Over the last few months, “the metaverse” has taken the world by storm. It’s a technology that’s just getting started where people will be able to live, work, play and even socialize in an online virtual environment, all day, every day, and anytime.
Though the technology is still being developed, it’s been revealed that people will be able to access the digital augmented reality by wearing VR headsets, with digital manifestations of their homes, offices, and possessions projected in front of them.
In the metaverse, we’re told, we will be able to “teleport instantly as a hologram” so the possibilities are endless. We will be able to attend virtual events such as concerts or even go to a restaurant to have dinner.
Facebook is investing billions into this idea, and as of late 2021, has changed its company name to “Meta.” Major corporations have also embraced the concept, vowing to bring their products to the digital world.
In fact, according to digital regulation expert Tom Harding, 2022 will see a growing number of companies “getting on the metaverse train.” Furthermore, Melanie Subin, the director of consulting for the Future Today Institute, told The New York Post she believes “a large proportion of people will be in the metaverse in some way” by 2030.
Ultimately, it seems that this digital universe is set to become an integral part of our lives in the future.
The Metaverse Shouldn’t Replace Reality
To many people today, the idea of a metaverse seems like a bold, exciting, and new digital future. We can do and be and own anything in the metaverse, they tell us. Things and experiences that were only accessible to a privileged few could now be digitally available to all. Something that we only knew from science fiction movies is now becoming reality.
But the metaverse is only an escape from the real world and should not be treated as the real world; this means that anything which is not tangible and real, in actuality, doesn’t hold up weight in the real world.
The metaverse is only an escape from the real world.
This technology shouldn’t become a replacement for real life and shouldn’t be encouraged to be so – especially as there is so much that we still don’t know about what life would be like under this technology.
The Digital World and Dopamine
We already exist in a society that’s atomized by technology, social media, and the internet. And now, the idea of somewhat permanently living online is a worrying prospect.
Especially as society at large is already overstimulated from algorithms and dopamine through heavy social media use and the internet.
According to addiction expert, psychiatrist, and Stanford University professor Dr. Anna Lembke, our smartphones are making us addicted to craving dopamine – a chemical produced in the brain that acts as a neurotransmitter. It’s linked to feelings of reward and pleasure, and is dubbed the “happy hormone.”
In her book, Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, Dr. Lembke explores this very concept of dopamine addiction, which is plaguing our society today.
Long hours of screen time are leading people to seek an unhealthy attachment to their smartphone, even to the extent of becoming addicted to it. From endlessly swiping the algorithm of Instagram, to tweeting our latest opinion on Twitter, to scrolling numerous videos on TikTok, we now can access various realms of social media from our fingertips, which can turn into a toxic habit.
People activate dopamine to not just seek out pleasure, but to somewhat feel “normal.”
This, in turn, can lead to people activating an abundance of dopamine to not just seek out the feeling of pleasure, but to somewhat feel “normal,” as the brain has been conditioned to receive the “happy hormone” throughout the day from social media.
To make things worse, as soon as we stop getting hits of dopamine through digital means, we experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance: often feeling irritable, depressed, agitated, and even anxious.
Can you imagine what it would be like for people if they became addicted to living solely in the metaverse and could no longer properly function in the real world as a healthy, contributing member of society without feeling the effects of dopamine withdrawal?
Will the Metaverse Exacerbate Depression Rates?
Ultimately, before we jump into this era of virtual reality becoming an integral part of our lives, we must prioritize the emotional well-being and mental health of a generation that is already scarred by a soaring mental health crisis, unprecedented before in history.
According to the World Happiness Report, which ranks over 150 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, Americans are said to be less happy in 2018 than they were in 2008. Other rich nations witnessed decreases in self-reported happiness scores, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, New Zealand, and Italy.
The Global Burden of Disease report found that the number of new cases of depression globally increased about 50% between 1990 and 2017, with the highest increases in regions with the highest income, especially North America.
Globally, cases of depression increased about 50% between 1990 and 2017.
After understanding how mental health issues are on the rise, we should also acknowledge the harmful drawbacks that technology, such as smartphones and social media, are having today. With that in mind, we should evaluate the potential psychological effects the metaverse may have on society at large in the future.
Our focus should be to live in the real world, away from screens and VR headsets. Digital manifestations of everyday life strip from us what makes it meaningful to be alive as a human being.
An online virtual environment is nothing short of a superficial sense of community, which in the long run, may make the most precious aspects of our world lose their value.
There should be limits to technological progress. A healthy and safe approach to the metaverse would be for it to only supplement our daily life, not to replace it. There is no need to live, work, or socialize in what could possibly become a digital dystopia.
The truth is that we can’t let technology replace the real world, and as our society becomes ever more dependent on screens, maybe it would be wise for us all to take a step back instead of jumping in deeper.
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