Over the vac, I found myself sitting on a balcony in Florida. It was 28°C; I was with one of my favourite people in the world, drinking orange juice with a perfect juice-pulp ratio. But I had just typed to a dear friend of mine:
I am so jel of your status
As a Briton
In the homeland
Why? Because Poldark was on BBC1 and iPlayer doesn’t work in the States.
Good but not that good. Credit: YouTube
My nearest and dearest have been joking for months that my FOMO is getting out of hand. It hung over me like a cloud the weekend that former and current TCS Ed-in-Chiefs Jack and Sam took #CaiusToParis while I’d decided it would be best to stay in the bubble and do some dissertating. It viciously mauled me when photos from the aforementioned trip went public. It’s an affliction that niggles every time I log on to Facebook, am late for a lecture, or see friends at the other end of the table at dinner who look like they’re having a more interesting conversation than I am.
‘Fear of missing out’ is an odd concept. Qualified, it is, when applied to an event in the present or near future, the fear of missing out on something thoroughly abstract—an idea of what something will be like, which is usually idealised. For instance, we may lie awake while seemingly all our friends are having what we imagine to be the ultimate night out in Cindies. As if such a thing exists.
Applied to an event in the past, FOMO is the fear of having missed out on an event that presents itself on social media as a romanticised, sanitised version of actuality. Club photos don’t show your best friend puking outside Sainsbury’s on the way home or people dancing a bit half-heartedly because they’re too exhausted to be feeling it.
So to suffer from the former type of FOMO is to be overly optimistic, to suffer from the latter is to be naïve. To suffer from either is to yield to a certain kind of insecurity; to give in to ungratefulness and discontent. As these qualities are rife amongst the young, it’s hardly surprising that there’s a FOMO epidemic sweeping the student population.
And it’s an epidemic that ought to be taken more seriously. The term FOMO legitimises an attitude to life that isn’t quite healthy—an attitude that is partly a product of the social media age, which allows us to see exactly what we’re missing; or seems to, anyway.
It’s not just the detail with which missed events are portrayed, it’s the immediacy, which exacerbates the tendency of the young to put the present on a pedestal. FOMO perpetuates the idea of the ‘night of our lives’ that is so thoroughly exploited by advertising. It teaches us that if we don’t do it, we’ll regret it, that you should take every chance just in case it lives up to expectations. FOMO is like peer pressure from within, constantly prodding us with the reminder that uni is supposed to be the best times of our lives and that we’re not making the most of it. In short, skipping Sunday Life because you’re too exhausted can bring on a minor existentialist crisis.
Almost all of us have to write essays as part of our degree. Almost all of us are taught that good structure and narrative flow come from choosing what is vital and paring down what is excessive. Here is something that we gain from academic rigour that could—and should—actually be applied to life. And Life.
FOMO does nothing for self-worth. Every time we flick wistfully through an album from a party we decided to give a miss, the sense of regret invalidates the fact that you just didn’t feel like it, and undermines the idea that you know what’s best for you. FOMO is invariably used in negative contexts. Unlike YOLO, carpe diem and ‘you’re only young once’, it’s a phrase linked to superfluity, stupid decisions, pushing yourself beyond your limits and, particularly at Cambridge, lack of sleep. It’s important to make the most of your time; it’s impossible to do so without adequate down time.
Therefore to conquer FOMO requires confidence. Confidence that just because your best friends have all met up in the holidays without you, it doesn’t mean they’ll return after the vac a brand new friendship group minus you. Confidence it’s okay to want a quiet and solitary night in with Harry Potter and Coco Pops. It’s a very Cambridge thing to expect more from yourself than you can give, but if we recognise this in ourselves, we can curb it in our social lives even if we can’t in work.
As I have been told – teased – many times, excessive FOMO just comes across as a bit tragic. It’s needy at best and selfish at worst, given that it turns other people’s fun into a negative thing. Whether it’s rooted in nosiness or control freakery – or both – it can affect relationship dynamics and leave you more isolated. As Stephen Mariani has wisely put it, it can end up with you being ‘everywhere and nowhere’—all over social media (which shows everything and nothing), but in actuality without time to enjoy all those events you simply can’t miss.
So before you say yes to absolutely everything to avoid missing out, think about your motives. Is it worth spending your precious time and money? But then again, don’t overthink it: don’t lie awake at night calculating how long it would take you to get into Cindies if you got dressed immediately. Assess, decide, draw a line under it. When you do end up at the wrong party or with the wrong people, don’t stay ‘til the end to try and make it worth it – to justify the final vestiges of your FOMO. Leave at the right time.
It’s true that you’re only young once—but rather than fighting against this by ‘making the most of it’ in a way other people define as correct, these self-indulgent university years ought to be for just doing whatever floats your boat. And accepting that actually, if you don’t want to miss out on what’s there, you have to miss out on what isn’t.