Analyzing FOMO From Two Perspectives

Source: Google Image Search

In any given society with each technological shift (e.g. agrarian to industrial) the resultant effect is a mix of progress and problems. For example, the most recent shift to the information age has not enabled only new ways for people to generate and share information with each other across disparate locations but it has also introduced problems that have entered our everyday discussion such as the phenomenon of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). FOMO is an anxiety that an individual feel triggered by an exciting or interesting event that may be currently happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website. While it could be argued that FOMO is not unique to the information age and that a FOMO type of feeling could have existed prior to social media, the degree to which FOMO has gained prominence is indeed unique that warrants an analysis of the relationship between social media and FOMO. I will attempt to analyze FOMO from two different perspectives: “medium-centric” and “socially-centric”.

Medium-Centric

The modern interpretation of the term “media” refers to a type of communication channel that relays information. In some information exchanges, technology assumes the role of the medium, which according to Shannon and Weaver’s model on communication is the the technical or physical means of converting information into a format suitable for transmission across the channel. For example, my voice is a medium because it converts my thoughts to sound waves for a person/receiver to sense. Similarly a smart phones are mediums that convert information to light waves (and to some degree sound and haptic force) that we sense and interpret.

However, media doesn’t just deliver content but in fact contain meaning as well. Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “The medium is the message” and he understood medium in a more holistic sense where the medium (not just it’s content) is a message itself. McLuhan uses the example of a light bulb, medium without content, creating an environment with its mere presence to argue that even without content the medium still has a social effect.

FOMO isnt the same with this print based medium. Source: Google Image Search

With the pixel resolution of our smart phones reaching human retina quality and 4G networks trafficking data at “lightning speeds”, the immediacy and vividness FOMO is being reinforced in a way that would not be the same with a with other mediums. The “content” we consume is really an extension of another medium (e.g. your friends ego/thoughts/feelings) and the effect (FOMO) of this medium is made stronger because it is delivered through another medium. This medium-centric perspective implies that humans are very intentional about the messages and effect they want the medium to convey.

Socially-Centric

Unlike the medium-centric perspective, where humans are able to influence social behavior by leveraging technology, the socially-centric perspective adopts a technological deterministic view, where technology has agency and can influence behaviors independent of humans. According to the theory of technological determinism, progressive shifts in society occur when a new technology is researched and developed independently but then is introduced to society with unplanned effects or consequences (i.e. disruption).

FOMO is in an unplanned effect as a result of new technology being introduced into society. From a technological deterministic perspective the development of smart devices, cellular communication, and social web were all detached from social needs/influence. As a result FOMO was not a societal influence imbued into new technology but rather an outcome of new technology.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure where I stand on the spectrum of social-constructivism vs technological-determinism with regards to FOMO. Both the medium-centric and socially-centric perspectives raise interesting points about the influencing factors for FOMO behavior. My current perspective, which is an amalgamation of the two, is that technology does have agency and influences our behavior, however, that agency comes from the unconscious bias of those developing the technology.