Monday, 18 August 2014

Social Media and Empathy

EmpathySocial media has played a revolutionizing role in lives of zillions of people across the globe. It has woven for us a precious interconnected world, making information exchange quick and possible. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have enabled people to associate with different cultures and religions.

Centuries ago, messengers used to physically deliver information across hundreds of miles. With nerve-racking technological advancements, now continents have been connected electronically to transmit information within milliseconds. My salutation goes out to all the people who made this dream a reality. Yet, every good thing has a dark side to it to. Increased engagements with social media platforms have reduced users’ capacity for empathy – the ability to feel for the other as one would feel in the same situation. 

Social media and other lifestyle changes have revolutionized lives. Habits like reading literature, and engaging in physical and spiritual tasks are being replaced by text messaging, social networking, and spending more time over the internet. There is less time awarded to leisurely thought-stimulating discussions, cultivate deep connections, or reflect over profound subjects. As life has become quick and time invaluable, the trend has shifted from engaging in slow laid-back activities to delve into fast-paced vibrant actions. As our minds get lesser insight into the lives and experiences of others, our capacity to understand and empathize gets debilitated.

EmpathyFeelings like compassion and concern make us human. One tends to have compassion for people who are less fortunate or have been stricken by trauma. However, in this racing world, it is not feasible to stop and place ourselves in the other person’s shoes every time.

Life is indeed becoming superfluously superficial. In this animated sprint, there is little credit given to feelings and originality. With information sharing taking place without borders and restraints, caring has become redundant. Comments on social media are becoming expendable. Every baby picture is ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’. Even birthday reminders have become superfluous. There was a time when remembering a birthday showed that you were remembered. Now the date pops up all over the social media. People give heartless comments spontaneously without reservation or restraint. They make hasty judgements, throwing out words and thoughts without waiting to understand the other person’s perspective. No wonder social media is widely acknowledged to be a devastator of empathic feelings.

Social media has generated a fake world. With feigned appearances, people have built a social life of their own. They take great care in maintaining their stature, and are concerned about what their ‘Friends’ think of them. Social media has also become a popular platform for breeding fickle and hollow relationships. Online meet-ups and breakups are equally frequent. Amusingly, the modern breakup declaration is simply the change of the Facebook status from ‘Committed’ to ‘Single’.  One wonders whether social media is promoting social connections or whether it is improvising social isolation – a cruel juxtaposition. With increasing independence, people cannot tolerate interference from others. As they mark their preference for social isolation and subsequently fragmented lives, their ability to empathize also diminishes.

The electronic world is often vastly accessible and conveniently affordable. As the eye ball swirls from one news story to the next, there is a bulk of information sifting through the human brain at an intimidating speed. Life has become so quick that pictures adorned with phrases are now used to represent a whole idea, a whole theme - internet memes like those shared on Reddit and Facebook. They are quickly becoming popular as they communicate an idea more quickly and succinctly than text-based articles and news stories. However, though the quantity and frequency of information dissemination is on the rise, the quality and innate eminence of information is devaluing.

The evolutionary theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ continues to apply. Everyone wants to make the most, gather the most, and seek the most. Everyone wants to be smartly different, and grab that extra skill that would make one stand out from the rest. There is an insane competition for attention. People are competing to be the first to share interesting pieces of information to win appreciation and fame. People are striving to attract a larger audience and make the most ‘friends’. This competitive streak is making life needlessly burdensome. In addition, since we have gotten used to a quick happening life, any unforeseen hurdles tend to make us frantic. We get bored quickly, and get frustrated and depressed when things do not go according to our plans.

Humans need to empathize to identify and understand each other’s values and needs. It helps people in building true and deep relations, and also guides them towards personal and professional success. Empathy also bestows inner happiness and gratification. Lifestyle choices influence empathy. If empathetic feelings can decrease with changes in lifestyles, suitable amendments in routines can pump them up back again. Extremities are typically not healthy. With technology, the world is on your fingertips. That should definitely be used to one’s advantage. However, there should be a careful balance struck between the electronic world and the real world to set things right.

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