FOMO Interview

I was recently interviewed by Luciana Lima for an story about FOMO in Brazil’s VocĂȘ S/A (“Tudo ao mesmo tempo agora,” March 2017). The story is print only, and in Portuguese, so I asked to include the original interview here; we are discussing my article “Following the Joneses: FOMO and Conspicuous Sociality.”

In your article you say that the FOMO is a new word for an old concept and that the media has an important role in the construction of this terminology. Why does it happen?

“Social comparison” is a core feature of human behavior: we look to others to discern how we are doing and what we should do. Popular media changed the scope of our social comparison from our neighborhood to images on pages and screens. It’s hard to compare yourself to the polished images seen in ads and among celebrities. Social media amplifies this.

You also state that FOMO and FOBO are opposing forces that can drive the person into a state called FODA. Could you explain a little more about what this third stage would be?

Patrick McGinnis coined all these terms in 2004 in response to the intense social and professional networking scene at Harvard Business School. Whereas FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”) leads to anxiety about missing something, FOBO (“Fear of Better Options”) is the fear of committing to something in case something better came along. McGinnis lamented that all of this ultimately leads to FODA (“Fear of Doing Anything”).

You claim that people mistakenly associate FOMO exclusively with social networks. Could we say that there is a human predisposition to blame technology for their bad behavior?

Social comparison is innate to being human; media and technology can lead to distortions, but FOMO is a very human phenomenon.

You also affirm that in the contemporary eye wanting what we see and being seen has fused. Would that not be pure vanity? And are they not two things that have always completed each other?

I believe the term FOMO conflates two distinct feelings: missed experiences (fear of missing out) and belonging (fear of being left out): to want what we see and to be seen have fused. Lone envy and social exclusion are both facilitated by ubiquitous screens.

Don’t you believe that having more access to the other’s daily life (trips, parties, restaurants, relationships) intensifies the envy we already felt? And that maybe this was a new modality, different from the one our parents could feel, for example?

I think the feeling is the same, media simply changes its circumstances, like its intensity and how often it occurs.

Is FOMO also just related to envy? Or is there a correlation with low self-esteem, for example?

You are right, social comparison, the behavior that drives envy, is also a factor in self-esteem.

Finally you say that the FOMO is related to a fear of “disappearing” and that it should be understood as a continuation of centenary issues. What would this “disappear” be and what are the issues that are closely related to it?

Here I was speaking about the term “FOMO” itself. Fear and envy have always been around; but, in the past two centuries, things like the telegraph and television led to people to speak about the malady of neurasthenia and the anxiety of “keeping up with the Joneses.” So I wonder how long “FOMO” will stick around, or will it one day disappear and be replaced by a new term or expression?

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