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How Virtual Reality Could Help Treat Today’s Social-Media Induced Disorders

It’s no secret that many Americans, including teens, are addicted to their phones. Having multiple social media platforms that send us several notifications each day doesn’t help. They may seem harmless, but these notifications have a lasting effect on us. Although, there may be one unlikely remedy: virtual reality.

Dangerous Feedback Loops

Social media can negatively or positively impact our self-esteem. This is largely due to how cyclical in nature social media has become. We post photos or statuses and expect likes in return. After the likes die down, we’re posting again, searching for more positive feedback from our online friends.

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth,” said Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook Vice President. While this may seem a bit harsh, more and more Americans are plagued with disorders such as anxiety, depression, and more that can be traced back to social media usage.

Quantitative Vs. Qualitative Interactions

Social media can be so devastating on our psyches because its quantitative in nature. “In a face to face interaction, everything is qualitative,” said Lauren Sherman, a researcher who has studied the effects of social media use on adolescents. “You use someone’s gestures or facial expressions, that sort of thing, to see how effective your message is. If you go online, one of the ways you gauge the effectiveness of your message is in the number of likes, favorites or retweets.”

This quantitative feedback also explains why we check our phones so often. “The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” explained Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addition at Nottingham Trent University.

An Unsuspecting Solution

While technology may have started most of the problems surrounding social media, it may also help remedy them. Virtual reality, for instance, may hold a key to reviving the qualitative interactions we’ve been missing.

“What VR does is it takes all the gadgets away, it takes all of the multitasking away and you actually feel like you’re with someone,” Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, explained. “We call this social presence — you see their emotions, you see their gestures and it feels just like you’re in the room with them. It takes what is typically seen as something that’s unemotional and distant and makes it feel like somebody is right there with you.” So yes, we’ll likely be checking our phones frequently in the near future, searching for those likes and comments. But the virtual reality world, which is closer than ever, may give us something we’ve been seeking from social media all along.

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