Opinion: FOMO Fever

If you’re like most people today, I’m going to guess that your routine begins and ends with your phone. Your alarm goes off, and before you can even remember what day it is, you’re already double-tapping Gina’s post on Insta. Fast forward about 16 hours and your face is illuminated by the glow of your phone screen as you lay bundled up in bed writing that witty Tweet and commenting on Grandma’s Facebook post. And I’m sure there was a lot more swiping, tapping, typing, and profile-stalking in between.

Today, 78% of Americans have some sort of social media. In Britain, 99% of young adults use social media at least once a week. So whether you prefer finding the perfect lighting for Instagram, testing out filters on Snapchat, or DMing that guy you like on Twitter, most of us are connected in some way.

But, on the off chance that we look up from that tiny screen, we need to realize just how much it controls our life. That’s right, the extra limb extending from our hands that is our smartphone may just be the silent parasite. The only cure? Unplug for a minute and listen up – doctor’s orders.

My name is Sophia, and I am a FOMO-holic. I didn’t understand the desperation to be constantly tuned in until after a hectic morning; I forgot my phone at home.

I went through withdrawal within an hour. What if someone’s texting me? How can I see if that email I was expecting came in? It got worse when at lunch, I quietly ate my salad and looked around at the blank faces of my friends, mindlessly checking their feeds and oblivious to the fact that they were with other people. It was eerie, like a sci-fi movie in which robots control humans and melt their brains. I made up my mind: I was going on a social media cleanse NOW.

Whilst still not an official psychiatric disorder, the Internet, and more recently, social media addictions, have been proposed as a mental disorder since the Internet’s inception in 1996. Brain imaging studies have shown brain scans similar to those of people with substance abuse problems. Furthermore, all the “likes” we get stimulate serotonin receptors in the brain (the feel-good chemical), causing us to feel those confident highs, but also those depressing lows when we aren’t getting as many likes or having all the fun that others seem to be having. It’s no surprise that social media has caused anxiety, depression, narcissism and other self-esteem issues.

Think of why we can’t seem to even go to the bathroom without our phones. First of all, that’s gross, but if you think something earth-shattering is going to blow up on your Facebook feed in the five minutes whilst you’re on the toilet, I can’t even imagine what your sleep cycle is like. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem… and logging out of your accounts. For severe cases, deleting the app has been shown to reduce relapses.

It started out fine; I was proud of myself because I could control my urges. Look at me, I thought, I am a well-rounded, independent woman who don’t need no Instagram. But soon my body took over from memory. I’d be bored and instinctively pick up my phone, swipe over to the apps, and tap on them, only to be greeted by the login page. No! I will not surrender. After that, it took hiding my phone when I didn’t need it around and only turning on my laptop to do work. The road to remission was long and bumpy, but slowly I adapted. It took some soul-searching, too, I’m not going to lie.

I couldn’t pinpoint how my problem developed in the first place. I don’t share much of my life on social media, so I wasn’t wrapped up in the need for validation from my peers. Also, I don’t have many followers, nor do I obsess about the lives of the people in my circle. So what was it? It turns out it was a harmless case of boredom and a minor infection of FOMO. There was nothing super exciting going on in my life, so I wanted to see if my peers were having a better time than me. It turns out that sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t. The object of social media seemed rather trivial when it was put into perspective.

Currently, I am a few months sober. I haven’t been on Twitter, I don’t have a Snapchat or Facebook, and I limit myself to Instagram twice a day. I encourage everyone to look up from their phones and check themselves every once in awhile. Otherwise, you just may look up too late and realize that whilst you were keeping up with someone else’s life, you missed out on your own.