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When Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, announced in October last year a change to the company’s name to Meta in anticipation of the arrival of the new world of Metaverse, there was a buzz across the world, but not exactly one of excitement, rather the question, ‘Metawhat?’

In short, the Metaverse is a digital world as we know it, plus devices and tools that enhance our sensory experiences to make virtual reality as real as possible. These tools could range from glasses, gloves, and earphones to holograms, and everything put together. But what creates a lasting excitement of this augmented reality is you, or to be precise, your avatar.

Currently, a user has to separately create and design his or her own avatar for each platform or app. In the Metaverse, however, everything from different apps will be assembled in this virtual space where your avatar can spend a day doing everything. You and your friends can enter the metaverse together to enjoy all kinds of actitives together while comfortably sitting in your own home.

Such a notion isn’t new among online gamers, particularly those familiar with role-playing games. The term ‘Metaverse’ was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel, Snow Crash, but was nothing more than wildly imaginative sci-fi fiction. Last December, a businessman paid $450,000 for a plot of virtual ‘land’ owned by American rapper, Snoop Dogg. Many innovative online co-working spaces have also emerged lately.

But is the metaverse really necessary? How will living in a virtual parallel world add value to the quality of life in reality, given that there is a growing number of studies that have confirmed a negative impact of spending long hours online. Even a seemingly harmless activity, like reading from a kindle or a smartphone, lowers a reader’s cognitive ability and focus, compared to reading from a book.

According to statistics from The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability in Western nations, representing 30-40% of long-term sick leaves.

If you’d like to know what a 24-hour online lifestyle looks like, the closest living example could be ‘hikikomori’, a Japanese term for a social recluse. First reported in Japan, it is an extreme form of social withdrawal characterized by self-isolation. These people choose to stay jobless and peerless because they feel left out and  dislike society.

However, hikikomori’s root cause isn’t technology, but mainly a lack of social skills, and extreme stress and pressure from society. The Internet and social media make it easy to abandon their actual self and create a virtual persona.

You might say it isn’t very fair to blame it on technology, but it cannot be denied that the Internet plays a huge part in the global prevalence of mental disorders. Science shows that the longer you spend with your smartphone, the more restless your brain becomes, leading to cognitive decline and lack of focus. For younger users, it also hinders or lowers their communication skills, further increasing the risks of social withdrawal.

Across the world, the number of hours people spend online is steadily rising. While not every recluse and those with mental issues will end up like a hikikomori, the metaverse could become a psychotic refuge, a perfect escape from reality for those who find fewer reasons for the need to meet real people.  

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