Move over FOMO, here's your new social media anxiety

Yes, you're still missing out

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 23, 2014 6:40PM (EDT)

          (<a href=''>pafe</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>)
(pafe via iStock)

Attention, social media users. Do you suffer from the vague sense that, as Mindy Kaling would put it, everyone is hanging out without you? Do you assume that if a friend hasn't posted a Facebook status in three or more days, she's probably dead? Are you kind of ticked off that both your college roommate and Tina Fey aren't on Twitter? Fortunately, there's a term for your condition. You, my friend, are suffering from MOMO.

As Radhika Sanghani recently explained in the Telegraph, MOMO -- Mystery of Missing Out -- "is born out of plain old paranoia." It differs from regular grade FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – in that it arises from the sense that the people in your life are "still doing cool things, that’s a given, but they’re not sharing them with you." Cambridge University psychologist Terri Apter tells the Telegraph that it's what occurs when "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." Ghastly, but she adds reassuringly, "It’s perfectly socially safe to not know everything about someone."

Safe, sure, but surprisingly unexpected. After all, we live in a time in which both the major and minor events of life are considered required fodder for one's social media stream. The Daily Dot ranted on Tuesday that "approximately 55 percent of couples are using a hashtag for their wedding." Someone somewhere right now is deciding it's probably a good idea to Instagram his lunch salad, and someone else is opening up her latest Birchbox on YouTube. So while you can – and probably should – laugh at the idea of anybody experiencing anxiety over someone else being quiet on social media, you can't deny that it happens. When Miley Cyrus went offline for a few minutes over the weekend, the Internet lit up with fake news of her death. Fortunately, she quickly revealed that she'd merely been out airing her nipples in the desert. And when a friend recently had a baby without mentioning her pregnancy on her social media feed, she found more than a few online acquaintances shocked that she'd kept it a "secret." But she says, "It's not a secret, I just feel like it's not online."

Does everyone in a person's social circle need to know every concert, every baseball game, every trip, every time the cat does something adorable? My sweet lord, no. In fact, please, no. Yet I confess I sometimes feel a bizarre sense of obligation to announce it when I travel or go to a show or hit some new personal milestone. And at times when I haven't, I have on occasion experienced a little guilt tripping, "Why didn't you say something?" pushback online about it.

My friend the new mother observes, "The sense of information traveling at the speed of light means we're now expected to document every event it as it's happening. But I didn't want to tweet from the delivery room." She adds, "You have to weigh how you're going to feel against any possible reactions. As with many things, the fact of the matter is there's tremendous hostility toward women online and you know what, can I have one thing to myself? Can I have one glorious, joyous event without having to defend it against some potential dumb online comment?" Amen. Everybody needs to have experiences that aren't documented, that aren't for the benefit of an audience.

And yet, my pal and I both admit we've also felt the sting of deducing after the fact that someone we'd considered a friend had slipped into town unremarked, or felt like the last to know someone's big news because it hadn't been shared via the usual channels. A mere decade ago, you could, with relative ease, go on a vacation or have an amazing burrito and choose to not make it an excuse for a hashtag. You could go a little quiet without raising concern and speculation, mystery and intrigue. You still can, of course, but now it comes with the understanding that people are going to ask why. They may worry about you, or even get ticked off at you for not sharing with everybody. And if, when someone else's online discretion is likewise driving you mad with curiosity, at least now you know there's a name – if not a cure -- for it.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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