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Friday, September 20, 2019

Empathy in the age of Social media





I was listening to Dr. Sheryl Turkle of MIT who was an early supporter of Information Technology(IT). Her research has been on human- machine communication. She is now concerned about the negative aspects of IT, particularly the social media. She finds that people using social media all the time are losing empathy since they do not communicate face to face. She is correct. To develop connection with others we have to speak with them, face to face.  We have to understand their facial gestures and body language to truly understand them. This is completely lost when we are looking at the screen and twiddling with our thumbs and not looking at the person in front of us.

A young friend told me recently  that one of his social media pages has 687 “friends”. I asked whether he knew every one  of them. He obviously did not. I did not ask  whether any one of them will come if he needed help, if any of them will maintain long-standing and close friendship. Developing relationship requires face to face time and sustained effort. My guess is that he has very few intimate friends who can share his ups and downs and help him when he is in need. Probably my friend gets  a sense of “ Self-validation” to know that he has “687 contacts” or “followers”. I hope this is not the only way he gets his self-identity.  

It is no wonder that students who are endlessly texting are afraid of face – to - face transactions.
Many of them have lost social skills by spending time interacting with the tablet or phone instead of
with people. It is easy , of course, to deal with the machine or with someone somewhere else, since it
 is less demanding. May be this is one of the reasons that loneliness is a major problem among adolescents and young adults (millennials and Gen Z, I am told) growing up with technology and social media. They probably do not even realize what they are missing.

 I have written earlier that it is difficult to develop compassion in a world dominated by competition and pursuit of personal happiness. In living a life with focus on personal liberty and personal happiness, we forget others and their needs. Empathy and compassion take a back seat to aggressive pursuit of personal gains.

Now, technology has added another impediment to developing compassion and empathy. Technological devices such as smartphones tablets and social media hinder human to human  interactions. We spend more time with machines than with people and even when we deal with people it is through the medium of technology. Personal connections, better communication, empathy
 and compassion are more likely to develop through face to face conversations and sustained relationships. That requires time and effort.

As Dr.Turkle has suggested, our young friends need to spend less time interacting with screens and more time interacting with real people.  

1 comment:

Krishnan said...

I fully subscribe to the context and have been fighting a loosing battle with my friends and Institutional contacts. We are coming to be dominated by machines and creativity is lost, along with compassion, human feelings and understanding. Some one has to evolve a mechanism, where the human touch will be pre-dominant.