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FOMO: Fun catchphrase or serious condition?

FILE - In this  Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, photo, a woman poses for a photo using her smart phone in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At a time when Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are pushing people to put forward their most polished, put-together selves, a new class of mobile applications aims for a bit more honesty. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, photo, a woman poses for a photo using her smart phone in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At a time when Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are pushing people to put forward their most polished, put-together selves, a new class of mobile applications aims for a bit more honesty. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File) AP

When I first heard of FOMO – fear of missing out – I thought it was a cute expression, like LOL, BFF or ICYDK. I thought it creatively explained the pressure to be a part of everything happening around us. When I pitched this story to Charlotte Five, my intention was to jokingly write about the “serious FOMO” people have in Charlotte. I was hoping for a quick read with fun quotes from fellow Charlotteans.

Then I did a bit of research and found that FOMO has a darker side.  FOMO, the cultural phenomenon, has been covered in scholarly journals, online articles and books. One psychologist, Sherry Turkle, is raising awareness about how technology plays into FOMO. Her TED Talks and books focus on how we cannot tune out the texts, tweets and posts, because we believe we will miss an opportunity. Turkle argues that this is at the expense of the people right in front of us.

“I think we are setting ourselves up for trouble,” Turkle said in her 2012 TED talk.

The origin of this phrase has roots in anxiety and worry. Ben Schreckinger of the Boston Magazine traced the history of the phrase “fear of missing out” to a paper written in 2000 that described it as a marketing strategy.

But MBA students at Harvard Business School may have been the ones to propel the phrase FOMO into popular culture in a 2004 blog post. Back then, the Harvard students were feeling the pressure of the economy and the uncertainty of terrorism. They developed an anxiety that led them to plan their days around specific experiences. They wanted to live life to its fullest. At first, they called their behavior FOBO — Fear of a Better Option — but then realized FOMO – Fear of Missing Out — better described what they were doing.

Since then, FOMO has seeped into pop culture as a catchphrase used to explain the desire to be a part of everything. For some Charlotteans, it is a more serious issue that affects their daily lives. When I put out a call for people willing to talk about FOMO, I did not specify that I was looking for the serious side of FOMO. So, I was surprised by what I heard.

Erin Melton, 41, works in the health care industry in Charlotte. She is consumed by other people’s lives on social media.

“I feel like they are talking directly to me so I feel pressure to do whatever they are offering,” she said.

Melton also feels that she will miss out on something awesome happening.

“I see someone is at a brewery on Instagram, and I will get in my car and meet them,” she said.

Photo 1 Credit Erin Melton
Eric Gaddy

Cameron Cochran is a 27-year-old student at UNC Charlotte and is the program director for a family foundation. Cochran’s FOMO has been so real in the past months, that she sought therapy for it.

“I have a fear of being forgotten if I am not there,” she said. “My place in the community will be forgotten and I won’t be able to get it back.”

Photo 3 Credit Cameron Cochran

College administrator Natalie McLemore, 27, just moved back to Charlotte from Washington, D.C. While in D.C., she constantly scanned social media for her group of friends in Charlotte. She was sad that she was missing out. Now that McLemore is back in Charlotte, she finds herself looking through social media for her friends in D.C.

Photo 2 Credit Natalie McLemore

Cochran sums it up best: “FOMO is a funny word that we use to cover up something intense and scary. We all experience it on some level. Our basic human need for community and stability and the fear it won’t be there is real.”

Photo 1: Silvia Izquierdo, Associated Press; Photo 2: Erin Melton; Photo 3: Cameron Cochran; Photo 4: Natalie McLemore

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