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Since Facebook became “Meta” and announced its entrance into the “Metaverse”, a lot of people have been left asking what exactly that means, and what are the implications for the next generation of technology-addicted kids?

Clearly, technology, phones and social media have become an indispensable asset in our lives – changing the way that we communicate, learn and speak. For many adults, it’s routine for a smartphone to essentially act as an extension of a limb, books to be read on a Kindle and work meetings to be joined through Zoom. With the rapidly advancing technological options for daily tasks, kids are beginning to form a closer relationship with technology too. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 90% of Australian children are looking at screens for 10 or more hours a week.

Many parents are familiar with the dangers of excess screen time, social media and technology addiction in kids – but with Facebook’s rebranding itself to “Meta”, and its subsequent launch into the “Metaverse”, the implications for children in this new technological space is unclear.

What on earth is the “Metaverse”?

We have all heard the term flying around in the news recently, but less people know what the metaverse actually entails. Broadly, the metaverse is a virtual reality and augmented reality system that creates engrossing, 3D digital experiences, that were previously viewed on a phone in the palm of your hand. Essentially, it is a combination of immersive online spaces that connect to create an entirely online universe – accessed through virtual reality.

The concept of a metaverse is not a new phenomenon. Coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book Snow Crash, the metaverse was described as a virtual world where the protagonist went to escape his reality in Los Angeles.

After Snow Crash, concepts akin to a “metaverse” were adapted by a myriad of other sci-fi and action productions like Ready Player One and more recently Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds, as well as online games like Second Life, Roblox and Pokemon Go – which all centre around the blurring of the lines between online activity, and reality.

Clearly, there are several companies that have begun to utilise the digital connectedness that the metaverse has to offer. However, with the recent addition of Facebook and Microsoft to this list, as well as the large focus on access via virtual reality– the distinction between what is online and what is reality looks even more unclear.

Here are some of the main features of the “metaverse” to consider:

  • A virtual world and virtual reality: this is, to many, the most important aspect of the metaverse. The idea behind a virtual reality entrance into the metaverse, is that you feel more present in the online space, and less connected to reality.
  • Other people: the presence of other people in the metaverse is a characteristic that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are presumably focusing on – to create a more realistic and ‘natural’ form of online communication. There will be many other avatars and users in the metaverse space to talk to and even do things with – from the comfort of your bedroom.
  • Availability: This virtual world is available whenever an individual wants to enter it – which can do even more to blur the boundaries between online and real life. Users can change the metaverse by adding virtual objects or buildings, and even potentially owning residency within it.
  • Connection to the real world: some people theorise that some aspects of real life will be able to translate into the metaverse. For example, spending money for things that you will only get in the metaverse, or flying a drone in the metaverse to control a drone in real life.

Lack of control on age and content restrictions

Now we have more of a clear understanding of what this online universe will look like – we should talk about the potential impact it will have on the younger generation. Children have already been exposed to several social online games and gaming systems like Roblox, Play Station and Xbox, where they can play a game and communicate with others simultaneously. Therefore, the idea of a metaverse will undoubtedly appeal to them.

While access to the metaverse is limited to those over 13 years old, there is a lack of verification and moderation software to ensure that this age restriction remains enforced. Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality platform, does not have much information to support the alleged age restrictions for the metaverse. Its safety centre states that the software is “Designed for Age 13+” and therefore those under 13 are not permitted to have an account or use devices. However, the section next to this explains how to share an Oculus device with friends and family, therefore demonstrating that children would be able to access the metaverse by simply using their parent’s account.

Additionally, with Facebook’s recent efforts to include younger children in their social media empire, parents may be cautious on the ability for their children to access the metaverse and become subject to its immersive and addictive nature – without someone monitoring the content they are consuming.

Where do you draw the line between technology and reality?

Despite the lack of control on age and content restrictions, a larger danger that presents itself in virtual reality, is the blurring of the lines between online activity and reality. More specifically, considering the already difficult task of moderating cyberbullying and online abuse in 2D communication, how these forms of bullying will impact teens and children in a more realistic 3D online space that is the metaverse.

When communicating online or playing games through a phone, the artificial nature of the experience is clearer, because you are holding it in your hand. However, the immersive experience of VR – in that it’s manufactured to feel ‘real’ – makes its simulated nature more difficult to distinguish. Research has demonstrated that the psychological and effects of VR register in our bodies the same way as real-life experiences, as the level of “presence” in VR aims to mimic reality.

When this is considered in the context of violent video games, or social media cyberbullying, the ‘coolness’ factor is diminished. For example, current studies have demonstrated that when playing violent video games in VR, and experiencing physical abuse in a realistic VR landscape, the subconscious psychological and post-traumatic effect may be more intense than intended.

Verbal abuse will also feel more real as well. If a child is experiencing cyberbullying in a virtual reality landscape – instead of reading abusive words from someone hiding behind a keyboard, they will be hearing and seeing someone verbally abuse them, as if it was happening in real life.

Even so, because of the developing nature of children’s brains, the increasingly mainstream nature of VR – paired with potential traumatic experiences within – makes the potential consequences to children’s mental and emotional health unknown.

The introduction of the metaverse has catapulted the prospect of VR communication into the mainstream. Albeit scary, this technology has the potential to revolutionise social media and online gaming. However, whether this will have a positive effect on the wellbeing of our children and other future generations is unknown. It is in the hands of controlling companies to establish secure age verification and content moderation systems, to make the metaverse the safest place that it can be.

Outspoken body-positivity activist Jameela Jamil calls for change by addressing the harmful behaviours of reality stars and the media on our body image and self-esteem.

The tide is changing when it comes to body positivity. Where low self-esteem once dominated and allowed for the media to spread messages of weight loss, there are now many people challenging these ideas and calling for the removal of body shaming.

British actor and star of The Good Place Jameela Jamil is an increasingly loud and insistent voice when it comes to challenging the standards of physical beauty perpetuated by the media and entertainment industry.

Jamil is outspoken on social media when it comes to body positivity and calling out celebrities who encourage unhealthy body image ideals.

She recently shared an image to Instagram showing off the stretch marks on her breasts, announcing that she would now call them ‘Babe Marks’.

Jamil is outspoken on social media when it comes to body positivity and calling out celebrities who encourage unhealthy body image ideals.

“Boob stretch marks are a normal, beautiful thing,” she captioned her post. “I have stretch marks all over my body and I hereby rename them all Babe Marks. They are a sign my body dared to take up extra space in a society that demands our eternal thinness.”

These comments are a welcome dose of honesty and frankness in a world where women are conditioned to be ashamed of such things.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bvt4ccCBbdr/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

“[Stretch marks] are a sign my body dared to take up extra space in a society that demands our eternal thinness.”

Her tweets about Photoshop and airbrushing advertising campaigns in the media, calling for them to become illegal also went viral. She banned the use of Photoshop on herself, explaining that the practice is not only harmful for the audience, but also for her own self-image.

She banned the use of Photoshop on herself, explaining that the practice is not only harmful for the audience, but also for her own self-image.

Recently, Jamil called out Khloe Kardashian on social media after the reality star promoted weight loss products to her millions of followers on Instagram.

“It’s incredibly awful that this industry bullied you until you became this fixated on your appearance,” wrote Jamil. “But now please don’t put that back into the world and hurt other girls the way you have been hurt. You’re a smart woman. Be smarter than this.”

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Tea, for lack of a better word. #CommentsByCelebs

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Jamil is adamant in the fight against body shaming, which comes from her own personal experiences of body dysmorphia, eating disorders and incessant bullying she received as a teenager.

Jamil recently launched her “I Weigh” campaign, a social media movement where she encourages women to describe their qualities and accomplishments rather than their appearances.

Jamil is adamant in the fight against body shaming.

Beginning as a single powerful message shared on Instagram, it has since turned into a movement after thousands of other women also began sharing their own powerful messages after becoming sick and tired of their worth being measured by their weight.

How many hours per day does your daughter spend on Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat?

A new study by BioMed Central has revealed that the use of social media impacts the well-being of girls much more than boys, with the well-being of those aged ten and over deteriorating in particular.

The study uses data gathered from youth questionnaires carried out over ten to fifteen years in the UK. Social media interaction is determined by two main questions: “Do you belong to a social website such as Bebo, Facebook or MySpace?” and “How many hours do you spend chatting or interacting with friends through a social website like that on a normal school day?” Well-being, on the other hand, is measured in relation to happiness concerning six domains of life: friends, family, appearance, school, school work and life as a whole.

We’ve summarised the confronting results for you below:

  • Black African/Caribbean adolescents have better well-being at age 10 compared to White British adolescents
  • Both Asian males and females show a greater increase in happiness with age when compared to their White British counterparts
  • Overall, social media interaction increases with age and decreases happiness with age for both males and females
  • For females in particular, well-being deteriorates with greater use of social media at age 10 and this trend is sustained throughout their teenage years

 

The study discusses possible reasons to explain the findings above:

Asian and Black African/Caribbean adolescents chat less on social media compared to their White British counterparts.

Adolescents from households with lower education or income levels tend to interact more on social media.

Males prefer to game instead of interacting on social media.

These results are striking, especially in their similarity to the social media environment in Australia.

Reasons for this link between social media and wellbeing is also examined: the paper claims that use of social media naturally produces ‘risk factors’ such as social isolation, low self-esteem, increased obesity and decreased physical exercise.

Perhaps the greatest consequence can be summarised using the slang term FOMO: fear of missing out.

The paper states, “While social media allows for interaction between people, it is still a sedentary activity that can be done in a solitary environment. Conversely, social media are often used in group settings. Whether done in isolation or with friends, there may be risks to using social media, which could lead to poorer physical and mental health in adulthood.”

So next time you see your daughter mindlessly scrolling through her phone, take a second look at her and wonder, “Are you feeling okay? Are you happy? Do I need to take that phone away from you?”