The Rule of 3 (+1)
Like it or not, we abide by the rule of three. It says we can survive, on average:
3 minutes without air
3 days without water
3 weeks without food
These resemble our most basic human needs, yet developments in psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated survival depends on more than just physiological conditions. Namely, our longevity depends on our ability to socialize. It's been shown with lab mice that lifespans plummets upwards of 50% when mammals function in isolation. Social engagement isn't something that just makes us happy; it's actually a vital ingredient to survival, a fact pointed in out in a personal favorite, A General Theory of Love (source for this article).
Well, we're living in a growingly social world, right? Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), interaction through social media doesn't facilitate the same sort of connection that physical presence does. It's for this reason individuals can have thousands of Instagram friends yet feel overwhelmingly alone.
The reason lies in our brain structures. As mammals, we're uniquely equipped with limbic systems (alternatively called the paleomammalian cortex) that allow us to feel social bonds with others. Given over 80% of communication is nonverbal, it makes sense that text and pictures can't quite fill our emotional bucket.
In our post pandemic world, much has remained virtual, which makes sense given companies are incentivized to maintain the structure, which introduces lower costs and commuting times. Given this, its possible society has overinflated productivity at the expense of happiness, maybe even lifespan. That's not a tradeoff many would, or should, accept.
The good news is we can do better, and we have. Social platforms such as Zoom already enable deeper connection than their audio-only predecessors. In fact, it's quite natural to expect this growth to continue. The near future will likely introduce virtual reality environments, where human interaction will grow indistinguishably similar to real life communication. This market—the space of enhancing the degree of human connection—is ripe for creative solutions. Meta's rigorous investment in the Metaverse is perhaps the most evident example of large players identifying the potential of the space.
On the flip side, there will be many who believe that "true" social connection cannot be recreated virtually. Creating systems that allow for in-person interaction in a growingly virtual world—accounting for safety, logistics, and cost—is another space prone for growth.
It is possible the next several decades will represent a clash between these two schools of thought, with many of the space's key players being startups that are yet to be incepted. The process may uncover some more of the rules that govern life—and perhaps reveal a surprising level of delicateness of the human condition in the process.