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Facebook inflames FOMO, the fear of missing out

Brooke Palmer sat down with one of her clients Tuesday to plan a wedding.

"I'm feeling guilty," the bride told her. "I'm going to hurt feelings if I don't invite someone and they see it on Facebook."

Palmer hears it all the time. As an event planner who runs Tampa's RSBP Events, she finds many people feel obligated to invite all 600 Facebook friends to expensive weddings and parties.

"Listen," she told the bride. "If you don't know these people's cell-phone numbers, if you haven't talked to them in a year, I'm not sure you should feel bad about that."

But people do, now more than ever. Humans have always gotten irritated, even devastated, when our so-called friends make memories while we sit home with the cat. But social media has ballooned this kind of anxiety so large, it has its own term.

FOMO. Fear of missing out.

In 2011, New York Times writer Jenna Wortham dissected her own fears of missing out, documenting how her cozy night in was ruined by photos of friends at a concert, and photos of other friends drinking milk shakes together.

"Suddenly, my simple domestic pleasures paled in comparison with the things I could be doing," she wrote.

There are Urban Dictionary entries and Facebook pages devoted to FOMO. In 2001, marketing company JWT surveyed more than 1,000 people in 2011 about FOMO. Almost three quarters of young adults said they could relate. The study found "millenials" ages 13 to 33 feel the most left out of all.

Mindy Kaling, an actor and comedy writer on The Office, recently wrote a book called Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). In it, she chronicles the time in middle school she saw her three best friends eating at the Cheesecake Factory.

"They were laughing and talking over a slice of cheesecake, but without me," she wrote. "I was so hurt and embarrassed."

Now take that, and add in real-time updates and glossy Facebook photos, Twitter notifications, check-ins on Foursquare, Instagram, Tumblr. You can't avoid anyone's social life anymore, unless you lock your devices in a closet and become a neo-Luddite.

Palmer, an emotional, self-described "warm fuzzy," has grown thicker skin after working with clients. But she admits to feeling hurt by Facebook photos of trips she wasn't invited on. And it's easy to take the anxiety to more irrational places. Her twin sister, she said, recently got sucked into a total stranger's baby shower pictures.

"She was like, 'Why am I feeling left out? I don't even know this person.' "

Palmer suggests people think it through. It's not always about you. Maybe it wasn't your friend's invite to offer. Maybe they look like they're having fun when they really aren't. And maybe you just weren't invited. That's fine, too.

"You have to know there are things that you haven't invited people to as well," she said.

Facebook inflames FOMO, the fear of missing out 01/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 2:22pm]
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