How Social Media Can Induce Feelings of ‘Missing Out’

 “No one likes to perform in a vacuum,” said Kevin Systrom, the chief executive of Instagram, a mobile photo-sharing application, which allows users to make comments about pictures. The more creative or striking a photograph, the more likely it is to attract favorable attention.

The feedback, Mr. Systrom said, can be slightly addictive. People using Instagram “are rewarded when someone likes it and you keep coming back,” he said. Whatever angst people may feel when they see someone else having a good time, he said, is probably exaggerated by the overall effect of so many new social data streams pouring into browsers and mobile phones at once. “We aren’t used to seeing the world as it happens,” he said. “We as humans can only process so much data.”

Of course, fear of missing out is hardly new. It has been induced throughout history by such triggers as newspaper society pages, party pictures and annual holiday letters – and e-mail – depicting people at their festive best. But now, Ms. Fake said, instead of receiving occasional polite updates, we get reminders around the clock, mainlined via the device of our choosing. 

SHERRY TURKLE, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of “Alone Together,” says that as technology becomes ever more pervasive, our relationship to it becomes more intimate, granting it the power to influence decisions, moods and emotions.”In a way, there’s an immaturity to our relationship with technology,” she said. “It’s still evolving.”We are struggling with the always-on feeling of connection that the Internet can provide, she said, and we still need to figure out how to limit its influence on our lives. I asked Professor Turkle what people could do to deal with this stress-inducing quandary. She said she would tell herself to “get a grip and separate myself from my iPhone.”

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