New York City Life: FOMO

New York resident Kati Laakso discusses life in New York City and the fear of missing out

New York resident Kati Laakso discusses life in New York City and the fear of missing out

photo by Kati Laakso

Kati Laakso

FOMO. The term commonly used to express the fear of missing out. Especially prevalent in big cities where there is too much to do, too much to get, and too little time to get it. Also, when you not only want what you want, but what any of your (social media) friends are having.

 

New York, for all its pros and cons, can be a stressful place to live in. Not only because of long working hours, competition among a pool of highly talented individuals, the expensive housing market, crowded trains and noisy streets, but also because of all the things we start stressing about once we move here. The constant lack of time and personal space add to the stress, leading to many confrontations that in other environments would easily be avoided. Who hasn’t seen a fight between a cyclist and a cab driver, with both sides screaming their hearts out blocking the traffic even more? Reacting instantly and often with exaggerated rage to anything that is in your way – physically or mentally – is something New Yorkers are especially good at.

Who knew you could feel so bad about missing an exhibition opening, theater show, or music performance?

Who knew you could feel so bad about missing an exhibition opening, theater show, or music performance? It still bugs me that I missed the Marina Abramovic retrospective at MoMA in 2010. New Yorkers were raving about it already when the show was ongoing –– but I still missed it. Since then the retrospective has become a kind of landmark that people frequently refer to. Having seen the exhibition only in pictures and videos I feel I lack all emotional ties connected to it and am therefore unable to comment on it.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever been this neurotic before but also feel it’s an inseparable part of work and life (im)balance that is in the soul of the city. It gives me energy while admittedly simultaneously consuming my mental well being. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a correlation between the amount of time you’ve lived in the city and your stress level. People who were born in New York, or lived here for a decade, have been around long enough to realize that tomorrow will be a new day with more events to catch or miss.

Photo by Kati Laakso

Kati Laakso

Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere

The term FOMO was coined roughly ten years ago. It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013 with the definition: “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media”. In this regard I think we should already be over it and have found at least a hundred cures for our fear. But no. Fomo is still here, and it is even more prevalent today causing anxiety and feelings of unease that we previously had no knowledge of. When looking at user statistics you quickly learn why fomo has become so common. The US has the highest number of social media users adjusted to population (59%). Ten years ago only seven percent used one or more social networking sites. On average people in the US spend 4,3 hours per day browsing the internet on a computer and almost two hours on their cell phone. The average college student spends eight to ten hours on their cell phone each day. That is a huge amount of time, however creatively you look at it.

The average college student spends eight to ten hours on their cell phone each day. That is a huge amount of time, however creatively you look at it.

People have a tendency to blame newer generations for current phenomena. So also with FOMO. The Millennials are the generation that is most commonly attributed to having this quality, and they sure do suffer from it. The urge of constantly having to be everywhere, do everything, know everyone is quite a daunting task for anyone, young or old. According to a study conducted in 2012 by JWTIntelligence 55 percent of adults said that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to digest to stay up to speed. In the same study 47 percent of teens said they get uneasy when they see their friends doing things on social media that they themselves are not involved in.

In New York FOMO kind of grows onto you, through the vibe of the city, the events you go to, the people you meet. From my own experience I definitely know how it feels: I wake up in the morning, grab my cell phone before I even have time to breath, and start frantically going through emails, social media feeds, blogs, news, and the like. I’ve found a new layer to it all with Periscope, the app which allows anyone to live stream the life of people around the globe. According to statistics released by Periscope I’m not alone: the app has had 200 million broadcasts over the course of its first year with 110 years of video being watched every day. How people have the time to come up with content for all their social media channels remains a mystery to me.

Photo by Kati Laakso

Kati Laakso

New Yorkers like to discuss what is currently happening in their city.

Receiving all this information before even getting up from bed makes you exhausted enough to take a nap again. But you get up instead, go to the office, and once there, try to concentrate on actual work, too. However, staying in the know takes time and in order to be familiar with everything that you know will be discussed later on with your friends – or even worse professional contacts – you’ll need another work day just for looking up the information. New Yorkers like to discuss what is currently happening in their city. It is taken for granted that you know the latest restaurants, new tv series, films and the actors involved, or what is going on in the cultural/political/global world. This year, having the newest information on the polls or Donald Trump’s latest gimmicks is instrumental knowledge, too.

In addition to receiving an overflow of information people also communicate on a multitude of platforms. Besides emails, social media channels, and dating apps there is texting, which as harmless as it may seem, is not. The texting habits of New Yorkers definitely surprised me. In Finland I think it is still fair to say you can text someone and expect her or him to reply within a few hours or on the same day. In New York, if you don’t reply within fifteen minutes you might as well be dead. People text each other frantically. Especially if dating you could spend your whole day on the phone. The more people you date simultaneously the crazier it gets. I once went on a LinkedIn date (I actually went to an office meeting only to find out LinkedIn dating exists too) and afterwards the dude started texting me every five hours just to check “how things are”. I never answered him but still receive check ups every now and then. FOMO in dating is a real problem (and worth an article of its own).

In New York, if you don’t reply within fifteen minutes you might as well be dead. People text each other frantically.

Any reasonable human being will soon start questioning the system. The higher your stress level, the sooner you start paying attention. Do I really need to posses all this (unnecessary) information? Do I really need to go to this event and that opening? Do I really need to see all films and tv series only to be able to comment should anyone ask me about them? The answer to all this should be no, no, and no. There have been attempts of establishing terms like JOMO (joy of missing out) but they haven’t really taken off. Yoga and meditation however are practiced almost as fiercely as anything else. I’ve had people teach me meditation on the train, at work and even while walking on the streets. All this obviously to save time and use the obligatory commuting time for something productive, since being unproductive is another thing New Yorkers easily get frustrated about.

Photo by Kati Laakso

Kati Laakso

Researchers have found that when people want to alleviate themselves from FOMO they start texting, go on Facebook, or call someone. The cause of the pain seems also to be the cure for it.

They say that people suffering from FOMO concentrate so much on the ‘other,’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind) that they start losing their own authentic sense of self.

Knowing about everything is one thing, being able to say you’ve experienced it is another. It’s going to be interesting to see how VR (virtual reality) will begin to affect our daily lives. The discussion has been picking up since last year. For now it seems that mostly companies suffer of VR FOMO – they are fearful they will miss out on the opportunities VR could offer them. For the users it remains to be seen how things will start taking shape. They say that people suffering from FOMO concentrate so much on the ‘other,’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind) that they start losing their own authentic sense of self. VR could take all this to yet another level. Will we become even more frantic and stressed about not experiencing everything and everyone through VR, too? Or will we just give up on life as we used to know it and simply sit back at home enjoying the luxury of finally being able to be anyone, anywhere, with everyone, all the time?

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  • Kati Laakso - One Quart Magazine

    Kati Laakso (born 1979) currently lives in Tokyo working in arts & culture. Besides her passion for art and beauty she is interested in human behavior and cultu...

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