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Kinne Chapin

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Fear of Missing Out

Posted: 03/ 2/2012 6:50 pm

Do you have any of the following symptoms? Checking Facebook to see who had more fun than you last weekend. Anxiety when your plans for the evening fall through. Fear of spending a Saturday night in your own room. If these symptoms sound familiar to you, you may suffer from "FOMO," a disease that afflicts over 75 percent of college students. There is no known cure.

What is FOMO, you ask? It is short-hand for Fear of Missing Out, and it is a widespread problem on college campuses. Each weekend, I have a conversation with a friend of mine in which one of us expresses the following: "I'm not really in the mood to go out, but I feel like I should." Even when we'd rather catch up on sleep or melt our brain with some reality television, we feel compelled to seek bigger and better things from our weekend. We fear that if we don't partake in every Saturday night's fever, something truly amazing will happen, leaving us hopelessly behind. We fear that if we stay in and miss out, our new friends or that cute boy from econ lecture will forget about us. Compelled by this crippling fear, we put on our dancing shoes and prepare for an evening of debauchery.

That's not the end of the FOMO story. The true finish comes the next morning -- or should I say afternoon -- when we wake up, wanting water and bacon (just me?), and realize that nothing truly spectacular happened the night before. The truth is this: not every Saturday night is unforgettable. But that's a hard lesson to remember, and one that never seems to stick with us past Sunday evening. Before we know it, the following weekend has arrived, and our FOMO is ratcheting back up to full power. Because an incredible night out is much like completely finishing a crossword puzzle on your own -- technically you start with all the tools needed to succeed, and subsequently a past failure is unlikely to stop you from trying again.

Every disease needs a proper scapegoat, and for FOMO, the culprit is social media. Let's say I make a radical choice (as I did last Saturday) to stay in and watch Annie Hall and Manhattan Murder Mystery back to back instead of going out. The night I miss does not remain forever a pleasant mystery, like who stole the cookies from the cookie jar. I am confronted with the night that could have been mine at every turn. My phone buzzes with a text that my favorite song just came on at a party. On 4square, I watch my friends check into my favorite late night pizza joint. On Twitter, I see that the whole party collapsed into a water balloon fight. On Facebook, someone uploads a photo of my friend singing Tupac's "Changes" on a karaoke machine. the next morning someone makes a board on Pinterest with great ideas for next weekend's party... OK, I went one too far. But you understand the message: when we choose to stay in, we are bombarded with evidence that we have missed out.

I'm going to suggest a radical solution, and I hope some of you share my opinion. I don't think that fun can ever arise organically from a sense of obligation. So next time you feel ill-equipped for an evening out, shut out the FOMO in your head and listen to reason. Turn off your phone, shut your computer, and do something purely for yourself without checking to see what your friends are doing without you. Take a deep breath and chant, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: There's always next Saturday. Your FOMO will be well on its way to remission.