FOMO: The Unintended Effects of Social Media Addiction

By Pei-Sze Cheng
|  Friday, May 20, 2011  |  Updated 8:44 AM EDT
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Growing number of people obsessed with social networking.

Growing number of people obsessed with social networking.

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Attention, social media addicts: leading a "wired" life where one is constantly tuned into social media sites causes an unwanted side effect called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Someone suffering from FOMO may check social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Four Square frequently to make sure they are not "missing" out on anything.

On a typical afternoon, NBC New York visited Madison Square Park in Manhattan, to see how often New Yorkers are checking in.

Nan Li, who lives in Boston, Mass., but frequently takes long-term assignments in New York, says he checks Facebook at least once an hour when he is awake.

"It's a generational thing," said Li, who is in his early 20s.  "It's a way for people to stay connected."

Anna Pod, a university student, said she finds herself checking her phone out of habit.

“It's become such a big thing that you get to see what everyone else is doing," she said. "So now you can't miss out on anything."

Staying connected is one thing, but behavioral psychologists say intervention is necessary when social media users become abusers.

"If people are already insecure and they think there's always something better out there ... now there are more tools and weapons to take advantage of that," said Dr. Rob Reiner, of Behavioral Associates in Manhattan. 

FOMO can be problematic, Dr. Reiner said, when individuals begin to have feelings of envy, depression, or anxiety when surfing social media sites. 

Much of the anxiety stems from comparisons people make to others.

"People think another situation, another boyfriend, another movie is going to make them a better person, and that’s a myth,” said Reiner. "It’s an invitation to exercise your insecurity and express it.”

Reiner helps patients by reminding them to keep things in perspective. Individuals tend to post only good things about themselves and avoid the bad.

According to Reiner, the best way to treat FOMO is to gradually make patients put their smartphones down and to encourage them to live in the "here and now."

That's a concept Li can understand. 

"Spend quality time with your real friends so you don't have time to keep tabs with people you don't even live in the same city with," he said.

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