Emily Vega

If you’ve ever experienced a school drug-prevention assembly or if you grew up in the 2000s or even the early 2010s, you’ve probably heard about the dangers of peer pressure. These admonitory warnings against intense pressure from the people around you as you move through higher education always felt a bit far-fetched to me — as I’m sure it did to many others — and, after a while, I found myself with a feeling of personal satisfaction. Aha! They had been overreacting the entire time — peer pressure doesn’t really exist! Right?

Well, I was right in a sense. For the most part, the collegiate landscape doesn’t boast peer pressure in the form we were conditioned to recognize it as (incessant begging to partake in something you don’t want to, forcing drugs into your hands, etc.). Instead, a more convincing and less suspect form of peer pressure is affecting the psyche of many young people today — fear of missing out.

Otherwise known as the FOMO, the term was first coined in 2004 to describe the intersection of two mental processes — the intense feelings of exclusion and the innate compulsion to feel a sense of belonging by fostering constant connection. The term adopted partial meaning from the older term “keeping up with the Joneses,” an idiom used “to show that one is as good as other people by getting what they have and doing what they do,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The new term also adds the implications of constant “neighborly” exposure due to social media. Social media replicates the idealized lawn that is always manicured, the house that is always clean and the idealized nuclear family of old by allowing the creation of what seems to be perfection through filters and scheduled posting. We are no longer safe from these feelings of inferiority because there is no longer any degree of separation between perfect expectations and human reality.

It is no secret that social media’s role in the everyday lives of the general population has grown increasingly inseparable from reality. Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook — the purported use of these sites was to connect people, and this has turned out to be almost cruel in its truthfulness. We are more connected to others across the globe than ever before, but this constant exposure, combined with the human tendency to exclusively show off the positives of our lives, creates a cycle of feeling excluded, posting to try and eradicate those feelings and then generating feelings of exclusion in others. This phenomenon leads to both psychological and behavioral symptoms, including a deficit in self-competence, autonomy and relatedness. These deficits can manifest as lower self-esteem, boredom and loneliness, but they can also manifest as fatigue, stress, increased screen time and binge drinking.

Chilling studies have shown that 69 percent of millennials self-report feeling FOMO and 33 percent admit to purposely trying to incite FOMO in their peers. The reason that FOMO is so pervasive and unanimously effective is the inclusion of “normalization” and “expectation” within its definition. Behaviors are normalized through their continuous presence online and, thus, create the expectation of what college students, for example, should do in order to have fun. Frat parties, drinking and constant social activity is normalized and idealized as the college experience. While these activities and behaviors can definitely be a great aspect of college, they fail to represent the many ways that fun can manifest in a normal student’s life. We are beginning to see the ramifications of this normalization in generation-wide behavioral patterns as youth feel pressure to conform to what is considered desirable or necessary.

I’ve had to delete Snapchat and Instagram due to the struggles I’ve faced with these issues. Seeing photos of my friends having fun, I began thinking, “Why wasn’t I invited? Why am I not doing anything right now? Am I liked less than other people?” I’ve seen people go through the mentally draining process of going to a party, drinking and hooking up in the pursuit of the most Instagrammable life, to the detriment of their own desires and individualism.

So what can you do about this complex emotional issue? Complete removal from the world of social media is ideal, but this is unfortunately an unachievable, drastic step for most people. One study published in 2020, however, presents a “FOMO Reduction’’ process. It is a lengthy study but elucidates three main tips — self-talk, expectation management and self-esteem enhancement. An initial step is to phrase what one will or won’t do through a strong frame of perception. For example, “I do not need to respond swiftly” instead of “I am unable to respond swiftly,” to extract oneself from succumbing to compulsions. Expectation management requires one to not post with the expectation of likes, or walk through life with the expectation of excitement or even constant purpose. Finally, enhancing one’s self-esteem is not an easy task, especially if you did not feel you had any self-esteem issues in the first place, but it is important to self-reflect and discover — how much of your actions stem from personal desire rather than FOMO?

FOMO is a tricky and cloudy subject that has only recently begun to get the attention it needs. I urge those who read this to steer clear of FOMO-related behaviors in whatever way works best for you. And when you hear people arguing about the terrors of peer pressure, realize the true threat lies in the acronym.

Emily Vega is a junior majoring in English.