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Origin of FOMO
What does FOMO mean?
Short for fear of missing out, FOMO is an anxious feeling you get when you feel other people might be having a good time without you.
In the digital age, FOMO often leads to a constant checking of social media to see what your friends are doing.
Where does FOMO come from?
While a marketing strategist named Dan Herman claims to be the first to identify the phenomena that is FOMO in the 1990s, it was a Harvard MBA student, Patrick McGinnis, who is credited with popularizing it when he wrote about it in 2004 in The Harbus, the Harvard Business School’s student newspaper.
During his time at Harvard, McGinnis and his friends began to notice that people had a hard time committing to plans. It was just a couple years after the attacks of 9/11, and, as McGinnis explained in a 2014 interview with Boston Magazine, people were aware of their own mortality and so felt the need to “live life to the fullest every second.” What this translated to was Harvard MBA students trying to cram as many social activities as possible into one night, fearing that if they didn’t, they’d miss out on a better experience. They called this phenomena fear of a better option (FOBO).
Soon McGinnis and his friends realized that the cause of their suffering wasn’t simply this idea that they might be settling for not-as-good good times. Instead, they realized that the real fear was missing out on an experience that they hadn’t even thought of or knew existed.
And, it was from this realization that FOMO was born.
McGinnis doesn’t just blame FOMO and FOBO on people’s attitude toward life post 9/11, but also on a new phenomenon that was just beginning to gain steam in 2004. As he puts it, “before the age of mass social media, people made plans and then they stuck with them. Because what else were you going to do? And so you’d make a plan for Friday night and you’d go somewhere, and you’d stay there, and that’s what you did.” But with sites such as Facebook, you could now constantly check to see what else was going on in your social circle.
As use of social media exploded since 2004, what McGinnis and his friends once considered a small, localized problem became so widespread that some health professionals now call it a serious concern.
In 2013, for instance, researcher Andrew Przybylski and his team at Oxford University conducted a study in which they found that nearly three quarters of young adults suffer from FOMO. In their study, they discovered that people’s fear of missing out causes them to continuously check social media and negatively compare their lives to the supposedly better lives their friends are leading. This can lead to unhappiness, and in some cases, depression.
As the phenomenon of FOMO spread, so, too, did the term, and major dictionaries officially entered the term in the 2010s. FOMO was also a leading candidate for the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2011.
How is FOMO used in real life?
While FOMO can interfere with people’s happiness and day-to-day functioning, it’s usually used jokingly (e.g., Just checked Insta and I’m experiencing some major FOMO). This can be seen in meme culture, social media, and even College Humor’s 2013 satirical FOMO Horror Movie Trailer, which got over one million views.
More examples of FOMO:
“But when you’re caught in the loop of FOMO you tune out the real world and tune in to the fake one — Facebook.“
—Eric Barker, TIME, June, 2016
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for fomo
“I moved to New York City after college purely because of FOMO,” said Sarah Muir, 25, who grew up in Portland, Maine.
Most nights I go to bed with FOMO, or “fear of missing out.”