We have all experienced that pit in our stomach or that pang of jealousy while perusing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or other forms of social media. You see a picture of one of your friends, family members or fellow adolescents on top of a mountain in some faraway country, sitting on a gorgeous beach that looks like it came from a postcard or at some wild party that Williams could never dream of throwing. This feeling of social anxiety is colloquially referred by the silly acronym, FOMO, or the fear of missing out, whereby we become concerned that others are having more fun, more friends and all-around better lives than we are.
While FOMO has affected people of all ages for many years, it is especially acute for our generation thanks to the ubiquity of social media and other modes of connection that create constant means for comparison. In addition, these networks make it very easy for people to portray inaccurate representations of reality, hiding the mundane and negative while showing the fun and amazing. Thus, there is an enormous amount of pressure on college students in the 21st century to constantly be “having the time of their lives.” These sentiments can cause us to engage in activities such as binge drinking, one-night stands and splurging on items that we don’t need as we pursue the socially constructed image of the ideal college student.
If you are experiencing FOMO, social anxiety or a general lack of self-fulfillment, do not worry, many other college students and adolescents, including myself, struggle with this. The feeling is especially relevant for juniors, many of whom have friends scattered around the world documenting incredible experiences that Williams often cannot provide. However, there are actions you can take and questions you can ask yourself to help ease these feelings. The first and most obvious step you can take is to temporarily remove yourself from (or at least partially block) social networking, especially Instagram and Facebook. I understand that this is difficult, but temporarily disconnecting may provide more long-term satisfaction than the instantaneous but mercurial psychological boosts that these networks are geared towards providing.
At Williams we are taught to think critically and analytically; therefore it is also important to self-reflect and ask ourselves a few simple questions. Is this an accurate representation of reality? Are these actions I am witnessing something that I really want to do? If they are, do I need to make a change in my life? Remember, people post censored versions of their lives on social media. In addition, seeing decisions that other people have made may not express a desire to have made that person’s specific choice, but rather serve as a reminder of the many choices and alternative paths we can pursue at Williams. Simply being reminded of all the choices we can make can lead to insecurity with the decisions we have made, and if this is the case, a simple reaffirmation of your choices will ease these tensions. However, if this is not the case, then maybe these feelings are suggesting that it is time to make a change.
It is also perfectly okay to make a change. As college students, we are presented for the first time in our lives with increasingly big personal decisions and choices and we are going to occasionally make mistakes. Thus it is important to take a thoughtful approach to the decision-making process. Instead of asking, “What if?” or, “What have I missed?”, reflect rather than dwell on previous experiences, weigh potential pros and cons and ask yourself what you have gained or learned from these experiences. Changing your internal dialogue will help ease feelings of FOMO and social anxiety.
In the song “Beautiful Boy,” John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” For children of Generation X this can be rephrased to, “Life is what happens to us while we worry about what others are doing.” With smartphones in our pockets and laptops in our backpacks, we are rarely more than seconds away from alternate realities. So while social media allows us to see exactly what we are missing, what we really risk is missing out on our lives as we stare at alternate but instantly updating realities. Therefore, do your best to live in the moment, remember that behind online personalities there are real people with real problems and change the dialogue from, “What I am missing?” to, “How am I benefitting?”
Christopher Wayland ’16 is a political science and economics double major from New York, N.Y. He lives in Perry.