Law in the Internet Society

The Fear of Missing Out

“FOMO” always seemed like a joke to me. It did not seem real. However, it is clear now more than ever, that FOMO has affected my family and I in ways that seem irreversible.

-- By SalvadorRosas - 11 Oct 2019

My own FOMO

As I reflect back on my life, I have always experienced FOMO. Even as a child before the advent of social media as we know it today, I can remember feeling jealous, anxious, and angry when I would miss out on certain things. I will never forget being devastated at 7 years old when I found out that my neighbors had traveled an hour from Salinas to San Jose for the Britney Spears concert. As an adult on social media, that same fear of missing out has become stronger.

Social Media Habits

I have become a much more anxious person because of social media. It started out as a way to stay connected to my friends and family. Nowadays, it is the main reason I procrastinate. All of my accounts are “private” in the sense that people have to request to see my content. That really does not make much of a difference since it’s the people closest to me that I care the most about. The fear of missing out on activities with my friends is heightened since I can constantly see what they are all up to on a daily basis.

FOMO on Responsibilities

As connected as I am to my social media, I have become less connected from the technology that actually matters.

I have become really bad about checking my e-mails. There have been several instances in the last few months where I have missed important e-mails and did not reply at all. I will receive anywhere from 100-200 e-mails on any given day. At this point, I usually just mark them all as unread and only answer to the e-mails that have subject lines or senders that stand out.

Admittedly, I am the most productive on my laptop when I am sitting through a lecture. I am able to catch up on e-mails and work for other class. However, I find that I end up even more behind since I am not able to fully focus on either task.

My family's FOMO

My Sisters' Habits

My sisters live on social media. My youngest sister is 17 years old and has three different Instagram accounts, including two “finstas” or “fake” Instagram accounts. As a result, she has directed most of her energy away from trying to do well in school and instead has been working tirelessly on producing content for her social media accounts. She has grown up in an environment where being a social media influencer seems like a promising career opportunity. My sisters are no longer on Facebook because “Facebook is for old people.”


Facebook is the main form of communication that I have with most of my relatives outside of my immediate family. I am able to communicate with family members that live thousands of miles away and several that I have not seen in years. My family members live on Facebook. They post their every move, up to a dozen selfies, “inspirational” quotes, memes, etc. It is extremely overwhelming and cringeworthy. I wish there was an alternative way that we could all communicate with each other and share highlights of our day without it being so public. However, I fear that if I left Facebook I would lose touch with many of these relatives. Not to mention I would never remember anyone’s birthdays.

My Father

Right after my brother gave my Dad his old iPhone 4, one of my sisters made my dad a Facebook account. It was the worst thing that could have happened. He is obnoxious, commenting on every single post he sees on his feed. Quite frankly, it is embarrassing. His introduction into social media has translated into a full-blown mid-life crisis. He has reconnected with old friends from his adolescence. Many of whom he perceives are living a better, simpler life than him back home in Mexico.

My Mother

My mother is the most unhappy about it. My mom has the smallest presence online. She does not have an iPhone. She does not have any social media accounts. She does not even have her own Gmail account. She mostly uses her work e-mail as no one else really needs to get in touch with her via e-mail. My mother is by far the most productive and mentally stable member of our family. From my perspective, she does not experience the Fear of Missing Out. These days, she does not seem to be afraid of much of anything. Freedom is of the utmost importance to her. Being off the grid gives her that freedom and the confidence to live her life without fear. The rest of my family members could really learn something from her.

The fear of missing out wasn't invented by Facebook, as you rightly point out. It's a phenomenon of childhood, experienced at the point where independent identity is just barely becoming possible, and the limitations of what one can do with the autonomy one has begun to imagine strike, as they struck you, with near-traumatic emotional force. Regressing you into that childish condition is part of how social media "sticks."

Everything else you have to say is equally insightful. You don't quite put the pieces together, which is what the next draft can improve. But you see the environment clearly, and understand why, for everyone around you, other modes of communication would be better than the choices to which people now flock.

Perhaps you'd like to take a stab at explaining what would be good for people. We can fashion the technology to suit our needs, if we can explain to one another what those needs are. We don't need large accumulations of money or (electric) power to make whatever we want; that's the lesson of free software, without which even these immense platform companies couldn't make what they want. Perhaps you'd like to explain how your sisters could be led to see social media influencer as not a good path in life, just as playing schoolyard basketball to reach the NBA is not a good reason for eschewing schoolwork. Maybe your father is part of the reason that your sister is right that "Facebook is for old people." Maybe you want to explain why email would work better at holding family together.

But I think the most useful path of all might be to think about the form of time that social media imposes. These are technologies built to encourage you to "engage" with them for as much time as possible. To the extent that they work, you have less time for everything else. The meaning of "now" is altered, because what is in the phone is always more "now" than whatever it is interrupting. I've been using email in daily life for more than half a century. Its purpose is to allow thoughtful asynchronous communication that can be as brisk or as thorough as needed, on whatever schedule my own physical and mental life makes best for me. I can't imagine why I would ever want to see email in the street, or while on an elevator. So why would I arrange my technology to be able to do that, or the more demotic equivalent, especially if by doing so I was blowing my own privacy and security by using sensor-heavy hardware and unfree software? Because I make this unfamiliar and archaic judgments, my time is different from your time: there is more of it, and it is more my own. That's a phenomenon you might want to think about in revising this very interesting and promising draft.


Webs Webs

r3 - 04 Dec 2019 - 17:36:35 - SalvadorRosas
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM