In an era in which we are accosted by the meals, vacations, parties, and sheer awesomeness of most everyone we know—thanks, Instagram and everyone else in Silicon Valley!—we've never been more aware of what we're not doing. Which can occasionally lead to an anxiety disorder known as #FOMO—Fear of Missing Out. Will Welch identifies the symptoms and recommends a simple course of treatment
The first step in the Center's #FOMO program is a simple one: acceptance. Say it with us: "I am afraid that I'm not doing the coolest thing ever at every single moment." Doesn't that feel better? Doesn't it feel good to know that you don't always have to be at the center of the conversation?
Hello there, and welcome to the GQ Center for the Diagnosis and Treatment of #FOMO. Come in. Please sit down. And for God's sake, turn off your phone. We're glad you've made the decision to seek help—things are getting a little outbreaky out there. Frankly, we kind of fear for the future. And our dignity. But you have come to a safe space.
Now. Why don't we start testing your personal #FOMO levels with a little hypothetical exercise?
Let's say it's 7:30 on a Thursday night. You've made serious plans to not have plans tonight. Tonight you're going to be at home, stir-frying vegetables and having a meaningful interaction with ESPN. So while those fiddlehead ferns are sizzling, you take a quick flick through your Instagram feed. It turns out your friends, and the people you're not friends with but whose lives are somehow a daily part of your own, thanks to the wonders of 4G and social media, are not at home alone getting it on with some sugar snap peas and Stephen A. Smith. It turns out some people are out there experiencing things. Somebody is sitting at a corner booth at a downtown restaurant experiencing a delicious plate of housemade burrata (with a fancy-pants wine bottle not so accidentally lurking in the background)! Other friend types are experiencing the once-in-a-lifetime musical extravaganza that is Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z together in concert. (Check out these twelfth-row seats, bitches!) Not to mention the acquaintance who is, at this very minute, experiencing the wonder of nurse sharks (and a lady in an emerald green bikini who's placed, wine bottle like, in the corner of the picture)! Which makes you suddenly feel a little differently about experiencing the heat from your $12 wok.
If you answered 1, congratulations. You're not only of sound mental health, you're also shockingly free of insecurities and possessed of a grounded life perspective, and you are free to leave the GQ #FOMO Center now, simply by turning the page. (You're also probably a total liar.) If you answered 2, 3, or 4, however, you are on the #(1) Set down your phone and happily go back to your simple night, as a Buddhist monk goes contentedly back to his simple cell. (2)Feel a gentle but totally manageable pang of regret that you are not savoring the rich, creamy wonder of burrata. (3) Become overcome with anxiety and borderline grief that in fact your life is lame and that you missed out on a night of limitless possibilities. Or (4) stage an artful still-life shot of your sweating craft-beer bottle and Instagram it with the caption "Nothing is more satisfying than a night chillin at home," and then lie in bed and cry yourself to sleep.
FOMO spectrum. We recommend you begin closely monitoring your levels, then begin our course of treatment.Now for your diagnosis. Upon seeing all this, you:
Step two is knowing that #FOMO is an unwinnable game. Even for the people in the very pictures that are eliciting our jealousy. All those Instagram hotshots who are always doing the most exciting, most enviable, most fashionable and champagne-y stuff? They are, according to our statistical analyses here at the Center, the very individuals with the most hyperactive #FOMO. Do you know, new friends, how much work it takes to be one of those people who is at the right place at the right time, all the time? An awful lot of exertion—blood, sweat, tears, texts, e-mails, tweets, Facebook lurks, and most of all, fear—goes into making the social arts look effortless. It's that fear that makes them work so hard.
Step three is to say: Go eff yourself, Alexander Graham Bell. We here at the Center are developing a theory from our research. And it is that, with the invention of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell unwittingly brought down a new curse on humankind: the belief that, through the wonders of technology, we can be present in more than one place at the same time. And of course, the more advanced our phones become, the more attached we become to them, the more we believe we are capable of things we are not. That's why Bell's portrait hangs above me here in the Center's Receiving Hall—feel free to flip him off.
Step four is to admit: It's not our phone's fault. It's not Mark Zuckerberg's fault. It's the fault of whoever put together our brain. The fear of missing out has been with us since way before the advent of the hashtag. It's as old as typhoid, birthday parties, and fermented beverages. But just as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis didn't get a name until Lou Gehrig came around, it took Twitter to give this specific iteration of social anxiety the handle by which it is now known. Social networks simply make #FOMO go viral. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vine—they are the mosquitoes delivering the #FOMO malaria.
Step five is to know: This is probably not going to go away. #FOMO cannot be eradicated, so instead it must be managed. You may be shocked to hear that at no time in your treatment program will you be asked to forswear your social-media applications. We just want you to get a grip. It won't be easy. Consider what happens when I open my own Instagram account (I'm not just a #FOMO Center counselor; I am also a patient—a patient with a very fragile grip) right this very moment: First I see a girl in a tank top and sunglasses who is so skimpily dressed that I definitely should not be looking at her photo here at the Center, especially since she has applied a fake tattoo of a penis to her cleavage. (I am missing a stranger's bachelorette party, perhaps? Thirty-six Likes and counting.) And here is a moodily filtered photo of New York City shot from first class on an airplane (168 Likes.) And here is a photo of a T-shirt from an expensive fashion label that apparently arrived in the mailbox of some dude I follow but have not met (235 Likes). If you prompted me to state how I feel as I scroll, I would say that my #FOMO gland is beginning to secrete inferiority hormones. I would say these photos make me feel, respectively: #Hottie #FOMO, #High-flying #Lifestyle #FOMO, and #Exclusive #Retail #FOMO. I would say I am also feeling a desperate pull to go somewhere awesome and Instagram it, to inflict #FOMO on others in a misguided attempt to have a respite, however brief, from feeling it myself.
These are not positive feelings, friends, but they are real. #FOMO is really just another word for insecurity. So when you feel it flaring up—when you have to stay late at work the night of a house party you've been looking forward to for a week; when all your buds are flying to Puerto Rico for a bachelor weekend, right at a time when you're flat-on-your-ass broke—we here at the Center suggest you speak directly to your #FOMO. Say, "I hear you, #FOMO, but now's not the time. Tonight is going to be gloriously un-Instagrammable. Tonight I'm going to hang with my $12 wok and my friend Stephen A. Smith." When you can successfully do this, you've unlocked a powerful tool that we here at the Center refer to as #JOMO.