Teens connected to social media more frequently (five or more times a day, i.e. heavy users) are significantly more likely to experience aspects of FoMO such as:
• It is important that I understand my friends in-jokes (78%);
• Fearing their friends are having more rewarding experiences than them (54%);
• Worrying when they find out their friends are having fun without them (60%); and
• Being bothered when they miss out on planned get-togethers (63%).
The Australian Psychological Society has just released the key findings of its 2015 Stress and Wellbeing survey. The survey examined how 1,500 Aussies experience and cope with stress. This publication is notable, in that it includes for the first time measurements of social media use and FoMO.
The survey came to my attention when I did a quick Google search for the term “FoMO Australia” – I’m weird like that. I was greeted with headlines like “#FOMO leading to higher levels of depression, anxiety for heavy social media users”, “Wellbeing survey reveals nearly half of teens stressed by social media” and “FoMO sending kids loco” (this final article made the most incredible associations to online gambling, internet addiction, alcoholism and drug use – the survey doesn’t mention these terms, by the way).
I’ve posted the key findings of the survey, with regard to teenagers, above – these are the findings which seem to be raising the most alarm in the Australian media – but one must bear in mind that the total number of teenagers in the survey was 210. That said, according to the survey, 25% of those surveyed admitted that they were “constantly online” and 56% of teenagers were deemed “heavy users” due to the fact that they interacted with social media more than five times per day. These figures would seem to tally with survey results of a Pew Research Centre study in April of this year, where it was found that, because of the convenience of mobile technology, 92% of teenagers go online daily, 56% of teens (13-17) are online several times a day and 24% of those are online “almost constantly”.
In 2010, a national study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organisation found that young Americans, between 8 and 18, spent on average 7 ½ hrs across the day using electronic devices. This excluded the time spent talking and texting. In this study, when media multi tasking was taken into account, the researchers claimed that the sample were cramming 11 hrs of content into the 7 ½ hours. Internet users in Ireland spend, on average, nearly 4 hours a day on our computers and an average of almost 2 hours per day connected via mobile devices, so our usage rates would be similar to those in the US.
But, what do these figures really tell us? It is truly overly simplistic to use time spent doing something as a metric for addiction or as an antecedent to alcohol and drug use? Even the American Academy of Paediatrics, who used to recommend 1-2 hours of screen time per day, for teens, now propose more reasonable, understanding and complete guidelines for kids who are “growing up digital”. (https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Children-And-Media-Tips-For-Parents.aspx)
I think that we need to re-examine how we are measuring how young people interact with technology; we need to stop measuring time spent online, for a start. Further, we need to stop arguing over whether time spent on line is good or bad, it is the environment that young people inhabit. What does measuring the time spent in our natural habitat tell us? Not much, I would argue. The fact that someone uses Facebook, while informative from a marketing perspective, does little to explain the subtleties of the users interaction; the content and context of the users communication and the user-defined, significant behavioural, emotional and cognitive outcomes of that interaction and the possible interrelations between these. Furthermore, and I’m not the first to say it, but allowing journalists to interpret scientific data and allowing them to publish sensational headlines on the back of these misguided interpretations is doing no one any favours.
There are 1.5 billion Facebook users and they’re not all having a bad time. I argue that FoMO can be a good thing. In fact, I have found in my research that Facebook use in the context of FoMO promotes awareness, affection, efficacy, truthfulness, support, certainty and that these drivers of “good” FoMO further promote generosity, patience and positive regard for the needs and opinions of others. FoMO can aggravate altruism and prosocial behaviour, it can empower, it can develop, enhance and maintain relationships. So, FoMO taps into our innate need for connection, contact and community. It stimulates reciprocity and enhances the positive regard we have for others.
Let’s have another look at those key findings above and think about them positively. It is important for young people (and us all, for that matter) to understand in-jokes, aren’t we all “bothered” if we miss out on a planned get-together and don’t we all worry that others are having fun without us? As I sit here, I KNOW that others are having more rewarding experiences than me….it is worrying. Isn’t that what it is to be human? Is it sending us “loco”? I don’t think so.