For years, studies have exposed the terrible side effects social media can have on the brain, leading experts to compare excessive use to substance abuse addiction. Individuals who utilize social media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, often imitate the attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts of drug addicts since these networks can activate reward centers in the brain that tap into and increase dopamine levels. Mark Zuckerberg and his team have reportedly acknowledged this generational hurdle. But with the metaverse making its way to a desktop, mobile device, or virtual headset near you, will it further exacerbate this issue impacting hundreds of millions of people worldwide?
Addictive Behavior Among Millions of Users
Facebook has experienced quite the evolution since its launch nearly 20 years ago. It began as a digital destination to connect people around Harvard, transforming into an online location to share cat pictures. Today, it is a one-stop shop for sharing conspiracy theories, stalking your ex-partner, and influencing elections. But it is also a venue to get your next fix. Facebook’s researchers have uncovered an inconvenient truth that shows 12.5% of its users suffer addiction-like troubles. Or, as the company stated internally, a significant portion of its userbase is enduring “problematic use.”
The Wall Street Journal obtained the documents as part of its “Facebook Files” reporting of internal documents provided by whistleblower Frances Haugen. According to Facebook’s consumer surveys, 360 million people associate using the platform with a loss of productivity at work, a lack of sleep, and a paucity of caring for their children. Indeed, many believe Facebook has contributed to a genuine mental health crisis.
The company discussed that many users did not maintain enough discipline regarding the length of time they spent on the platform, adding that “activities like shopping, sex and Facebook use, when repetitive and excessive, may cause problems for some people.” Employees did propose and install several tools to limit addictive usage, including recommendations to take breaks and a reduction in user notifications.
“We have a role to play, which is why we’ve built tools and controls to help people manage when and how they use our services,” said Dani Lever, a Facebook spokeswoman, in a statement. “Furthermore, we have a dedicated team working across our platforms to better understand these issues and ensure people are using our apps in ways that are meaningful to them.”
Metaverse: The Next Trillion-Dollar Addiction?
The metaverse is the next critical development of the internet, allowing participants to engage in 3D virtual environments using headsets and augmented reality glasses. Individuals would participate with a customizable avatar that can move, speak, and complete animated actions. Put simply, you can take a trip online, attend a virtual concert, and work with colleagues intimately but virtually without ever leaving home or the office.
Does this sound intriguing? Facebook hopes so. Zuckerberg generated international headlines when he announced that he was changing his company’s name to Meta Platforms Inc., or Meta. “A lot of the metaverse experience is going to be around being able to teleport from one experience to another,” stated Zuckerberg.
Despite the metaverse being marketed as a decentralized ecosystem, Zuckerberg and a broad array of other technology juggernauts will exploit this new frontier. The sole purpose of Meta would be to collect user data – photos, posts, purchases, and playlists – and sell it for targeted advertising. One of the world’s wealthiest men admitted as much in a recent corporate earnings call. “Ads are going to continue being an important part of the strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a meaningful part of the metaverse, too,” Zuckerberg noted.
The End of Existence?
But if Facebook is addictive now, would an immersive escape from reality lead to even more significant damage for the vulnerable? Whether you are a young person being routinely bullied or a middle-aged professional bored in life, the concept of absquatulating from reality and fleeing to another world that you construct could be appealing to so many individuals across the globe. On the other hand, perhaps humans are not so anxious to make that giant leap as sales of virtual reality headsets, from Oculus Rift to Magic Leap, have been dismal since their launches. Indeed, they may realize there is much more to see and hear in an authentic world than an artificial alternative.
In Woody Allen’s 1979 masterpiece, Manhattan, the lead character, Isaac Davis, lies on his sofa and creates a list of what makes life worth living. According to him, Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues,” Swedish movies, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s second movement of the Jupiter Symphony are what help him stay alive. What else can make life tolerable and provide the strength to carry on? The answer to that may reject Zuckerberg’s metaverse.
~ Read more from Andrew Moran.