Memoirs of an Insecure Fresher: When FOMO takes over

Edward Thomas 30 October 2014

“It’s not what you’re doing that matters – it’s what you’re not doing”

I want to talk about FOMO.

FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out. Urban Dictionary defines it as “The fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great”; this is a good place to start, but I believe that in Cambridge, this term takes on a whole new meaning.

From experience, Cambridge can become the perfect FOMO incubator. Last year, as is the custom, I sacrificed many a promising night for the sake of late-night essays, but it didn’t have to be a specific event that brought on the FOMO: even crowded nights at the college bar or large expeditions to Life were things I did not want to miss. Since at first this was the case, I came to believe that there was almost always ‘something’ happening: people had to be spending downtime somewhere, and having not ingrained myself in a clique I felt real pressure to find ‘everyone’, wherever and whoever ‘everyone’ might be.

With time this nagging fear spread from merely evenings to most hours: what if all the people I knew had gone for a picnic by the river, or an overpriced but extremely bonding lunch at Pizza Express? My accommodation being slightly distant from the main freshers’ area did not help, as it allowed my mind to constantly conjure up room parties and communal kitchen meals taking place in my absence. I later learned I could have had it worse: a college-facing window could take you to a whole new realm as you get to watch what looks like the rest of your year passing by, catching up, laughing…

"Such bonding”. Image Credit: jibunkaiwai

Amplifying it all was an Iago-like Facebook. Every day it filled my screen and mind with images of new acquaintances having great fun at whatever club, or old friends doing the same at similar-looking clubs; none of which I was involved in but all of which, sitting at my desk, I could observe with envy. It took me a while to fully comprehend how dangerously disproportionate Facebook can be: naturally people want to upload things showing how fun they are and what a good time they’re having, but the result is an entirely warped presentation of others’ social lives. According to ‘The Newsfeed’ most people I know have lives consisting solely of parties, clubs and hilarious moments, not one of which is undergone alone (seriously, when was the last time you ever saw a Facebook photo of someone not with friends?). To my fresher self, Facebook was a daily injection of pure FOMO.

Facebook became my drug. Image Credit: Images Money

As term wore on, and the college bar stopped filling up, I recorded a slightly panicked diary entry:

“What is everyone else doing? The best answer I can hope for is probably just working, because it means I’m not missing out on anything; the worst is that cliques are forming and consolidating of which I am not a part.”

Urban Dictionary talks about the fear that you might “miss out on something great” but my fear ran far deeper than that. In freshers, everyone who didn’t go to a London private school suddenly finds themselves back at social square one: friends must be made, characters must be defined, and cliques must inevitably form. In general I coped with these pressures, but a Facebook album showing those I hoped to befriend having a cute gathering in someone’s room or one too many texts saying “sorry, busy tonight” could bring out dark, insecure and only semi-rational thoughts which I confronted in another diary entry:

“This may sound horribly insecure but I’m terrified by the nightmare-scenario of starting second year without any proper friends, leading to a year of loneliness or perhaps worse still becoming a floating spectre, desperately trying to ingratiate myself with the communal consciousness of a group in the hope that they will consent to letting me hang around…”

It was rare that my FOMO got this acute, and in the end the “nightmare” didn’t happen, but that’s not the point. The point is that FOMO can get out of control – no longer a fun acronym, but a self-esteem damaging and irrational habit, potentially a symptom of deeper insecurities, which can be hard to escape.