Unpacking Mindy Kaling’s million dollar question


FOMO, or fear of missing out, and its counterpart FOMD, or fear of missing documentation (aptly coined by MR’s own Mattie, while angling for Instagram shots when she decided not to miss out), are the more recent social diseases to plague this generation.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, duh. But don’t you ever wonder precisely what FOMO/FOMD is doing to us?

For my part, these afflictions too often get the deciding vote on how I spend my time.

Last September during Paris Fashion Week, I broke my phone. I saw Alber Elbaz sitting at a cafe and naturally, threw my hands in the air as a gesture to match my yelling, “I love you!” (Frankly, that was the most docile reaction I could have possibly offered.) This was a huge coup for me, if only because he reciprocated the burgeoning love with a wink and a nod. For my phone, however, which had fallen during that pathetic recital, the experience was far less gratifying. Though the screen hadn’t cracked, the phone was certifiably dead and no reboot, re-jump or recharge could remedy this death. The following fashion show was going to start in 15 minutes. I wondered whether it was even worth going.

The thought was alarming because I knew my apprehension wasn’t about the phone, it was about the ability to share my presence, via phone, at said show. That was ridiculous and so to offset the fact that I was clearly becoming a slave to my networks, I went to the show.

Once seated, as a function of habit, I took out my phone approximately six times in the twelve minutes of runway stomping only to remember–every single time–that it was irreparably dead. When the show was over and I’d left the venue, I had to ask myself if I’d ever even actually been there. I was convinced that if a tree falls in the forest, no one hears it and so according to the principles of that parable, and the more modern adaptation, ‘pics or it didn’t happen’, I was left to think: did this actually happen? And furthermore–was I really initiating such a dirty display of FOMO/FOMD?

Though “FOMO” was inducted into our lexicon (by way of Urban Dictionary) some time in 2006, records suggest it was not popularized until early 2010. If we’re playing the tech-history game, it’s notable that Twitter launched that year while just months earlier, Facebook removed the 30-pictures-per-album sanction on its photo feature and allowed for the uploading of up to 200 pictures in a single album. Coincidence? Probably not.

But why this conversation now?

In the aftermath of an influx of highbrow events that have been documented ad nauseaum via Instagram, and as a testament to all the other FOMO-igniting events (whether personal, or slightly further removed) that Instagram is so great at galvanizing, it’s important that we remind ourselves to take a step back. Maybe we should ask how and why we’ve become so hungry to participate in social activities that we would have felt complacent to missing out on if not for the totem pole equivalent of our favorite celebrity’s or best friend’s or co-worker’s or sibling’s feed.

Are the activities in question even as much fun as we make them out to be if they’re being ambitiously chronicled through social outlets? It makes me feel, as Kate put it, like social media has turned the entire world into New York City–there’s always something fresher around the corner and it almost always seems more lucrative.

On Monday morning a friend asked me when I feel happiest. Without having to give it much thought, I explained that it’s usually when I’m among my closest family members and friends. The people who command the rare moments which leave me entirely disinterested in what is going on in the world around me. She echoed with, “I was going to say my happiest moments occur when I forget there’s an outside world.” This either meant that she and I were wired similarly or that our parallel answers are a grander attestation to the sense of subjugation that might arise as a result of the apps and networks beguilingly defining who we are.

But I’m not suggesting we abandon the connections that occasionally make us feel like we’re missing the fun. Those connections are valuable in the their own right, and once in a while bring you along for The Best Night of Your Life. But it’s just as easy to miss out when you’re chasing the next best thing, too. As another friend put it: FOMO is a choice and the antidote is a sense of presence. It’s replacing the fear of missing events with an appreciation of what you are experiencing. Easier said than done, for sure, but certainly worth a try.

Take it from Mattie. When she and her friends are some place small enough that the risk of losing each other is minimal, they go “phones free.” As she put it, freedom from documentation (FFD) is really quite liberating.

What about FOMO’s cousin, FODO? Or FOMO Spending? Or maybe FOMTGS, fear of missing the group selfie?

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • I try not to take my phone with me to document everything. A lot of times it annoys the people I am with and they don’t want me taking photos. I do feel sometimes like if I didn’t photograph it with my phone did it ever really happen. Sad sign of the times.


  • love it! FOMD – too great.

  • I wonder if it’s even psychologically possible for the grass to be greener on the same side,

    or if we’re hard-wired to see everyone else’s as greener

    (asexual, I promise)

    • Usually we just always see the other side as greener and ours as brown!

    • Leandra Medine


      • We all have brief moments of seeing the same side in a different green, but everyone else’s green always seems so much more appealing. The dress in my closet is NOT the same as the same dress in someone else’s closet, always seems to look different, or better.

        On the case of the phone I think FFD liberating… after the several days of panic (FOMO) eventually die down.



  • It really concludes individual narcissism.

  • CindyK

    Great post! I ponder this often myself but still find myself caught somewhere in the middle.

  • i think the majority of fomo stems from the fact that everything in life (front row at chanel, a secluded beach, a second cousin’s bar mitzvah) looks better in an instagram filter.


  • brunetteletters

    I get FOMO from tech devices as well which is so ridiculous!!! We did’t had these years ago and we were all perfectly fine! No need of photos to proof we were actually there.

    Every time my phone dies, a part of me gets scared, while another side of me kinda gets excited on the fact that I will relax for once without checking my phone all the time!

    Brunette Letters Blog

  • Donna

    HAHA, the beau and I always say our Boston Terrier has a severe case of FOMO. Poor thing.


  • Leandra, everything you said resonates with me (and every millennial) so well. I’ve been feeling exactly the same way and recently, I decided to unplug and live in the present moment without having to document it. IT IS SO LIBERATING.


  • JOMO is what it is about now. JOY OF MISSING OUT!

    • Leandra Medine

      See but JOMO could also be the slightly more violent version of FOMO with is JEALOUSLY of missing out!

  • Aubrey Green

    I love Mattie’s “phones free.” – if you can’t leave it at home, at-least keep it in your bag, on vibrate, not on the table; taking up space for dessert.

  • L*******

    First of all, I’m Belgian and speak dutch and french so please excuse me for my writing:

    I love that you dare to write about subjects everyone thinks, but no one talks about. I plead guilty, and am very annoyed at myself for that at times. I don’t want to post as much as I do on Instagram and Facebook, because I don’t want the “mystery” of my life being revealed. I think it’s a big reason a lot of romance has disappeared; people get to know each other in a bar, at a party or through some friends and exchange names. They look each other up on facebook or Instagram and think they know the other person after looking at some pictures, mutual friends, shared music, etc… People don’t bother asking someone out to have some coffee and have an actual conversation anymore, because they think they already know what the person is like. Social networking is so antisocial. On the other hand, I love taking beautiful and fun pictures and share them with everyone, friends or no friends, “they are cool, and I was there, so everyone can/should see it!” It’s a constant -stupid- struggle which makes me agree on the fact that social networking is addictive. “Should I post this? Should I post less?” Blah Blah Blah… Exhausting!

  • Bailey

    I think FOMD stems farther into a fear of missing self-validating “like”s and comments, which unfortunately is what posting on social media outlets seems to have evolved into. (Guilty.)

  • Yo

    This is exactly why I don’t have a smartphone.

  • anitramichelle

    Living in the present is a hard thought, but necessary. It’s all there really is…
    http://www.anitramichelle.com ; http://www.anitramichelle.tumblr.com

  • Little Red Book

    I am pro FFD for at least once a week or when the mood strikes the need for it. The art of conversation should not be lost, that’s how real memories are made.


  • WR

    Any Color You Like

    This series of 33 collages by artist Wellington Rockers celebrates three years of the club Open # 3. Urecortes using old magazines and vinyl records, Wellington created images that combine pop icons to photos of the city of São Paulo, mixing definitely the metropolis to rock’n’roll.

    All photos that serve as background were made by Wellington with his cell phone, most in central and SP in black and white. The name of the show refers to “Any Colour You Like”, the eighth song of Pink Floyd’s eighth album, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, released in March 1973.

    “The work was very spontaneous and intuitive,” he says. “I heard Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd while doing. ‘Any Colour You Like’ is for me the freedom to do what you want. Moreover, the music gives another pace to the disc of Pink Floyd, as well as collages come to give another climate to original images with abstract objects, looks anonymous personas movie … ”

    The Color You Want is the tenth exposure attending the walls of Alberta # 3 since its opening in 12/5/2010. The club is open for happy hour without charging input from Tuesday to Saturday from 19h to 22h.

    A Cor Que Vc Quiser

    Esta série de 33 colagens do artista plástico Wellington Rockers celebra os 3 anos do clube Aberta #3. Usando recortes de revistas antigas e discos de vinil, Wellington criou imagens que unem ícones pop a fotos da cidade de São Paulo, misturando definitivamente a metrópole ao rock’n’roll.

    Todas as fotos que servem de fundo foram feitas por Wellington com seu celular, a maioria no centro de SP e em preto e branco. O nome da mostra se refere à “Any Colour You Like”, oitava canção do oitavo álbum do Pink Floyd, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, lançado em março de 1973.

    “O trabalho foi bastante espontâneo e intuitivo”, diz ele. “Ouvi Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan e Pink Floyd enquanto fazia. ‘Any Colour You Like’ representa para mim a liberdade de se fazer o que quiser. Além disso, a música dá outro ritmo ao disco do Pink Floyd, assim como as colagens vêm para dar outro clima às imagens originais, com objetos abstratos, olhares anônimos, personas do cinema…”

    A Cor Que Você Quiser é a décima exposição a frequentar as paredes do Alberta #3 desde sua abertura, em 12/5/2010. O clube está aberto para happy hour sem cobrança de entrada de terça a sábado, das 19h às 22h.


  • borderlinefab

    I love FFD. I do trend towards documentation, but when I do accidentally ‘leave’ my phone at home – BRING ON THE FREEDOM!


  • Brittany

    Ah, finally some subconscious shit being risen. I feel like I think about this subject all the time but don’t really focus on it enough to really worry about it and how it’s affecting my psyche and I. Anyway, one thing I do note about social medias, mostly Instagram, is that some times the most perfect moment will arise, and I would probably get some “cool” points or “I’m-so-envious-of-you” comments or whatever but, such pictures and moments I will almost refuse to capture and share because I don’t want to, I don’t want others in on this special moment. I feel like I see so many close friends of mine with x-times as many more followers than myself yet still so vain in their pictures (see: selfies, one of the world’s newer and instantly comprehendable words) and name dropping like Rizo in Grease or Riff Raff in life. Anyway part deux, alls I’ms sayin’s is that regardless of Insta-popularity and my boyfriend’s slight disappointment when he doesn’t see me grammin’ up a storm at our dream restaurant’s decor or delights, there are some Insta-ces (see what I did there) that I want for my eyes only plus whom every is with me in real life, real time, real talk. Good night!

  • Can relate to this since I started blogging- even when my photos turn out not as good as I want I find it v frustrating. When at fashion shos am so focussed on getting perfect pics its often hard to just enjoy the collection;


  • As any native New Yorker will tell you, my distaste for tourists who document every aspect of their time here is incredibly annoying. The constant ducking out of their snapshots led us (my husband & I) to the realization that vacation time is FFD. It’s liberating; our abilities to connect with locals and concentrate on each other within the confines of our sensory experiences has made it all the more meaningful to us both. We take a few photos with our Canon, but they are for us to share during gatherings with family & friends.

  • Thank you for always highlighting all the things we’re too ashamed to admit we have.

    One of my friends actually got mad at me last night because I didn’t instagram the beautiful dinner she made me. I actually wanted to take a picture because it looked so good but I forgot to because it looked so good & put my fork straight in (un-pretty food doesn’t make the Insta cut). Anyway by the time I remembered I had finished it because it was that amazing/I suffer from hunger-induced amnesia.

    A lot of life’s best moments aren’t captured because you’re too caught up to even remember to click!


  • Everyone suffers from FOMO but it’s largely due to the fact that everyone over emphasises everything they’re doing in social media photos etc. Plus people are always putting on a bit of an act to make the situation look more appealing anyway! Social media is an expression of how you want other people to view you, not how you actually appear. So don’t feel FOMO as it’s probably not as great as it appears, unless you’re Leandra Medine or some other fashion Blogger with like the best job in the world.

  • Jenni

    My current life lesson – Being content with what I have, with where I’m at, with who I am.

  • amnesiacsiblings

    I don’t have a Facebook. I don’t use Twitter. I have a telephone, and maybe thirty people at most have my number– people who I need to be able to contact immediately, and get a prompt response. I have an email address, which people can use to contact me otherwise. There are parts of millennial culture that I identify with– narcissism and the inability to get a job, but I used to relate to it all much more.

    My life is documented heavily from 2008 to 2010 through Facebook albums filled with photographs, many of which have long gone of the grid, and exist only in physical prints stacked about my room. I only did things to photograph them. I only lived to be consumed by others. I did things just so that my photographs would stir the fear of missing out in other people. I wanted them to like me.

    Now everyone lives that way. Lives have become products, every person has become a brand. We all want to be loved, we want to compete. This is all well and good, but since I abandoned those things, I have found myself much happier. I still write about the things I do in journals. I haven’t lost all urge to document, but the documentation is for me. It’s only for me, it’s not putting myself on a platter to be consumed by the world. I don’t desire to be mindless entertainment that updates in real-time. I don’t suffer from the fear of missing out, and I don’t contribute to it either.

  • Jay

    It is quite arguable that to find your soulmate is to find the person who makes you feel as if there’s no world around you. I know that when I’m with my closest friends it doesn’t matter to me what anyone else is doing, because I am comfortable and fulfilled to the point that I don’t find it necessary to scroll through my instagram feed every couple of minutes.

  • Inbal R

    This reminds me so much of an interview with Douglas Rushkoff that I read. You should read more of his stuff if you find this interesting. Oh, and great post. 🙂

  • Great! I love that you don’t condemn those of us who feel the FOMO-bug, but rather take the empathetic road with your fashion week anecdote. I don’t think that FOMO is going away, even for the people who leave their phones at home. Our economy is evolving to depend on that fear which inevitably pushes us right up against the glass of eachother’s social lives, while pulling us further and further apart. When I left New York to go back to school, I felt like a junkie going through withdrawals every time I picked up my phone to peruse my frenemies’ gallery opening pics and backstage gloating. Granted, I’m grateful for Instagram and the virtual access it has given me into the highbrow circles that I secretly covet!

    Bravo, Leandra! Another gem.

  • rickysans

    Great article. Here is a cure for FOMO. “NOMO FOMO” a very funny video – http://FunnyOrDie.com/m/84ny

  • What makes it worse is when we compare ourselves to other, I personally don’t take many photos and actually is fine with it but when I see others that take many pics and posting and get great response that when I start to doubt myself. I go like, hey I can do that to! Maybe mine is FOMOA (Fear Of Missing Out Adornment) ? Forgive my fragile low self esteemed soul