Student view:

Dominik Neumann: FOMO is real

Oct. 23, 2019

Dominik Neumann is a media and information doctoral student and researcher in media and information.

The following is a repurposed piece from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. For the original article, click here.

FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a real and present anxiety all people face to some degree. 

It is an ultimatum presented to all of us when given risky or undecided social situations: Should we go against our will and possibly regret it? Or skip out and miss a key moment? Opting out may still give us a sense of dread, that a once-in-a-lifetime event occurred without us — never to happen again. 

I explored this issue in my current research on FOMO and its effects on our human interactions. What began as an exploration into impulse shopping grew into a passion for understanding why humans make the decisions they do. My goal is to help others understand the dangers of this social phenomenon and analyze how it affects not only our image on social media, but also our everyday lives.

FOMO is massively tied to feelings of being socially excluded — of being alone, of not being picked — all these kinds of things, which is a tremendously powerful experience. Powerful in the way that it has only negative outcomes for individual well-being.

In college, FOMO can come in the form of peer pressure. For example, students can feel pressured to go out and consume alcohol at bars, despite not wanting to participate in the first place, out of a perceived obligation to their peers. The anxiety ties in with peer pressure because FOMO revolves around social exclusion. It’s about anticipating the regret people think they will feel after the fact.

Not all hope is lost, however, for communicators looking to incorporate FOMO into their marketing strategies in the future. The key to using FOMO in advertising is to combine positive peer pressure with greater social norms for performing moral activities.

I’m not sure yet how that can work in the society we live in. I think with human beings being self-driven, that’s a very ambitious target — to capitalize on FOMO in a positive way.

Even then, you’re still playing with people’s fears of being excluded. Sure, the outcome might be positive, but the question is, how positive was it for the individual?

While there have been studies of FOMO in the past, I see more opportunity for research in the future. The fear of missing out doesn’t just have social media implications. It can also be a detriment to personal health. This can come in the form of depressive symptoms, unhealthy sleep patterns and a knock to one’s self-esteem.

I plan to study FOMO in terms of substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and the rise of online pornography. Another possibility lies in vaping, nicotine and the peer pressure surrounding these habits.

Despite the different implications for FOMO, I see myself as a social marketer above all. I aim to continue looking into brand activism and how brands can use FOMO in a moral way.

I think brands, products, that are tied in with heavy social causes that are heavily advocating for inclusion and community norms and so forth — I ultimately think these brands will succeed.