What is FOBO and why is it on the rise among gen Z?

By Alma Fabiani

Published Sep 23, 2023 at 09:10 AM

Reading time: 1 minute

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Chances are, you’ve already come across (if not used) the acronym FOMO, which stands for ‘fear of missing out’ and is used to describe the anxiety felt when one feels left out or excluded from an exciting or interesting event happening elsewhere.

But, have you ever heard of FOBO, which stands for ‘fear of becoming obsolete’? No? Well, according to a recent poll conducted by management consulting company Gallup, workers are increasingly worrying that technology will soon make their jobs obsolete or unnecessary. This fear is not surprising considering the huge developments made in AI over the last few years—specifically the rise in popularity of AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney.

When workers who took part in the research were asked if they were worried or not worried about specific issues, “fear that technology could threaten their job” saw the most statistically significant increase. Before 2017, this trend saw very little movement, but it’s seen more growth in the past two years than it has during the entire time since 2017.

The Gallup poll also asked workers to indicate if they are worried about their job becoming obsolete in the near future. It found that certain demographics are particularly concerned, including college graduates and those who earn under $100,000 per year.

The percentage of college-educated workers who are concerned has jumped from 8 per cent to 20 per cent, which brings them to a near-equal level with those who are not college-educated. To put it simply, the younger workforce, no matter how far they got into their education, are getting more and more worried about AI stealing their job.

The research also indicates that such concern has increased equally among men and women, with the two groups expressing similar fear levels in 2021 and 2023.

What’s interesting is that, while non-college-educated workers have previously been concerned when it comes to machines replacing them, up until fairly recently, robots taking over jobs has been imagined more in regard to machines standing on assembly lines in warehouses. However, the new increase in the concern levels of college-educated workers can be linked to the advancements in computers’ abilities to mimic human language and, more importantly, creativity.

As more and more gen Zers enter the workforce—redefining work culture as we know it along the way—it’ll be interesting to see how that shift from FOMO to FOBO impacts wider societal values and priorities.

Our generation was born into a rapidly evolving digital landscape, making us acutely aware of the accelerating pace of technological advancement and its potential impact on our lives. While FOMO still remains prevalent, the fear of becoming obsolete might soon take centre stage.

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