It’s ever-present and thought consuming. It’s the itchy mosquito bite on your leg you need to scratch but know you shouldn’t. It’s the fear of missing out, and it is ingrained into our psyches.
Everyone experiences FOMO at some point in their busy college lives. When we face choices of how we want to spend our time, there’s always the doubt that we are sacrificing something that will never present itself again. This fear is rarely based in reality. Most of the time, the thing that we have “sacrificed” and spent our time fretting over is not as spectacular as we initially hyped it up to be in our head.
Despite this truth, we always end up wishing and wondering if we should be somewhere else. It isn’t hard to speculate where FOMO comes from or why it’s so prominent among people of our age relative to members of older generations. Social media has become an essential and daily part of our lives that is often taken for granted. The statistics about how social media is harmful and the rants and judgements of older generations about how we are addicted to our phones can frequently go in one ear and out the other. While technology and social media undoubtedly have downsides, they also have given our generation immense advantages in the way we interact with each other and our surroundings.
It is useless and unwarranted to completely berate this generation’s use of technology and social media. However, it is important that, while we recognize all the good, we also confront the bad. Instead of condemning our generation’s use of technology, we should be devoting attention to the necessity of personal reflection, self-awareness and intentional living when it comes to social media. If we don’t pause and think about how we’re engaging with social media and each other, then the negative side of social media will continue to have an adverse effect on us.
I hadn’t really considered any of these issues until I deleted all my posts on Instagram and said I was starting fresh. I told myself I wanted to create a profile that was a better representation of who I am currently. In reality, I wanted to create a profile that was a better representation of what I wanted others to think of me. I told myself that I was only going to post when I was genuinely happy and had something purely positive to share with the world. In reality, I only ever posted when I had something to prove or when I wanted others to believe that I was happy. This kind of denial always led me to be wary of social media: Instead of taking advantage of the benefits social media could offer, my mindset had created a competitive and harsh environment in which I would no doubt always lose.
This mindset is only one aspect of the complicated and messy culture of social media I and many others can feel the effects of. Social media encourages us to not only present a perfect version of ourselves, but to judge others with the same kind of unfairness that we experience. In essence, we must strive for the approval of others when we should be looking inward for validation. Similarly, our constant connectedness has great benefits and great costs. On one hand, we’re able to reach parts of the globe we have never seen and learn new and unique perspectives. On the other hand, we feel the pressure to always be reaching out to others, leaving us feeling uncomfortable when we face any sort of disconnectedness.
We might not realize it explicitly, but social media plays a huge role in our mental health. Especially as college students, it can simultaneously connect us with people around us while also isolating us. Deleting social media can make us feel freer and less obligated to keep up with every little thing going on around us, but, in a culture in which a lot of our communication is done through our phones, it can lead to many unintended consequences.
Instead of choosing one extreme or another, we should be reflecting more on the role we want technology to play in our personal lives instead of simply accepting it as the status quo. Taking a break from social media or limiting screen time may be hard at first, but it will most likely help you feel more present and happier being where you are instead of worrying about where you’re not.
Nicole Marion is a sophomore in the College. This is the final installment of Becoming U.