FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. A “debilitating psychological condition . . . most commonly characterised by a subject’s obsessive, distressing, intrusive thoughts about whether somebody, somewhere else, might be having a better time than they are.” (Definition by way of the I Suffer from F.O.M.O. Facebook group, which has 494 members.)
FOMO is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends [sic] status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re participating, not missing out, even when you are.
An epidemic has hit America’s top MBA programs. At Harvard Business School, it’s called FOMO: fear of missing out. Symptoms include a chronic inability to turn down invitations to any party, dinner, or junket attended by anyone who might be a valuable addition to one’s network—no matter the cost.
With their incomes about to get a big boost at graduation, many students are spending far more than absolutely necessary, in part on luxuries like leisure travel and in part on networking events. Nobody wants to quibble over the costs when they're partying with folks who may advance their career.
The article was published before the current recession; students—and the rest of us—may not be living quite as large these days, but FOMO can still be a powerful motivator (or affliction).
An Australian travel company, STA Travel, uses FOMO in a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch and contest:
Tell us the last time you had travel FOMO for your chance to WIN the trip you missed!
FoMo may also stand for Former Mormon. Fomo is the name of a company that sells products made from low-pressure polyurethane foam.