or fear of missing out [foh-moh] or [feer uh v mis-ing out]
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. You've been warned.
Examples of FOMO
Where does FOMO come from?
Oh Harvard grads: 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.
Who uses FOMO?
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 has garnered over one million views.
— Crypto Jes (@cryptojes) August 7, 2018
This is not meant to be a formal definition of FOMO like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of FOMO that will help our users expand their word mastery.