The rise of FOMO and night-time phone use

Young woman checking her phone during the night
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

11 March 2019

A Deloitte study showed that one-third of UK adults check their smartphone during the night, prompting questions over the extent of ‘FOMO’ amongst under 34s and the knock-on effects.

With 91% of 18-44 year-olds in the UK owning a smartphone, Deloitte set about identifying the patterns and usage. “For the first time we have captured data on the U.K. population’s nocturnal smartphone habits and have found that the smartphone is truly a 24/7 device," said Paul Lee, head of technology, media and telecommunications research at Deloitte.

The study of 4,000 people found that 52% checked their phone within 15 minutes of waking, and 10% checked before they went to bed. The latter action contributes to inhibiting melatonin production due to the presence of blue light from the devices. One in every two 18-24 year-olds checks their phone during the night.

"What smartphones enable people to do is to keep tabs of what's happening, what people are saying, what people are posting. You can do that throughout the day and what smartphones are encouraging people to do is to do that at night," said Paul.

This level of usage is just as rife during traditional phone-free activities; 28% admitted to using them while eating in a restaurant and 54% use it during TV or films to stay in the loop when the alternative is potentially missing out.

What is FOMO?

FOMO, the ‘Fear of Missing Out’, appeared in our lexicons in 2013 when it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and it is rapidly becoming a defining feature of the social media generation. Smartphone addiction is a rising problem, enough for specialist youth clinics to be established in South Korea in a bid to wean Millennials off their technology addictions.

It is believed that at least 24% of teenagers are online ‘almost constantly’ which fuels fears of missing out on social activities; all those Facebook parties you weren’t at, milestone events you weren’t invited to.

This may not be new behaviour, but we have never been able to peek into other’s people’s lives to the extent that we can today. If you weren’t invited to a special event 20 years ago, there was a good chance that you could have been none the wiser.

“FOMO is especially rampant in the millennial community because they see a peer achieving something they want, and somehow in their mind, that achievement means something is being 'taken away' from them," said Darlene McLaughlin MD, a psychiatry and behavioural health specialist with Texas A&M Physicians.

“The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outward instead of inward,” she explained. “When you’re so tuned into the ‘other,’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.”

Although FOMO is not a recognised mental health condition, it is a potential symptom of real issues such as social anxiety. "Part of social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others or embarrassing oneself in social interactions,” said Darlene. “FOMO is very damaging to someone suffering from this anxiety disorder because it fuels a lack of self-confidence and social avoidance."

Conquering FOMO and anxiety

Science Daily suggests using ‘reframing’ techniques to conquer anxiety or the unrelenting pull of FOMO; the technique involves identifying negative thoughts and retelling these to yourself as a different story.

For example, if a friend has bought a new house and is posting envy-inducing photos on social media, think about how this thought process may be limiting you, or what learning experiences could arise from it. Are you jealous that you have not yet stepped on the property ladder? Or does this give you a clue as to what you want for the future; one that you can start looking forward to?

"Use your thoughts and feelings to propel and harness the intrinsic motivation to achieve your own goals," McLaughlin said. "It's also beneficial to realise you can't judge a book by its cover. The outward image people project on social media isn't necessarily truthful -- you're never getting the entire story."

There is some hope in sight for those worried about whether they should be booking themselves into a technology addiction rehabilitation clinic – Deloitte believes that the relative ‘newness’ of smartphones and ever-expanding uses, is behind the surge in addictions: “As with most emerging technology, consumers will need to learn how best to run their lives with smartphones, as opposed to having their lives run by their devices,” said Paul.


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