There has been a lot of talk on the fear of missing out that has been driven by our social media culture. Essentially, when you see all of your friends doing something really exciting on Facebook, you get upset that you are not a part of it. Consequently, it has led to a fear that they might be doing something that you are not a part of. Whether they are actually doing something or not isn’t really the question. Nobody likes to be left out of something that actually happened. However, this psychological phenomenon that we worry about being left out all the time is something that seems to have burgeoned in social media culture.
I am sure that there has always been a degree of this throughout history. I would hate to be the guy who wasn’t invited along to watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence (I don’t know if there was some historical figure that was left out of that experience, but I would hate to be him). The problem with our current situation is that we understand that we missed out on something and then we see all of the celebratory social media posts, pictures and videos that document exactly how awesome the thing was that we missed out on. Then we end up in a cycle that reinforces itself. They didn’t invite me last time, and it was in my face. I never want that to happen again, and it makes me nervous. Therefore, even though I am sure this has happened to a certain extent from the beginning of time basically, social media has put that reminder of what we missed out on right there all the time.
We don’t even have the ability to deny that the event was awesome. Before the documentation of social media, we could imagine that what we missed out on something, but it really was not all that awesome. Everybody else went to a concert that I did not get to go to. Maybe the concert was not all that great in the first place. Now, there will be live video from the concert that doesn’t allow me to deny its awesomeness.
We think about our current psychological situation, I can’t help but think about our innate human desire for love and belonging. We hate to miss out on things because we want people to like us. We want people to invite us to things and allow us to be a part of it because we want that joy to be in our lives as well. When they have fun, it looks like something that we want to be a part of. We may say that we are tough, independent, don’t care and will stand on our own two feet, but I think that if we are all honest at the end of the day, there is a desire for belonging.
How do we fix this though? We can’t force people to invite us to things. We can’t force people to not post on social media about all the fun they are having at something that we were not invited to. We can’t turn off our human desire to want to interact with other people and get both love and belonging. How are we going to address this problem?
First, I do think that the main way to overcome this is to plant our identity in Jesus Christ. Does it matter what other people think about me? I know that in my own mind, it absolutely does. I care what people think. However, I also know that it is infinitely more important what God thinks about me, and I know what God thinks about me. I know that he sent His only Son to die for me. He values my eternal salvation so highly that He served as the substitution for me. As a result, when I think about this fear of missing out and I begin to worry about what people are doing without me, I can’t help but think that I need to aspire to have a closer relationship with God. I need to get to the point where my identity in Him is all that matters to me. The intellectual knowledge is there, but in practice, I think that we all need practice, and I am no exception to that.
Second, I think that we do have to remember that everybody misses out on a variety of things every day. It may seem like the biggest deal in the world when we are left out of something that we want to be a part of, but the reality is that I am not the first or only person to ever miss out on anything I wanted to be a part of. It doesn’t necessarily make it feel better, but nobody can do everything. When we recognize that we all are kind of in a similar situation, it doesn’t necessarily make it feel better, but I think that when we accept the reality that this is a human experience, we will feel less sorry for ourselves individually. That is a big step. It helps us escape the “poor me” mindset.
Third, I do think there is a great deal of value in gratitude. We worry so much about what we are missing out on, but we are not grateful for all of the wonderful things in our lives. Again, it may not make that temporary issue any better, but when we step back and think critically, it is hard to deny that the good things in our lives far outweigh the bad. We have so much going for us. There is so much that is right about the world, and to paraphrase Chesterton, the fact that we don't ask what is right about the world is what is wrong with the world. We don’t very often about everything that is right, so we dwell on everything that is wrong.
Finally, I think as we come to the end of this topic, we really need to realize that the reality of the fear of missing out is that it is only a fear. It is kind of like having a fear of heights. When you’re up really high, you’re obviously worried about falling, but there is nothing inherently problematic about being up high. If you don’t fall, you’re not going to get hurt. The fear is still there, but the fear in and of itself really has no substance. It doesn’t do anything other than paralyze us. As a result, we have a fear of missing out, but we need to remember that half of the time we are probably really not missing out on anything anyway. There’s no sense in getting worked up over something that may not even be reality.
I was thinking about this topic, and, no, I was not recently left out of something that I wanted to be a part of. However, I was looking for my Facebook seeing all of the cool things that people do every day, I couldn’t help but think that there are lots of people who really base their identity on their social media profiles. I like to post stuff on Facebook. It is fun for me, but it is really sad that people can anchor their identity in it. That only amplifies the effect of the fear of missing out. Let’s remember where our true identity and value come from.