If 56% of social media users are afraid they will miss something if they don’t check in, that’s a lot of folks living in fear. It’s also a completely new fear. Five years ago, we really didn’t have the constant influx of the Internet flotsam of everyone’s social lives. (Note: Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) isn't so prevalent yet—Baratunde Thurston made the cover of Fast Company for unplugging.
We are beginning to learn about the "should" of social expectation that makes us feel less than others—the sort of psychological damage that used to require in-person interaction (remember the wallflower at a party). There’s even an academic questionnaire by which you can rate your FOMO. The researcher who developed the survey found that people who felt less autonomous and connected to others in real life are the folks that spend more time on social media sites. For those people, frequent social media site visits can be a more emotionally intense experience—causing a loop that can keep you unhappy and unproductive.
So how can we combat all this social angst? Let’s discuss what no one is talking about: Fear of Focus. Social media FOMO is just a distraction—an easy way to turn away from the things that really matter to you. Focus—real, genuine focus—has an immense possibility to help you combat the social media madness that is FOMO.
A personal perspective might help here.
For starters, I am not a psychologist (though I work down the hall from one). I think of solutions in terms of building tech products. However, it occurs to me that so many of the implications of FOMO are about the framing—the context in which you get your social fix. Call me a geek and a Bing partisan (both true), but a handy by-product of integrating search with all this social data is the ability to put it in healthy context. Perhaps even a context healthier than just the social inputs alone.
As an example, let’s look at jeans. What someone from one of my many social inputs thinks of the jeans they bought helps me purchase and steers me away from what maketh my butt look big. But going beyond just what my friends know and adding context such as Internet reviews from objective strangers or news articles about the working conditions in which those jeans are made or the hypoallergenic composition of the materials in said jeans helps me keep that purchasing decision focused through the lens of who I am.
All of this context—what the Web knows, what search knows, what my friends know—keeps in proportion the kinds of information I’m using to judge what to do next or how well I am doing. It may sound backwards, but building context yields focus.
At the end of the day, I have just my one life. The only thing preventing me from charting my destiny is that fear of focus. It is so easy today, for others to dictate what’s important or what, in my own life, I should feel bad about (aka FOMO). After all, FOMO content (and perhaps the majority of social content) tends to be an overpolished version of the shiniest happy moments or experiences.
What you see on social channels often isn’t real. This is why focus is so important; looking more broadly at the world for new things and finding out the things you need to know helps you answer the big question: Am I focusing on the things that matter to me and connecting to the people that matter?
If we are unafraid to focus on our own lives, our own momentum, the people we care about, what could we achieve? Wouldn’t that look more like the ideal search engine of the future, where everything is brought under one roof, connectedness is in concert with your goals, and action follows Internet discovery?
What if that search technology not only leveraged the power of big data and context and your social media signals, but also framed it in a way where you had choices, and you weren’t trapped in a context where the "should" of social norms was the only thing that mattered?
Technology has the potential to fuel focus’s crusade against FOMO. If you choose focus instead of fear, you will be fully present and won’t miss what is important to you. You will be on the only path that matters. This is what the future of search and social looks like. It will be focused on what you are doing—instead of what you’re missing.