Today I would like to present and discuss a central issue among young people, which is the concept of FOMO, the acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. In this article, I try to understand the spiritual and theological rationales behind this term, and offer some concrete solutions to overcome it.
What is FOMO?
As the first letter of the acronym describes, FOMO is before anything else a fear, an anxiety, and a source of stress. This fear occurs due to the “missing out” factor: the idea that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere. We are all potential victims of FOMO, which can be easily understood considering our human need for social interactions. But young people seem to be more affected by it, most likely due to the fact that they crave relationships at this stage of life. FOMO is especially aroused through social media, which project constant reminders of events and social interactions happening without our participation, and innumerable “possibilities” that we are missing.
Reading the description of FOMO that I just gave, one might be tempted to consider FOMO as a superficial fear, which is not worth a lot of our attention. Two reasons why it is the opposite, and why I think FOMO deserves our full attention.
The first issue with FOMO is that it can lead to more existential fears. You would agree with me that the question “are people having fun without me?” doesn’t seem at first to be a dangerous one. But ask yourself this question over and over, and you will end up with darker thoughts about life in general: is my life interesting at all? What’s the meaning of my life if I’m not part of these events? FOMO – as I personally observed in some cases – can become the entry point for depression. By always being reminded that something great is happening out there, one can constantly develop the feeling of being the opposite of a great person, a.k.a a looser.
But maybe the biggest issue with FOMO is when it tackles our very own essence as individuals. Revisiting Descartes’ motto, we could best describe FOMO by the maxim I participate, therefore I am. And when participation becomes too close to the definition of who we are as humans, it becomes an issue.
What to do with FOMO?
Now let us switch our gear and ask ourselves the question: what can we do to address and overcome FOMO with young people?
The first step is not to judge this fear but to acknowledge it as being legitimate. We all know that adolescents go through phases when they literally crave relationships. Acknowledging the importance of friendship and the need for social interactions is therefore the first step to be taken. And not just to put young people into a “psychological safe space”, but because we genuinely consider that God is present in the midst of our relationships.
The second step is to offer alternatives. If, as seen earlier, FOMO is directly linked with social media, we need to discuss the quantitative and qualitative aspects of our time spent on social media. This has to do with developing healthy boundaries with social media, a broad and difficult topic that cannot be covered entirely in this article. These discussions should also be the opportunity to rediscover the value of aloneness. Using the example of Jesus who retreated himself to the desert at the very beginning of his ministry, we can teach young people (and all of us really!) how to distance themselves from social interactions from time to time.
Even more important than acknowledging and offering concrete solutions is the importance of redirecting the need for participation. As we’ve just seen, FOMO addresses legitimate fears. The underlying need behind it – the need for participation – is one that we want our youth to fulfill. But the results – being afraid of missing out on events – are not the right ones. When social media tells us that the ultimate participation is social participation, Christians have to come up with a different answer. I believe that the right answer lies within the Body of Christ, the idea that all Christians belong to one spiritual body. Social participation is an important part of life – again, acknowledging the need is important here – but it should not overshadow the importance of the spiritual belonging to a bigger entity. The Body of Christ is our ultimate participation. Youth – and all of us really – need to be reassured that they already belong to this Body and do not need to conquer this belonging through participation because one cannot “miss out” with God. The theological answer to FOMO is the belonging to the Body of Christ, a belonging that does not need to be proven or conquered, and which we should not fear “missing out” on.