With Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement of rebranding Facebook to Meta, it leaves us all wondering what this means for our future. As Meta will make advancements toward virtual reality (VR), we question whether this will benefit us or send us spiraling into further isolation.
While things may seem like they are opening back up after the multiple shutdowns, the lasting effects of COVID-19 are undetermined (and somewhat scary). We have all witnessed what global isolation can do to mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
People have made the claim that the internet has controlled too much of our lives for too long. That it determines what we eat, where we go, and that we are in a constant state of comparison with those around us through social media. In this article, we will discuss what the metaverse is and the various effects (good and bad) that it might have on our physical and mental health.
What Exactly is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse “can be thought of as a 3D immersive environment shared by multiple users, in which you can interact with others via avatars.” You might be thinking, “Wait, doesn’t this already exist?” And you are not wrong. Certain popular games include VR technology, but it is still in the beginning stages of being widely available to all outside of those platforms. Also, this technology is largely used in gaming—not so much in our daily lives… yet.
Many have tried to make the metaverse a full-blown reality after the term was coined almost 30 years ago by Neal Stephenson, author of the novel “Snow Crash.” While Mark Zuckerberg has announced the name change, he also said it will take 5-10 years for the fullness of the metaverse to be implemented into everyday life and to be commonly used by everyone. So, do not worry, we still have some time to digest this information, prepare, and decide if it’s something we want to partake in.
Anxiety and Depression
There are a lot of statistics surrounding mental health and COVID-19, but it is important to remember that these are not just numbers, they are real people. Studies show that “overuse of digital technology is associated with many mental health issues, such as somatic symptoms (6%), depression (4%), psychoticism (0.5%), paranoid ideation (0.5%), and serious mental illness (2%).”
These numbers are more than likely going to increase with the further development of the metaverse. We have already seen the effects that COVID-19 shutdowns had on mental health worldwide. Not only have we become more isolated from one another, but we have also become an increasingly depressed and anxious society. Many people have already succumbed technology and VR as an escape from the real world.
Additionally, “increased depressive symptomatology may also be caused by loneliness, along with poor self-rated health, impaired functional status, vision deficits, and a perceived negative change in the quality of one’s life.”
With whole virtual realities at our fingertips these days, those with mental health disorders do not have to physically interact with anyone to get things done.
Using VR for Mental Health Disorders
Approximately 15 million (or 7%) of people in the U.S suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (hyperlink reference article 4). A possible treatment for this is to have those diagnosed with this work on facing their fear of interacting with others using VR.
A doctor or other healthcare professional can create a controlled environment for the patient to work on confronting their anxiety. Over time and completing these sessions regularly, the hope is that the patient will slowly work toward functionality.
These are just some of the conditions it can potentially treat:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Brain Fog
- Alcohol addiction
- Eating Disorders
- Fear-based phobias
Some studies have also shown that it can help with pain management. Although, Psychology Today’s Dr. Phil Reed states, “However, the proposed metaverse will not be a controlled clinical environment, and there are suggestions that the help such virtual environments provide is simply escape from problems, and that they do not deliver a lasting solution.”
For those that VR does help, we can view it as a win. However, as mentioned above, it might be a band-aid covering a large wound and only fixing the situation temporarily.
Sometimes we spend so much time focusing on the negative effects of technology that we fail to see the benefits it provides. Arguably one of the best things we have seen is the growth of telehealth during this pandemic.
One thing the metaverse will do is make the 2D online healthcare experience a 3D one. It will look and feel more realistic and hopefully enable you to connect better with your healthcare professional. This is wonderful for people with disabilities and disorders who otherwise could not make it to a clinic very easily. It is simply more convenient as well. Someone can schedule an appointment during their lunch break at work and never have to leave the office.
However, once again, this convenience could come at a high cost of less interaction with human beings. It also may enable doctors to take on more patients through a virtual platform and result in less time spent with each individual.
One of the ways we currently utilize VR is through fitness. In smaller ways, we’ve seen how companies like Peloton have provided a way to do at-home workouts of all kinds. As the metaverse progresses, we will most likely see an increase in other companies following suit. After all, patients are currently able to complete at-home physical therapy, occupational therapy, and more. But while virtual fitness is a positive and a win for the metaverse, it’s still important to get moving outside and absorb vitamin D for your overall health. Living in the metaverse may limit our time outside and keep us away from nature where beneficial bacteria often reside. This can have negative affect on our bodies, producing more disease and physical ailments.
Seeing What the Future Holds
For the most part, everyone’s concerns regarding what the metaverse will do to our physical health, mental health, and overall function as a society, are valid. At least looking at the facts we can see that it’s not all bad or all good. Hopefully, we can learn to exist as a society in the in-between, since the metaverse will advance and likely become a part of our lives.