MoMo Is the New FoMo and It Will Give You a Panic Attack


First there was YOLO, the battle-cry of teens everywhere as they demanded other people hold their beers and “watch this, bro.” Then there was FoMo (Fear of Missing Out), an existential angst that reminded all of us that we were missing out on everything and that death is both cold and inevitable. And now, just in case your panic attacks about your life weren’t enough, there’s MoMo and it will make you want to slam your head against the keyboard.

Actually, slam your head now and I will be right here waiting for you. (Wherever you go, whatever you are.)

I bet Richard Marx never had to worry about any of this shit.

Back to MoMo: If you’ve never heard of it before, I don’t blame you. I just learned about it this morning and thought it was ridiculous and angry-making, and then I realized it was also kind of true. You see, MoMo is the Mystery Of Missing Out, or, put in simpler terms, freaking out because your friends aren’t posting on their Facebook/Insta/Twitter/Google+(LOL) and you know they’re doing something awesome that you haven’t been invited to be a part of. No one just stops posting, right?

It’s like you can’t win these days. With FoMo you freaked out because your friends were posting how much fun they were having (without you) and now that they’re not posting anything, it must also be because they’re having so much fun without you. In fact (here is my greatest fear that I will share with you), your friends made friends with each other realized that they liked each other more than you and are now hiding this fact from you so your feelings aren’t hurt. But your feelings are hurt! Because you’re home alone on a Saturday afternoon and there’s no way that your friends are napping, or watching TV, or taking care of their sick grandma or something. They must be out having fun. With Miley Cyrus, probably. She knows how to have a good time.

Of course, being anxious about not knowing what your friends are doing is nothing new. As someone who grew up in the 90s and didn’t have a cell phone until I was 21, I would often race home to check my messages and my AOL email just to see if someone wanted to hang out (no), but now that connections to others are instantaneous it’s even harder not to take your friends posting fun photos of themselves or not posting at all as not personal.

From The Telegraph:

Rose, 24, tells me: “I have my favourite Instagram profiles I like to check daily. If they go quiet I get MoMo for sure.”
She admits to getting stressed, worrying that they might be doing something more interesting than her. In London, especially, she wonders whether there might be a free festival or event she doesn’t know about and will only see in pictures much later. “You think – what can be so good that they aren’t posting?” she says.

It would be easy to laugh Ashley’s concern off, but when I read this my thought was immediately WTF FRIENDS!? before I realized that Ashley was speaking about a theoretical free festival that she might have had fun at if it existed. But that’s normal, right? How many of us have become jealous when our friends stopped posting, or worse yet, commented only on the statuses of others, ignoring yours?

But is it really a fear of missing out or the fear of change in one’s relationships that is driving the anxiety of not knowing what your friends are doing with you? Dr. Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge University explains why MoMo is such a big deal:

“[MoMo]’s in a new context, but it’s not new,” she explains. “It’s recognisedthat one of our biggest necessities is not just having what we need in order to survive – or even be comfortable – we need things that allow us to feel that we’re part of our peer culture. That includes information.”
This is a development of something we experience as children – when we can feel ‘left out’.
“The fear of being excluded starts in the playground aged eight or nine, when cliques arise,” agrees Dr Apter.

And here’s the worst things about the fact that your friends aren’t posting:

“The worst thing isn’t not knowing what happened to that person; it’s knowing that social media is changing,” Dr Apter explains. “Suddenly, you feel like something major has gone on without your knowing it. Your mum and grandma might be used to not knowing what’s going on, but you’re not.”

It’s like going to dinner with a group of friends and sitting in the middle seat where you’re not part of any conversation. You’re there but you feel left out and you can sense everything changing around you. It’s only a meal now, but soon you won’t know what people are doing with their lives and you will lose your connection to them. And that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen. Others move on and you stay behind. MoMo, to me, is like the “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation you have with someone breaking up with you. And that’s awful.

But you can take some comfort in knowing that other people care as much as you as they’re scrolling through their Facebook feed. And some might be playing the MoMo game just to appear more mysterious and desirable.

A male friend tells me about his ex who deliberately stopped posting information on Facebook, because, “people who never post are cooler than ones who do all the time.”
The trick works – he now obsesses about what his ex is doing. “I have one ex who regularly posts and one who never does,” he emails me. “With the one who does all the time I’m like yeah, OK cool you’re out with your friends/family I do that too.
“But the one who never posts…HOW AM I TO KNOW? He could be doing something really cool. Actually, the other day someone told me that he’s travelling round New Zealand. I had no way of knowing, which was infuriating.”

So this is why I keep losing followers on Twitter. I just need to post less and appear more mysterious. Point noted. But if the person remaining mysterious is doing it consciously, isn’t their anxiety really the same?

Apter notes that the best way to deal with MoMo isn’t to confront your friends about all the free festivals they are going to (Also free festivals often suck, so that’s something to remember) (I know this from experience) but to consider one’s own social media usage. How often are you scrolling through your feed a day and why is it so important? Isn’t there something else you might want to do, like obsess over exactly which co-worker hates you (coughTRACYMOOREcough) or how you can get out of going to see your friend’s show tomorrow night.

Or, you could be like the woman I saw on my way to the train station yesterday, loudly discussing her timeline with two other people. “Look at her!” She said, waving her phone in the air. “She wants me to like her music, but she’s criticizing my life. I’m just going to stop liking her status updates. See how she likes that.”

Image via Shutterstock

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