In contrast, lack of social interaction causes cravings similar to hunger. Even worse, it is associated with health risk factors including increases in inflammation and hypertension (high blood pressure), both comorbidities for COVID-19. Additionally, hypertension causes a subtle decline in mental health by reducing attention, learning, memory and decision-making skills.
In short, our bodies reward us for social interaction and punish us for isolation by negatively impacting our mental and physical health. Similarly, our bodies reward us for daily exercise and degrade without it.
For many, social interaction comes from their work environments. Job loss and the resulting financial concerns negatively impact mental health and increase substance abuse. Sadly, deaths from despair are estimated at 150,000 per year in the United States. If you are unemployed, consider volunteering for local charities until you find your next job. Helping others is a good way to help yourself.
The Future of Social Interaction
So what will social interaction look like in our future? What will it be like once you choose to enter the digital metaverse? On the positive side, (or should that be the negative side?), you can’t catch COVID-19, Delta, Omicron, the flu or even the common cold there.
In the metaverse, social interaction will occur through avatars attending fantastic concerts on virtual worlds together, collaborating in specialized virtual work and work-training environments, playing games and chatting through Discord. It could even be just hanging out with their celebrity neighbors in their posh digital neighborhoods in the Sandbox or Decentraland.
Tech giants such as Meta, formerly Facebook, provide headsets and additional controls for your body so you can move naturally through these new worlds, seeing and interacting with them in a 360 degree full sensory experience. This future may resemble the immersive worlds created by the authors of Snow Crash and Ready Player 1 / Ready Player 2.
Health Benefits of Social Interaction in the Metaverse
How will this impact mental health? There is a considerable dopamine rush corresponding to all the cool new activities. Researchers are starting to look into that aspect among others. It might even be beneficial for those with existing serious mental disorders, allowing them a more comfortable “reality”.
Surprisingly, in the metaverse, your physical health could improve as well. High energy games and activities such as BeatSaber require breaking a sweat! There are team-oriented fitness games such as FitXR where you can compete or team up with your friends for boxing, nightclub dance moves and high-intensity interval training activities. Some leading-edge games even allow you and your friends to be the heroes in movies.
In his recent book, MIT futurist and gaming entrepreneur Rizwan Virk predicts that as technology progresses, we will reach the simulation point, where we can’t tell the difference between our world and the simulated metaverse. At this point, we will realize that our current lives (and social interactions) are nothing but a simulation as well.
This concludes today’s article on social interaction. As your reward for reading and taking care of your health, reach out to your real-world friends who are positive role models for health, happiness and optimism. Plan a regular time to get together with them. If you don’t have enough friends who fit this description, join some local meet-up groups for fun activities. Make some new friends. Alternatively, reach out to those you don’t usually see because of distance. Former high school, college and work friends? Sports teammates? It is a great time to re-establish those relationships through remote video calls. You can get together to share stories and experiences, or if you dare, meet in the metaverse for an adventure!