Mental Health and Virtual Reality – Do they Mix?
The metaverse is a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. People will be able to wear a device or log onto a platform on their computer or television and enter the metaverse. What you will be able to do in VR is endless. Imagine being able to play table tennis, hang out with friends at virtual bars or go hiking on your favorite Appalachian trail. Everything you’ve always wanted to do in real life, you will be able to do so in the metaverse. While it sounds good, you can also imagine all the downsides that VR will bring to society.
So how is the metaverse going to affect mental health? Well for starters, people might become more disconnected in real life. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic not going away, they will be more tempted to stay indoors and hop into their VR niche. It’s going to be much easier to come home from work and put on a headset than make an effort to meet up with friends. People will rely even more on technology to socialize and lose more of those in-person benefits such as touch, physical closeness and empathy.
The Metaverse and Psychological Addiction
Everything you’ve always wanted to do, you will be able to on the metaverse. Ever wondered how heroin feels? You obviously don’t want to try it in real life, but what if the metaverse will offer “heroin bars?” You will be able to consume the drug and feel as intoxicated as in real life! This might lead to higher addiction rates, despite being virtual experiences! Also imagine all the people who are struggling with their love life. What if the metaverse can offer prostitution, perhaps even for free? All you will have to do is hop into VR and experience a “virtual sex session.”
Everyone is excited about all the positives of the metaverse, but we cannot ignore the negatives. Look how hooked we are to our iPhones, internet and Netflix. Now imagine taking these experiences and intensifying them by 100x, literally transporting our consciousness into an alternate reality. Your brain is going to release great amounts of the “feel good” neurotransmitter called dopamine. My concern is when you’ll tap out of VR and come back down to reality. What will happen to your dopamine levels? For all the people who complain that “reality sucks,” they will likely be tempted to spend more time virtually. Repeat this process enough times and we can likely see society developing a “virtual reality” addiction.
The Positives of The Metaverse
Okay, not everything will be bleak. Perhaps many people who are lonely, avoidant, anxious or depressed will find relief in the metaverse. They will be able to socialize with others without the fear of feeling rejected as in real life. They will be able to conquer their phobias and anxieties by titrating experiences at their own pace and comfort level. People with depression might be able to enjoy any activity they desire, which they could not otherwise in a depressed state of mind at home. Those who are shy and avoidant will be able to interact with others at their own pace. People who are autistic will more easily connect with others who are also autistic and enjoy similar activities. Perhaps some people will also meet their partners in the metaverse and fall in love!
Let’s be realistic; you’re never going to be able to experience all the activities you’ve ever dreamed of. In reality, work, relationships, stress and other factors always tend to get in the way. But in VR, you will be able to go skiing, skydiving or visit Paris for the first time within the comforts of your home. Technology is going to become so advanced that skydiving will likely feel as if you are actually falling in the sky. Maybe you won’t even have to leave home to go to work. Your employer will provide you with a number or code that you will be able to use to clock in virtually and work from home. Sitting at home and working virtually rather than sitting in traffic for an hour will likely result in reduced stress!
For people who have always struggled to exercise and get in shape, the metaverse might become an easier outlet to get started. Don’t have enough money to afford a Peloton or motivation to head to your local gym? No worries! Just hop onto VR and start cycling away. Building confidence while exercising virtually might prove to have a beneficial effect on your mental health.
The Future is Virtual
In conclusion, it’s too early to predict all the positive and negative aspects of the metaverse. I’ve touched upon a few of them above just to get our minds to anticipate what the future might have in store for us. But as with any new technology, there will always be some downfalls that we need to prepare ourselves for. Everyone will be susceptible to different pitfalls and we will have to manage them when the time comes. But if we can at least anticipate them before the metaverse goes mainstream, we can mentally prepare ourselves beforehand so we don’t experience any major surprises.
What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Do you think that society is doomed and this is just another form of control by the elite? Or do you believe that VR will bring more benefits than risks? I’m tempted to believe that it will be an equal mix of positive and negative aspects. I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual reality might make us more distant in person. This will cause us to rely more on technology as a form of communication. I also believe that we are going to become even more disconnected from nature than we already are. Think about it, who wants to go spend time in a forest when you can just hop onto VR and do it from your couch? My main concern is that humanity will consciously transition from reality into VR and experience great difficulty transitioning back.
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