Getting over FOMO means accepting you'll miss out.
Moving past the fear is harder than usually presented. It's also unavoidable.
A common directive for those quitting social media is to not get caught up in FOMO. The “Fear of Missing Out” associated with removing oneself from a toxic platform is usually described as a hurdle, an obstacle for sure, but one that can be quickly moved past. The term “FOMO” is usually brought up in a dismissive way, often simply “try not to worry about it”. It’s addressed so casually that I fear the term FOMO is becoming separated from the actual feelings one should expect to encounter when quitting, and can make the task of quitting a toxic platform appear easier than it is.
Remember, the first word in “FOMO” is fear. It may not be a rational fear, but it’s fear nonetheless. Fear can be very motivating. For some people FOMO is not just a hurdle, but a giant, seemingly unscaleable wall in their path. People not prepared to encounter this wall may give up and turn right back around to the toxic platforms they were (finally) making an effort to remove themselves from.
To quickly describe FOMO in the context of social media- “fear of missing out” describes the anxiety that if you quit social media, you’ll be cut off from your friends and loved ones in some irreparable way. You might be worried about the parties and get-togethers that will be organized online that you not only won’t be invited to, but will have no idea ever happened. Your anxiety will tell you that if you miss these events, eventually people will forget what it’s like to have you around and nobody will notice you’re missing. Or worse- they’ll notice your absence and interpret it to mean you don’t care about them! Without you, their social media feeds will go on, full of photos and videos from all the parties you haven’t been to, and all evidence you were ever their friend will be lost to time like tears in rain.
Ignoring for now that the sort of “friends” who wouldn’t personally invite you to a party they’re throwing maybe aren’t such great friends anyway- A fear of losing friendships is not the only kind of FOMO. There are many kinds. Work related, but also concern about no longer receiving updates from family you otherwise only see at Christmas, or from friends who have moved away. There are some reasons that you may not even recognize as being FOMO.
Moving past a fear of missing out involves accepting that you’re guaranteed to miss out on some things.
I’m not writing this essay to tell you that you should get over FOMO. But if it is your goal to quit social media, then moving past it is a necessary and unavoidable step. It’s important to know that for most people it’s also the hardest. Because part of getting past a fear of missing out is an acceptance that you’re absolutely, positively, going to miss out on some things.
If I may use a terrible but timely, analogy- staying on social media because of a fear of missing out is akin to not being vaccinated against COVID because of a fear of side effects. Granted- not everyone’s side effects are the same, some people have none at all, others are quite intense. A select minority may even have long-term issues to deal with. But the harsh reality remains: if you don’t want to die of COVID-19, confronting the potential for vaccine side-effects is a necessary and unavoidable part of the process.
Quitting social media means you’re going to miss out on some of the things posted on social media. Most aspects of social media -the sharing of messages and photos for example- can be easily replicated with other apps. And those remaining things you’ll miss out on? Well, they probably aren’t going to be that big of a deal.
Using idle time (on the toilet, waiting for the bus) to mindlessly scroll is an efficient way of keeping up-to-date on those you care about without all the hassle of scheduling in-person rendezvous, phone calls to grandma, actually bothering to write down birthday dates, etc.
However there is a big, scary truth to our insultingly short lives: You will never be up to date on everything. You will never be able to maintain close contact with more than a small handful of people. Time is spent one minute-per-minute no matter how efficient you are with it. Time is not something that can be “saved”. There is no storage shed outside of life where all the time we’ve saved is kept for later use.
By treating our friends and loved ones’ life updates as pure information, we are separating the deeper contexts associated around the sharing of such information. The camaraderie, closeness, and relationship-building that at it’s heart is what a relationship actually is. To put it another way, simply knowing what your friends are doing is not the same thing as them telling you. The former is a transaction. The latter the latter is a relationship.
Ultimately, getting over social media FOMO has to come from a place of confidence. Confidence that you’re strong enough to maintain relationships without relying on the platforms to do so for you. Social Media can be a negative-feedback loop, with feelings of insecurity and anxiety increasing time spent on the apps, leading to more insecurity and anxiety. In order to get over the FOMO, you must first develop the confidence to understand that, yes, sometimes you will miss out. But you’ll also have the strength to recognize that by spending your already short life scrolling through these endless feeds, you’re missing out on other things now.
And there’s a good chance those things are a little more meaningful.