FOGO Redefines the Self


By Samantha Spoto

Photo courtesy of Ryan Vaarsi.

In today’s age of technology, emojis and acronyms have made their way into the common vernacular. The idiom “less is more” holds true in regards to contemporary language and slang, with phrases being condensed and abbreviated for the purposes of effortless, simple, or viral communication.

Perhaps you have seen or used this succinct lingo on your social media pages, attached to hashtags, and overheard it in conversation. However, one combination of four letters serves as more than a fleeting and trending colloquialism. FOMO, or the “fear of missing out,” has a forceful effect on people’s actions.

Recent studies suggest that social media fuels FOMO. Individuals with heightened levels of FOMO appear to spend an excessive amount of time probing the internet with the intentions of staying in check with the world beyond their immediate reach.

Kailiegh Wenstrup, a 20-year-old student from Ontario, Canada, comments on the idea that social media perpetuates the prevalence of FOMO in people’s lives.

“I think [social media] often validates those fears of missing out on something. The fact that you weren’t there has become publicized in new ways, which has the potential to further strengthen FOMO,” Wenstrup tells BTR.

Although the pervasiveness of FOMO is alive and well, a new, four-letter acronym has surfaced to describe a contrary phobia. According to Alexis Swerdloff, an editor for New York Magazine, FOGO or the “Fear of Going Out,” alludes to the idea that attending the events that appear on the feeds of common social media sites like Facebook and Instagram seem daunting rather than alluring.

As Swerdloff claims, the single moments captured and uploaded from events are barely true testaments of a poster’s enjoyment and amusement.

Sharon Hillman, a recent college graduate residing in Danbury, Connecticut, agrees that social media exaggerates the level of engagement and pleasure taking place at the events portrayed through a friend’s feed and an embellished photo filter.

According to Hillman, “Social media has a tendency to amplify an event. Sometimes great photos can give a skewed perspective and make an occasion appear more memorable than it truly was.”

Aside from the somewhat fraudulent front that these shared images put forth, their FOMO inducing abilities may cause great strain on an individual’s personal development. With the heightened prevalence of FOMO stirring within Millennials, the reluctance to say “no” hinders the process of individuation–the act of forming a separate self, discernible from others.

The conception of the individuation process occurs at an early age. According to Beverly Amsel, a psychotherapist specializing in Individuation, saying “No” as a child signifies the initial declaration of selfhood. When an individual asserts what they want, they make a statement that fortifies their individuality.

As FOMO continues to dictate decisions, foregoing a night with friends based solely on personal choice aids in the reformation of a genuine self.

Dr. Linda D. Tillman–a clinical psychologist and professor at Emory University Medical School–wrote about the importance of individuation in her article “The Power of Saying ‘No’.” According to Tillman, individuals may suppress their true intuitions and values because they lack assertiveness. She continued that deliberating on a proposition, rather than acting on impulse, generates a sincere response, which is in turn reflective of a sincere self.

“In thinking it over, remind yourself that the decision is entirely up to you. ‘No’ is an honorable response. If you decide that ‘No’ is the answer that you prefer to give,” she wrote, “then it is authentic and honest for you to say, ‘No’.”

Wenstrup, too, recognizes the power of “no” in a culture that manipulates the minds of Millennials.

“It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of social events and feel like you’re having fun without actually assessing whether or not it’s what you want to be doing,” says Wenstrup. “It’s important to understand that you’re allowed to prioritize your own enjoyment. You shouldn’t sacrifice [that] just for the sake of being somewhere.”

In conjunction with Dr. Amsel and Dr. Tillman’s comments on individuation, Hillman believes that maintaining a firm attitude contributes to a truthful shaping of the self.

“Being able to make a decision and sticking with it shows a sense of commitment and self-respect,” she assesses. “If you’re constantly ignoring your personal needs, it will wear you and make you feel like you are unable to express your genuine desires.”

Wenstrup also believes that relinquishing a night of social activity benefits the self.

“In my own experience, I’ve learned that saying no to a night out can actually make me feel more engaged and in tune with myself, ” says Wenstrup. “It helps me reaffirm my own values and wants.”

While it appears natural to experience FOMO, perhaps welcoming FOGO every now and again into a cramped schedule will help you reclaim your individuality.