The Fear of Missing Out

In her article “Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites,” author Danah Boyd provides us with a historical perspective on social media networking. More specifically, she questions whether social media friendships are the same as real life (offline) friendships.  Boyd examines the websites Friendster and MySpace in determining how, why, and when, people choose to befriend someone on a social media site. As she writes on page one of her article, “While some participants believe that people should only indicate meaningful relationships, it is primarily non-participants who perpetuate the expectation that Friending is the same as listing one’s closest buddies.” She goes on to list several reasons why the process of Friending goes way past the boundaries of close friends – More friends makes you more popular, more cool, reveals who you really are, it’s a good way to see private profiles, fear of saying no, and simply because its easier to accept a friend request than to say “no.”  Like most of my peers, I am sure, I have well over 1000 friends on Facebook, yet I consider only about 200 of them my actual friends with which I would not hesitate to strike up conversations and have relations with. The rest of my friends are just people I have met at one point or another, but with whom I never bothered building a relationship with. Although Boyd’s research is still very relevant today I believe her article would be somewhat different if she wrote it today. Social media has progressed tremendously throughout the last 6 years, and consumer behavior along with it. In the writing that follows I point out 3 areas that Boyd would have to include if she were to write this article today.

Firstly, I think that most people friend have so many friends on social media sites like Facebook simply in fear of missing out. Boyd does not stress this point in her article, but as social media has become more and more prevalent, so has this idea of “missing out.” Users spend hours each day monitoring their social landscape because they would feel behind if they didn’t. As this infographic shows, a staggering 40% of users would rather run a marathon, get a root canal, clean drains at the gym, or wait in line at the DMV rather than give up their social networking profiles and Friending abilities.

Next, I think the overall appeal of having a plethora of friends on social networking sites has gone down tremendously. Although social media is significantly more useful today than it was 6 years ago, the number of friends you have no longer plays a part in that practicality. No benefit comes from being spammed with information by people you barely consider your friends. A recent poll shows that when asked the question “Is it time to ‘clean out’ your Facebook friends,” over 81% of the participants answered yes, claiming that they haven’t seen or spoken to many of their Facebook friends in years. In the same article it is stated that on average Americans have only two confidents, down from three, 25 years ago. Are we perhaps spending considerable amount of time building large social networks of shallow connections at the expense of deepening a select few cherished relationships upon which you can really trust and rely? In 2006 social media was mainly just fun and nothing else to me. It was like a round-the-clock social gathering in my computer. Now, in 2012, it seems a lot more focused on strategy, marketing, and branding. This may not be a bad thing, but it is certainly an evolution that Boyd would mention if she were writing this piece today. According to a recent study, the perception of social media is quite different today than what it was even in 2010, and is actually more negative. Diana Abrams surveyed 500 participants asking, “what is the first thing you think of when you hear social media?” She compared this poll to the same exact poll she took in 2010, and compared the two in an infographic:

Last but not least, Boyd’s discourse would not be complete in 2012 without some mention of the “value” of friendship. By value, I mean not only the value of having online friends for users, but also the value of attracting more friends and followers for social media companies. Facebook, for instance, is working very hard to harvest more and more data from their users. The more Friends you have, the greater reach you have, therefore making you more valuable to Facebook, and granting you a higher “value.”  In short, Friends are for making money. As the Economist article “The Value of Friendship” mentions, Facebook has an ambitious plan to map out all of the connections between people and the things that interest them. New apps come out every day, allowing users to watch movies, read news, and listen to music all without leaving the platform. The idea behind these apps is that people are able to share their activities and interests on the web with all their Facebook friends in a process called social syndication. This, along with heavily targeted advertising brings tremendous amounts of revenue to Facebook. The company makes it a priority to encourage users to have more and more friends. After all, they are in the social media business, and Friends make up their revenue stream!

Despite these recommended additions to her piece, Danah Boyd’s article provides one of the best accounts of early social media networks to this day. Her research is as relevant today as it was 6 years ago despite the massive changes social media has experienced. It is these types of accounts that keep us literate and critical with regards to social media, so it is crucial to update, rehash, and expand on them every year!

Adams, Diana. “Public Perception Of Social Media: 2010 vs. 2012 [Infographic].” Bit Rebels. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <http://www.bitrebels.com/social/public-perception-social-media/&gt;.

“Fear of Missing Out Is Social Media’s Best Friend.” Infographic: Fear of Missing Out Is Social Media’s Best Friend. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <http://www.infographicsarchive.com/social-media/infographic-fear-of-missing-out-is-social-medias-best-friend/&gt;.

“The Value of Friendship.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 04 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/21546020&gt;.

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4 comments

  1. I really liked your post here, Alex. Your first point about social media being something that could drive people to feel “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out), is very real. I personally feel like I might miss something funny or important if I haven’t logged onto Facebook in a day or two. As to why we feel this could be something interesting to research in the future. Additionally, your further notion about social networking sites having more of a negative connotation today than they did at their inception is also interesting. I personally have friends that seem to be “anti-Facebook” and feel that Facebook is storing too much of their information, taking up too much of their time, or just are “over it”. This anti-Facebook movement is something that might continue into the future, with certain people feeling that we are seemingly TOO “connected” than we need or want to be.

  2. brittawelch · · Reply

    The updates recommended to danah boyd’s article in this blog post are all very valid points. In terms of 81% of people needing to “clean out” there Facebook friends, this seems to be a something that is happening a lot more often now. People are becoming more exclusive on their social networking sites and actually going through and deleting those friends who they feel they do not interact enough with (I’m definitely guilty of this). It may have something to do with privacy and the fact that it is becoming more important to know exactly who has access to your profiles and information.
    Additionally, the mention of consumerism tied in with social networking sites is a very relevant and valid point. It’s all about making money. This week’s reading, “I’m More Than Just a Friendster Profile: Identity, Authenticity, and Power in Social Networking Services” by Alice Marwick, delves deeper into this topic; she argues that all social networking sites boil down to consumerism and advertising. It is interesting that what we take so seriously as an extension of our being (our online profiles) may be simply used for marketing schemes in our consumeristic society.

  3. Speaking of the “value” of friendship, I mentioned this in my blog, but a Facebook friendship is apparently worth a burger. Or, at least, 1/10th of a burger. A Whopper. (see: http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2009/01/unfriend-10-people-on-facebook-get-a-free-whopper-burger-king.html)
    I would say I’m guilty of unfriending people, but never would I delete “friends” for a burger.
    When I do unfriend someone, it is never with malicious intent. I took part of that indulgence in having as many friends as possible. I was most definitely a victim of FOMO and felt it necessary to have the entire high school population as my friend–at the beginning of my Facebook “journey” (?). However, like you said, the appeal of having thousands of friends has gone down. In my post, I compared the transition to binging on social media and having to go on a “cleanse.”
    The change is normal, as we adjusted to Facebook and as that specific platform changed what it meant to us.
    A great example of the shift in purpose is the recent supposed security breach regarding the messages on Facebook. Turns out, what the people thought were old messages being made public on their timeline, were actually wall posts. (see: http://gizmodo.com/5945993/no-your-private-message-are-not-public-on-facebook) It’s really interesting to see how our perception has changed so much within a few years.

  4. Great post Alex, your three points are certainly very relevant. I can also relate to the Fear of Missing Out as I remember when I first got a Twitter account I was making sure I read every single tweet from the last time I logged in. Twitter was so new and cool to me I felt like I was missing some important bit of information if I didn’t read everything. Now, Twitter is still the first SNS I log into on my phone but I have amassed too large a list to keep track of everything, so I’m more lax about missing something. Also, I don’t know about everyone else but Twitter is more to me than connecting with friends – it’s about keeping up with the latest news and gossip (whether celebrity or fashion industry). When I haven’t logged onto Twitter in a few days I find that I miss out on topics of conversation that everyone else seems to know about. That distinction between what people use different SNS’s for could be a good area of study.

    I also definitely agree with your idea that the appeal of having a wealth of friends has gone way down. I also think this relates to your third point that social media has gone more in the way of marketing (yourself, and for businesses). When someone has thousands of friends it’s clear that they don’t keep in contact or even know all of them so it has become more of a passe lately. To me it seems tacky. People are cutting down their friends lists because they know that important people like employers or schools may see it one day so they want to look legitimate and trustworthy in their eyes.

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