Column: A classic case of bandwagonism


Brittany Mendez

Many people use social media apps in “fear of missing out,” or FOMO.

Mia Merchant, columnist

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that not using social media is so rare. I wouldn’t consider it a huge deal, but every now and then I’ll hear something about social media that makes me feel like I was meeting someone who lived in the Matrix while I had grown up outside of it. 

Hey, you, stop right there. I see you rolling your eyes. Before you go back to scrolling through Twitter, I’m not going to tell you to stop using social media. Even I have to check Facebook every once in a while, but that’s only because every useful piece of information about Northeastern University seems to come from random Facebook groups.

Now back to my story. I was in my French class and we were, of course, discussing social media. People usually have varied reactions to my dislike and disuse of it. Some people wonder how I get my news (I use a news app), how I contact my friends (iMessage or WhatsApp), how I keep up with online trends and memes (we’ll get to that later) and sometimes people sigh and say, “oh, I wish I could delete my Instagram.” 

Then why don’t you? I’ll stop you again. That was a rhetorical question. Empty, like saying you wish you could delete social media. I’ve never had to delete it, because I’ve never had any. As I said before, I’m an outsider because I never had to take the red pill to learn the truth about the Matrix. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to delete it after it’s been rewiring your brain for years. 

Let’s look at it a different way, shall we? Think about why you first downloaded Snapchat when it came out. I was in middle school when it blew up, and most adolescents are incredibly impressionable because of how responsive they are to positive feedback—meaning they’ll do anything that will earn them a reward. All the friends I’ve talked to agreed that they first got social media because “everyone else had it.” 

If that was your reason for downloading it, and if you really do wish you could delete it, then you’ve got a case of bandwagonism, my friend. 

Here’s a case study from a friend of mine: She recently deleted most of the social media apps from her phone because she felt like she was wasting a lot of time on them. She, too, got Snapchat because it seemed like the cool thing to do at the time. As someone who barely finds enough hours in the day to do all the things I need to do, I can’t imagine how much time I would lose to a bajillion social media apps. 

I asked my friend why people keep using social media when they don’t want to. She said something about staying in touch with people and getting news and missing out. That last part, I said to her, is something I can speak on. The internet has made knowledge widely available, and with all the information that can come with social media, it might feel like you’re missing out. But here’s the thing: There’s no way you’re ever going to be able to see everything you want to see. Trying to see everything is only going to make you feel more frustrated and disappointed. 

And the funny thing is, this so-called “Fear of Missing Out,” commonly known as FOMO, isn’t a new thing; the only thing that’s new is how it’s manifested in the digital age. But if we’re still using the Matrix analogy to describe social media, then a lot of the stuff you think you’re missing out on is just a simulation. 

Remember when I said people sometimes ask me how I keep up with trends? Yeah, I don’t. Feel free to call me a “loser” or “uncool” or a “boomer.” Maybe I’m not the best person to tell you this, but not keeping up with every little thing that happens to celebrities isn’t going to be the end of the world. Not seeing every viral Tiktok or learning every dance won’t cost you friends. 

And if you feel like it’s your friends who pressure you to keep up with every celebrity Instagram post, then maybe you need new friends. Actually, scratch that. That’s what I would have said before the pandemic. Now one of the only ways to make friends is through social media, so I’ll tell you this instead: Maybe you should learn to be more comfortable with being alone. You’re going to have to learn to think for yourself at some point or another, so you might as well start now. 

What really matters here is that you think about how and why you choose to use social media, what you’re getting out of it, why you need to keep up with so much information. We can all learn a lot from using social media less (don’t worry, I’m still not going to tell you to delete it). What I am going to tell you is that you don’t really need it as much as you think you do. 

Mia Merchant is a first-year in the Explore Program. She can be reached at [email protected]