Spoiler alert! Being connected all the time is not necessarily a good thing! Studies have shown that excessive screen time can cause obesity, sleep problems, chronic neck and back problems, depression, anxiety, and lower test scores in children, among many other ills! Yet the same companies that brought you viral videos, binge-watching, selfies, and addictive video games are now in the process of creating an entire parallel universe that they want you to live in 24/7. This universe will be made possible by–spoiler alert again!–a miniature screen that attaches to your face, blocking out sunlight and reality.
If life imitates art, then our lives are on the cusp of borrowing a lot from the famous Oscar Wilde story, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Gray, if you recall, is the rather vain man whose looks stay the same age while his portrait grows old. The Metaverse will actualize the same concept while inverting the plot: your digital avatar will stay forever young while your body prematurely ages, as your health falls victim to a lifestyle that’s both overly sedentary and totally over-stimulated.
Sound hysterical? Well, as it turns out, the Metaverse’s early adopters are not only champions of physical inactivity, they’re remarkably adept at getting non-virtually injured. So now the digital universe already has its first personal-injury lawyers, ready to monetize the kinds of accidents and mishaps you might expect would result from wearing a television on your head. Just don’t expect these legal eagles to address the long-term consequences of your spending hours–or more–glued to a screen while rolled up in a comfy chair or couch, grazing on junk food.
Indeed, the Metaverse may still be largely fictional, but the consequences of digital life are already very real. Last year, for the second time in history, more than 100,000 Americans passed away from diabetes, and the global obesity epidemic has been made even worse by the pandemic. But to be fair, even before COVID, Americans’ life expectancies were trending downwards, in large part because of our inactive lifestyles coupled with poor diets, which tend to be a function of lifestyle. Outdoor activities, which are essential to both physical and mental health, are trending down. But take-out pizza, delivery food, chips, soda, and booze are growth businesses these days–in more ways than one! Meanwhile, Microsoft just paid over $70 billion to buy a video game, and Facebook is spending $10 billion per year so you can live in the cloud.
See where this is all going?
For years, many of us have dismissed the health consequences of social media replacing socializing. People eventually adjust to new technology, after all, and once a problem reaches a tipping point, we’ll self-correct. Or so we should. But the longer you and your avatar explore the Metaverse, the less self-aware you will probably become–and therefore the less likely to notice the little signals that something is amiss in your actual body, like the inevitable problems caused by a lack of sunlight and a disruption of sleeping patterns.
Here’s a medical axiom: the less we pay attention to what our bodies need, the more vulnerable they become to most illnesses. That’s why chief among the comorbidities for COVID is obesity, and its cohort, diabetes. Indeed, every one of the top four COVID co-morbidites—obesity, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart failure–are linked to sedentary lifestyles, i.e., the kind of lives we will be leading in the Metaverse.
Worse, the pandemic has inured many of us to live a lot more of our lives at home, often alone, and even as lockdowns have lifted, we’re continuing to do a lot of things virtually that we used to. Do in “real life.” Going to the office takes a lot more time than walking to the fridge, for example. Going to the gym or even the grocery store burns calories; ordering food online and watching TikTok videos does not. Marketing experts call our virtual living “cocooning,” but they never anticipated it could go so far. These days, many of us are even getting our healthcare virtually through services like Teladoc. And D-I-Y COVID tests are being sent to us, so we don’t even have to leave the house.
But COVID is far from the only illness that lurks in the Metaverse. So before falling down that digital rabbit hole, it’s important to give our real selves a check-up.
Genetic testing went mainstream several years ago with 23andMe, but now there are many more options to identify your genetic risk for different diseases and diagnoses. For a lot of disorders, genetic testing is the only way to make an accurate diagnosis and help avoid additional clinical investigations. Amongst many other benefits, getting an exact diagnosis can help your doctor establish an effective treatment plan and provide a prognosis for families so they may successfully strategize for any foreseeable health complications. Early detection is the key to being proactive about your health, so do your research and contact a lab that provides genetic testing.
Pathology is the branch of medicine involved in understanding the causes and processes of disease by looking at changes in the tissues of the body, blood, and other body fluids. Pathology sounds intimidating and clinical, but you can get high-quality, affordable, safe, and accessible testing done now, and there are specialists who can consult with you and help you understand your results.
COVID isn’t the only potential cause of respiratory problems. To determine whether you have a respiratory infection due to certain bacteria or viruses, labs like ours use molecular genetic testing. A healthcare practitioner may have an idea about the cause based upon the season, your signs and symptoms, and medical history, but they will not be able to positively identify and manage the microbe without appropriate respiratory pathogen testing. This method can identify more than 25 slow-growing common bacterial, viral, or fungal pathogens that can cause severe respiratory distress, allowing you to properly diagnose and treat many ailments, including acute bronchitis, common cold, coughing with fever, pneumonia, and many more respiratory diseases.
A UTI is an infection of one or more parts of the urinary tract. The most common type is an infection involving the bladder, also known as cystitis. If the infection spreads to the kidneys, it is called pyelonephritis. UTI testing can be done quickly; often, reports are available on the same day so that your doctor can quickly and effectively treat the microorganism causing the infection. In the case of recurrent or chronic urinary tract infections, you may need further laboratory tests in order to determine the cause and appropriate treatment method.
Clinical testing allows doctors to investigate your condition so that they can create treatments, interventions, or further tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage various diseases or medical conditions.
Rapid toxicology testing can detect and analyze more than 60 different substances in order to guide the direction of pain management, addiction, and mental health treatment. Keep in mind that patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance to a reputable lab, so there’s little need to worry about anything but getting healthier.
Pharmacogenetics, also called pharmacogenomics, is the study of how genes affect the body’s response to certain medicines. Pharmacogenetic testing may be used to find out whether a certain medicine could be effective for you, what the best dosage might be, and predict whether you will have a serious side effect from medicine so that you can receive a personalized approach to patient care. Your doctor also considers other factors such as your age, lifestyle, other medications you are taking, and your overall health when choosing the right treatment for you.
According to the AAFA, more than 50 million people in the United States have an allergy of some kind. If you suffer from allergies but are not sure of the cause, you may benefit from allergy testing, which can quickly identify reaction-causing allergens and provide a course of treatment that, over time, will reduce the impact an allergy has on your life.
Thanks to COVID, “testing, testing, testing!” has been a mantra for the past two years now. If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it has been a wake-up call of sorts for many people who are a lot less healthy than they thought–if they really thought about it at all. But in order to make meaningfully positive changes, most of us still need more information–information that we cannot get from a screen or a PCR test.
What we shouldn’t do is just turn inward, or “cocoon” even more. The Metaverse may or may not become a fantastic escape from reality, but what I can tell you for certain is that it won’t be a truly out-of-body experience. We’ve been able to shift a lot of our lives online, maybe more than most of us ever imagined, but the one thing that we haven’t been able to virtualize is our bodies. Indeed, the more we live online, the less healthy we seem to become offline.