For many, the signs are obvious that the internet has brought out narcissism, cruelty, materialism, and an overall lack of empathy.
Look at how people are “dragged” on Twitter. Read the ugly comments and threats over trivial matters on Disqus. Listen to how the celebrity-obsessed citizens dish on the latest “Kartrashian” gossip. View images of rampant materialism on Instagram to see how many who use technology are lacking in empathy.
People say things to each other online that they never would in real life, and gossip about celebs who they don’t know without a degree of sympathy. We’ve witnessed anti-bullying campaigns largely due to the amount of bullying executed online and through texts and picture messages. Technology has the capacity to make society more empathic, but it is primarily being used to do the opposite.
With small tweaks in how we use it, we can develop a larger degree of empathy than any global society before us. In order to do this, we must train ourselves to use technology to build rather than destroy.
We must learn to engage with people who may not share the same ideas as we do and coexist with people from different cultures and backgrounds. How often do we get stuck in a cycle of retweeting and “liking” the Facebook statuses of people who say things that we agree with? It’s less often that we analyze what people are saying who come from different political, socioeconomic, and cultural groups and try and relate to why they feel the way they do about different topics.
There is nothing wrong with the idea that two opposing ideas can both be right for the person who adheres to them. Technology gives us unprecedented access to people from other cultures, and it’s a shame we aren’t using it more. Instead of surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals, we should think outside of the box, and attempt to merge seemingly opposing schools of thought. Instead of constantly reacting, we should add a degree of analysis to our interactions, and put ourselves in other people’s shoes. After all, the smartest people know that they know nothing, and social media has made us all know-it-all’s.
One area where we should listen to our gut responses is when we are responding to tragedy. As a remedy to the media’s sensationalism of tragedy, one CNN article suggests that we gain perspective from and also pay attention to our gut reaction when confronted with gruesome tragedies and violent acts. Too often moments that are terrible for the person living through them are played on repeat through sites like WorldStar HipHop and YouTube. They are shared amongst people repeatedly.
We may feel bad the first time we watch a video, but after seeing it many times, we shut down and become desensitized. To combat this lack of empathy, we should stay in tune with the sympathy we initially feel for others when we first read, listen, or view a tragedy online.
The use of technology for light-hearted entertainment can also build connections among people who may not have much in common on the surface. An article in Live Science suggests that using technology as a form of storytelling can bring people together. This is because studies have shown that when people read a story, they feel empathetic towards its characters. If we use technology to communicate the stories of our lives to others, we will be more empathetic to each other. This is why Hip Hop as a medium has transcended so many different cultures beyond where it started. We need more Zolas, not just for entertainment, but also, so that we can learn to relate to people outside of our walk of life.
Many people will argue that technology is isolating and creates an army of narcissists, but I see the opposite. Now more than ever, people are using social media, Blogs, Google Hangout, and many other forms of technology connects us in unprecedented ways. We have the power to create new social circles and social structures all through the use of technology. We also have opportunities to show compassion in the face of tragedy, so that those suffering know that they aren’t alone.
We only have to look at the “It Gets Better” campaign to see the power technology has to show others a life they may not know they could lead otherwise. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is another instance where we have seen people come together as a community to fight for a better society and show that somebody out there cares. If that’s not empathy, I don’t know what is.
Elizabeth Aguirre is a technology professional with more than 8 years experience working in the software industry. Currently, Elizabeth is pursuing an M.S. in E-commerce at DePaul University and works as a consultant for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago. She is on a one woman mission to empower small business owners through the use of technology. When she is not being a “cool mom” to her daughter Esther, she enjoys working on her personal web page, the Chitown Reikologist.