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A recent study highlighted what many have known to be true since "swipes," "likes" and "reels" began to dominate our attention: Social media and the web can aggravate mental health problems, especially in young people.
The latest research echoes the findings of a 2020 National Library of Medicine report, which noted a "70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms among the group using social media." A study in the New York Times broadened the scope.
Maurice Fadida is the founder of Seeds of Happiness, a new NFT project in partnership with Dapper Labs. This article is part of “Metaverse Week."
“Social media may have an indirect effect on happiness by displacing other activities, like in-person interactions, exercise or sleep that are crucial for mental and physical health,” that report found.
The stress and salvation of being social
Anyone who has frequented the endless content feeds of social media platforms has likely experienced moments of heightened stress, screen addiction and increased anxiety. Some of these concerns are meta, like worrying about living too much of your life online.
But is the internet all bad?
Of course not! From the dawn of the web to today it has brought countless movements, industries, people, ideas and technologies together. It fostered a sense of global connectedness in the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic – (bless you, Stanley Tucci). We owe the internet much praise; even in such complicated times.
Read more: How to Make It in the Metaverse
That said, what it means to be human is changing rapidly – largely because of technological innovation. And, for better or worse, it seems like we’re standing on the edge of another tech-driven paradigm shift with the rise of the metaverse.
At its core, the metaverse strives to offer more opportunity, stronger communities, less surveillance, and ultimately, more freedom. This is similar to how non-fungible tokens (NFT) and Web 3 leverage the power of decentralization to break down digital barriers and challenge gatekeepers.
But if the metaverse is to provide salvation for the trials and tribulations of the internet as we know it (Web 2), should we not also be concerned? Social media both increases anxiety and happiness – is that true too for another, heightened form of the internet that promises not just social experiences but life-like ones?
How do we not repeat the same mistakes when diving headfirst into a brave new digital world?
First, we must remember: Too much of anything can be unhealthy, whether it's time online or, for example, in the gym. In a digital space where avatars roam free and reality is skewed, it's always important to take some time to unplug.
Last month, an article from the New York Post highlighted both sides of the spectrum, noting that spending too much time in a digital environment can "negatively impact our ability to engage in non-virtual life."
The article also quoted a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, who theorized that "a young person who may be LGBT and who finds an online context where they can feel a sense of social support – we would predict that that would be a benefit for their mental health."
Like anything, balance is key, and the pendulum can swing both ways. As someone who has devoted a career to supporting builders in the metaverse and NFTs, I believe we must promote this balance in the healthiest – and happiest – manner that we can.
Even amid market volatility, NFT sales continue even among those who knew little to nothing of this three-lettered acronym a mere two years ago. That’s often because NFTs are about more than financial gain, but about creating community.
NFT projects and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) have changed lives, broken records and supported crucial global causes. Previously below-the-radar artists have been able to make headlines, and new communities have been forged through on Discord and IRL at global conferences.
New social circles have applied Web 3 principles to the idea of collective experience and participation. But while this positive outlook has permeated the blockchain in many ways, so has the negative. We’re talking: rug pulls, market hysteria, bad actors, hacks, haters, dodgy decisions, stress, pressure and Twitter addiction.
At this critical time for the future of Web 3, NFTs and the metaverse, how do we ensure a happy and healthy future for us all? Well, there are both tech and social solutions:
Mental health-centric ethos in NFTs: We need more NFT projects to promote better mental health at their core – from their founders to their roadmap to their sale. From musical virtual reality experiences to psychedelics, great work is already being done across the industry. Let’s not stop.
Community incentives and utility: Let's reward holders for promoting mental health and wellness-focused IRL experiences (parties are great, but in-person events and experiences can offer much more). Let’s bring more positivity to the physical potential of NFTs and the metaverse.
Mental-health-focused metaverse experiences: There's still a lot of (sensitive) work to be done here, but I believe we can help people find the health and happiness they need in digital worlds if done correctly. Let’s bring more mental health experts into the space and learn from them.
More education and discussion: It's time to get real about the potential mental health (and physical health) issues surrounding the metaverse and NFTs to come up with productive solutions. Sharing is caring.
Establish clear community values and guidelines in NFT and metaverse projects: If health and happiness are part of your mission (as they should be), lead by example, and start from the top.
More from Metaverse Week:
Verifiable, immutable ownership of digital goods and currency will be an essential component of the metaverse.
South Korea’s “Digital New Deal” is flooding the country’s tech industry with billions of dollars in grant money in the hopes of creating 2 million new jobs.
The future possibilities of the metaverse are presumably limitless, but is there anything you can do in the metaverse right now?