For Millennials, Social Media Is Not All Fun and Games

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by FOMO…” If Allen Ginsberg was born 60 years later, it’s safe to say that Howl, the seminal poem he wrote in 1955 about the Beat Generation, may have been a bit different. He may have instead worried about what MTV calls FOMO, or the “Fear of Missing Out.”

It’s not exactly news that the Millennial Generation (loosely defined as people born between 1980 and 2000) spend a lot of time on websites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. But according to recent findings from a study conducted by MTV, for today’s young people, the constant social networking isn’t all fun and games. While more than half of the Millennials polled by MTV agreed with the statement “what I post online defines who I am,” a full 66 percent of them also said they find it “exhausting to always be ‘on’.”

And simply walking away from the computer doesn’t always alleviate the tension. MTV’s research confirmed that unplugging often leads to FOMO, or the “Fear of Missing Out”: 58 percent of study participants agreed that “when I’m unplugged, I worry that I’m missing out on something.”

Though young people have definitely led the charge for online social networking, I think MTV’s study just provides statistical backup to what many people have known for years: The Internet can be a double-edged sword for people of all ages. Anyone who’s active online knows that the same sites that provide the most satisfaction can also be the source of a strange new kind of stress. I think Hunch and Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake put it best in a post on her personal blog last month:

“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… There is a company that sells radar equipment to the police as well as radar detectors to the public. Clorox is one of the world’s worst polluters of water, and also sells Brita filters to get the bad stuff out of the water again. Lawyers create mazes that you have to hire a lawyer to escape. Similarly social software both creates and cures FOMO.”

Personally, I’ve found that Caterina is absolutely right in that FOMO can only be treated with the hair of the dog. If I spend a passive hour or two on Facebook or Twitter reading other people’s updates, I can start to feel lonely, agitated, and vaguely resentful– in short, I get a nasty case of FOMO. So I’ve made it a personal policy to try and equate my production and my consumption on the Internet. By making a concerted effort to spend roughly the same amount of time contributing to social networking sites as I do passively reading them, I keep the FOMO at bay.

Social networking can have major drawbacks as well as perks for folks in the Millennial Generation, the Baby Boom, and beyond. If you have any sure-fire ways to ward off FOMO, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.