Canadian summer. When friends gather to watch the sun set over a backyard grill. And the family reunites for a scenic paddle through the Kawarthas. And the guy from IT pops up at the Jays game on a roof-down Sunday. And your ex-girlfriend swans through a villa-hopping tour of Tuscany. And everyone else you know seems to spend every spare moment on a sun-bleached dock in Muskoka. Where the light is just so. You know, kind of golden and diffuse and honeycombed on the ripples of the lake. Oh, how about that, there's a loon.
If this panorama feels familiar – and especially if it feels painfully familiar – you may be experiencing "summer FoMO." That's a seasonal variation of the Fear of Missing Out – a sense that the real action is elsewhere, where they are having more fun. Lately, this sense has been turbocharged by social media, which allows users to unfurl a seemingly endless tapestry of photos displaying their acquaintances in full frolic – above all, when it's nice out. For some, the phenomenon has turned summer, that most carefree of seasons, into an anxious, envious romp through other people's experiences – or at least through their Instagram posts.
Summer FoMO has become so pervasive that is has spawned a subgenre of articles on how to avoid it. (Sample advice, from the website PuckerMob: "Live it, don't just upload it.") But many social-media users say avoiding the experience is easier said than done. Andra Cernavskis lives near San Francisco and spends weekends in dreamy Northern California counties such as Napa and Marin, but still pines for her family cottage in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario, beamed to her across the continent via Facebook in summertime.
"I hate to be the person who's affected by that kind of thing," she said. "But when I see all my aunts and uncles together … with the sunset on the lake, and everyone looks super happy, I definitely feel a sense of sadness and FoMO that I'm not there."
The specific experiences that bring on summer FoMO may vary from place to place. In Britain, pictures of the Glastonbury music festival are known to do the trick. In New Jersey, it's the shore – witness the rage that greeted Governor Chris Christie when he was caught lolling on an otherwise empty public beach during a state government shutdown. Canadians, of course, have cottages to envy.
If the sentiment travels across oceans, it does not seem to travel as smoothly between eras. Once upon a time, people with summer FoMO didn't get mad, they got even. The emerging middle class of 18th-century Britain aspired to an aristocratic lifestyle when they flocked to resorts such as Bath and aped the summer leisure of their social betters. If those upwardly mobile burghers feared missing out, they made sure not to.
Today, it is harder than ever to keep from coveting thy neighbour's beach holiday. The world has moved on from stock "Wish You Were Here" postcards and dreary Hawaiian vacation slideshows. More and more, people with the means to do so are arranging their free time in ways that ensure it will be photogenic. As the sports and culture website The Ringer reported recently, public spaces are playing along: restaurants, amusement parks, museums and the like are increasingly laying on an Instagram-friendly aesthetic to reap the free marketing of social-media posts. "The whole world is an Instagram playground, and all of us merely users," writes the article's author, Alyssa Bereznak.
Canadians are being exposed to an unprecedented quantity of these carefully curated images. Last year, about three-quarters of Canadians owned a smartphone, according to the marketing firm Catalyst, and more than half used Facebook daily, according to a survey by the market researcher Insights West.
There is some debate about what is chicken and what is egg here – people inclined to FoMO might be perversely drawn to social media, like scab-pickers. A 2013 study by a team of British and American researchers found that young adults with a fear of missing out were more likely to use Facebook during meals and immediately after waking, suggesting that FoMO preceded and even caused their immersion in social media.
There is also research suggesting that social media makes FoMO worse, however. A 2015 study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that passively using Facebook – that is, simply scrolling through it – increased users' feelings of envy.
FoMO isn't going anywhere; the problem seems to be especially acute for teenagers. The Atlantic magazine reported recently that in the United States, 48 per cent more girls and 27 per cent more boys said they often felt "left out" in 2015 than in 2010, a period in which smartphone and social-media use increased dramatically.
But sufferers need not despair. Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, suggested using enviable summer getaway photos for inspiration, rather than a source of gall.
"Sometimes it might give us ideas" for how to spend our own time, Dr. Kamkar said. "It's also about how we decide to use that information and what we decide to do with it."
Working to maintain a sense of perspective can also help beat back summer envy. "We can look at other places and have a tendency to look at what we don't have, but then we lose the ability to appreciate what we do have," Dr. Kamkar said.
Not everyone is susceptible to summer FoMO either. Wised-up users can often spot the neediness and contrivance of social-media glamour shots. Olivia Dooley works a desk job in Ottawa but doesn't rue her lack of dock time when she sees cottage pictures on Facebook. "When I see someone's … post, I think, 'Why do you feel you need to display that?'" she said.
Journalist Shawn Micallef proposed another solution to turning FoMO on its head: summer schadenfreude. "I like it when people post pictures of cottage maintenance bills & rabid squirrel damage," he wrote in a message – where else? – on Twitter. "Good cure for FOMO."