CORRESPONDENCE

COVID-19: research on tech habits needs industry support

The consumption of digital entertainment such as online gaming has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are concerns that long engagement in these activities could strengthen bad habits and create social difficulties once the crisis has subsided — particularly for vulnerable or underage individuals.

Academic research has struggled to investigate how this surge in digital-media consumption is affecting mental health and well-being. Global technology companies have benefited financially from lockdowns. Their capacity to target online products that sustain habits could also yield insights into indicators of harm. Industry collaboration with researchers has the potential to create harm-reducing interventions. For too long, policy debates have focused on the industry’s negative impacts, rather than on its potential for positive change.

Digital media need science at the forefront of the development cycle. In turn, companies could provide researchers with crucial information, by, say, sharing data on highly engaged populations. Such collaborations will advance knowledge of the risks of digital-media use during and after the pandemic, and thus enhance organized efforts to help vulnerable people.

Nature 589, 198 (2021)

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