. This is not just about the day of the month, but also about time. People expect to be able to change the meeting time or cancel until the last minute.

Think of the days when email and mobile phones were uncommon (early 90s). It was not possible to modify any of our plans at the last minute. If we made a plan to meet, we were committed to it. I know some technically un-savvy people who still operate by the same standards of those days. It’s nice that they show up reliably on time at the place we agreed on over the phone a few weeks prior. Because I can’t reach them at the last minute to change the plan, I have to be committed too.

What makes us so uncommitted today is the sheer number of choices we have because of all the efficiency and flexibility the modern technologies afford. It’s always possible to find something better. So, we are constantly trying to optimize. Even for things we have no technology for, we now expect to have more choices and flexibility. At restaurants, for instance, I often see people unable to focus on what they ordered; their eyes are wandering around to see whose dishes they can ask to have a bite of and which dishes they can order next time. Never-ending optimization to escape the fear of missing out.

The main problem here is the lack of confidence in our own agency. Whatever card we are dealt with, we have the power to make it good or better than we expected, but those who lack this confidence would rely solely on the quality of opportunities given to them. They don’t believe in their own abilities to make it work.

I think this is an effect of the modern communication technologies. Before they were available, we had no choice but to make it work. By muddling through, we improved our abilities and increased our confidence. Now our kids are deprived of this. They feel they have to find the best possible opportunities because they feel they are incapable of influencing their future. The power of technologies is making them impotent.