As Sean Quinn, a senior at the University of Florida, sat in a visual communications course one morning last September, FOMO was slowly tightening its grip.
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Jeff Darlington, a reporter for NFL Network, was speaking to the university’s sports media class that day over Skype, and Quinn was missing out. Finally, he caved, logging onto Twitter to follow the course’s hashtag and get a taste of Darlington’s guest lecture.
“Major #FOMO on my friends’ #SportsMediaUF class tweets,” he tweeted. “Wish I could’ve taken it again.”
For students like Quinn, FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” may just be a passing moment, or simply the anxious cousin of the popular phrase “YOLO” (You Only Live Once). For others, it’s more than a hashtag, and they are increasingly turning to Twitter and Facebook during class time to help with the anxiety it causes.
Joseph Nowsinki, a psychologist who argues that fear of missing out should be taken seriously as a mental health issue, says FOMO can manifest as an addiction to staying connected to others.
That’s an itch that is far easier to scratch when you have networks comprised of hundreds of your peers available at any moment right on your phone. Like any addiction, it can have real and lasting consequences on a student’s education.
“It goes beyond simply being ‘connected’ and is a form of social anxiety that can become debilitating,” Nowinski said. “Fear of missing out can evolve into an addiction, and like all addictions it definitely can take over a person’s life and interfere with other activities and responsibilities, including studies.”
Nearly four in 10 college students said they can’t go 10 minutes without checking one of their mobile devices, according to a 2011 study conducted by CourseSmart.