Have you been seeing YOLO and FOMO pop up in your Twitter or Facebook feed and wondered what it meant (but didn't wonder hard enough to look it up on Urban Dictionary)? Allow me to explain in an overly detailed way.
YOLO is the hot new phrase for kids ages 16-22. For ages 23-29, it's FOMO. And if you're older than that, congratulations on figuring out how to fire up your Internet Explorer 7 browser to read this, but you're probably confused because the only acronym you know is AARP.
I'll slow it down for you, gramps. YOLO is the 140-character-limit-friendly version of the phrase, "you only live once". Of course, the phrase has been around for as long as midlife crisis-stricken dads have been buying motorcycles and Oakley wraparounds, but the YOLO acronym is new. Like, only within the last 2-3 months new. You'll see it all over Twitter and Facebook if you lurk around the teen haunts of those networks, like hashtag games or searches for keywords "why do we have to learn --". The rapid growth of YOLO is directly related to Drake's recent hit single, "The Motto" where he raps, "you only live once, that's the motto nigga, YOLO."
YOLO is to recklessly pursue fun while throwing long-term consequences to the wind. YOLO is the worry-free rallying cry of youth shaking off the hairshirt of the pressures of the current times. Ah, the sweet blossom of youth...
YOLO is like SMH or FML in that it’s found primarily as a Twitter hashtag at the end of vaguely negative statement. Unlike FML (fuck my life) which is used after a statement of some unfortunate circumstance that was forced upon you, YOLO is when you’ve willingly chosen the unfortunate circumstance.
It’s the difference between “didn’t have time to study for the test #FML” and “didn’t have time to study for the test because I stayed out late partying #YOLO”.
If YOLO is blustering rally cheer of the teen, then FOMO is the pathetic whimper of the 20-something. FOMO, aka, Fear Of Missing Out is the anxiety created by the constant influx of information on social media informing you that your friends are doing something way more fun than you are.
While it might seem that FOMO is the product of having too many choices, it's not the options, it's the pressure to choose the right one. Having a huge buffet of options is for the teenager and college student ("you can be ANYTHING!"). What a 27-year-old sees is the dire consequences of those choices. As you leave the nest and your options in life slim down in an existential way, the consequences of what party or concert you attend become magnified, and the wrong decision causes panic.
You can't have proper FOMO as a teen because your life is ruled by restrictions on social interaction (not yet having a driver's license, curfew, homework). Your options are too limited to wonder where the better party is. You can't be at prom and wonder if there's some better option going on. If you're in college and you're at the big off-campus kegger, you know that's the place to be.
After college, when the world is your playground and you have no homework to do on Sunday nights, that's when the FOMO sets in. The insidious ghost hand of fun that reaches is cold skeletal claw on your shoulder when you're at a bar and see your Twitter timeline full of your friends tweeting about being at karaoke, or checking in on Foursquare to a concert venue. This is the late 20-somethings' burden.
If FOMO has an anthem, it's the pathetic limp dad-rock of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing". Which reminds me - I can't believe I missed the American Idol finale last week. Ughhhhhh FOMO.
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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