FOMO Trumps FOPL With American Adults

Twitter website and Tweetdeck in operation on an ipod touch
Twitter website and Tweetdeck in operation on an ipod touch

It seems like the whole world has been swept into the social media vortex in recent years -- after all, when both your Grandma and your neighbor's Cocker Spaniel have Facebook pages, you know that connectivity has reached an all-time high. And, ask any young professional pursuing a new business opportunity or overall career change -- in order to stay current in today's job market, social media connectedness is paramount to success. While we are definitely seeing "app overload," staying current on popular apps and social media tools are essential to establishing industry thought leadership, finding new personal and business opportunities, driving awareness around a company and its products, and building rapport with a company's customer-base. Add to the mix the proliferation of new platforms, networks and apps.

For all the different ways we connect, well, 'there's an app for that.' So it is interesting that a recent study from Pew Internet & American Life suggesting that a fear of the loss of digital privacy was strong enough to prevent American adults from installing and utilizing many applications on their mobile phones (the study suggested about one-half of those surveyed opted not to install an application if it asked for too much personal information). The reality, however, is that the fear of missing out ("FOMO") is a much stronger deciding factor than the fear of privacy loss ("FOPL") when it comes to plugging in.

We have become used to staying up-to -date in real-time, with news being delivered and received instantaneously via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and myriad other apps. Connectivity and interactivity is at the point where it's not official until it's "Facebook Official" ("FBO," if you will). Plain and simple -- while people may be averse to a loss of privacy, they are even more averse to being left on the sidelines while the rest of their network happily rides off into the social sunset, tweeting and sharing along the way.

A recent study by conducted by Harris Interactive showed nearly two-thirds of American adults (62 percent) are afraid of missing something (be it news, an important event or status update) if they don't keep an eye on their social networks (and this shoots up to 74 percent for those who are single). In fact, respondents were willing to put up with some pretty terrible trade-offs in order to keep their access to social media- nearly 40 percent of respondents said they would rather do their taxes, get a root canal, or spend a night in jail before they'd delete their social media accounts.

Part of the reason for the reliance on social media is the sense of pleasure and connectedness we find when posting our thoughts and experiences online. A recent Harvard study found that roughly 80 percent percent of posts to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are announcements about one's own immediate experience, finding that "disclosing information about oneself activates the same sensation of pleasure in the brain that we get from eating food, getting money or having sex." (LA Times). And yet another study, conducted by the University of Chicago, suggested the 'addiction' to social media, or the desire to check your email or social networks, was stronger than addiction to alcohol or cigarettes -- when it comes to willpower, resistance to social media desires measured the weakest (Science News).

One thing's for sure, however: not all platforms and applications are created equal (and this will unlikely come as a surprise to anyone...(What? People are more loyal to Facebook than Place My Face?). The Harris study showed users much more reliant on mega-networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn: 84 percent of users can't go a week without logging into Facebook -- and 61 percent of users can't go even one day. There is a source of frustration, however, when it comes to managing all these networks and platforms -- one-third of respondents struggled with remembering different passwords, while other respondents cited keeping track of their multiple accounts and maintaining each account as a burden of social networking. So while it may be true that consumers have some concerns about privacy control, it seems the more overwhelming issue is finding a solution to managing and consolidating our networks into something manageable and protected -- once those apps are downloaded. So, people may report favoring privacy over plugging-in but my bet is that -- between the fear of missing out, the rush that comes with oversharing online, and the overwhelming desire to log on -- social media and the apps that enable us to do consume and share right from our pockets aren't going anywhere anytime soon.