Guest Post by Jessica Fyles
Technology and social media enables us to be more connected than ever before in our human history. It’s pretty amazing how we can communicate with multiple people at once through a multitude tools. On the iPhone alone one can talk, text, Tweet, and Facebook virtually all at the same time (and hopefully not while driving). I worry, with the abundance in technology and online social interaction, that we are losing our vital ability to connect human to human.
Empathy is our capability to share our and understand other people’s emotions and feelings. “Put yourself in their shoes” or “use your words” are phrases children often hear from parents who are teaching them empathy. It’s very difficult to have a relationship with another person if we (or they) are unable to express emotions or understand what the other person is feeling. We’ve all known people who can’t express themselves very well, if at all, and how challenging it is to get along with them.
Much of what I see going on in the world today leads me to believe we are becoming less empathetic as a society. Children who kill their parents or classmates. Workplace violence. Road rage and aggressive driving. Bullying. Discrimination. The inability of our government leaders to work together on behalf of the American people. The personal attacks in negative political campaigns. Legislation that limits the rights and personal freedoms of another human being. The disrespectful and violent language used by media. And the list goes on.
Technology and social media may not be primarily to blame for violence or partisanship, but they are contributing factors. I wonder how this world would be different if all of us could use our words to express our feelings or if we put ourselves in other people’s shoes more often. Maybe a child wouldn’t bring a gun to school to express their anger. Maybe our government leaders would be more open to compromise to do what is best for all citizens.
We learn and practice empathy by interacting with other human beings in person. All of the five senses are engaged when doing so. Instead, we are spending more time interacting with a screen. A January 2012 report from market research firm comScore found that the average American spends 36 hours on the internet per week. Nielsen.com reports “Americans spend more than 33 hours per week watching video across the screens,” according to their latest Nielsen Cross-Platform Report. Undocumented sources on the web say we Americans spend an average of 13 hours per week playing video games. That’s a lot of screen time.
With us consuming so much screen time, there is a strong desire to learn empathy in our society. An internet search will result in a multitude of school lesson plans, books, blogs and videos on the topic. Oprah demonstrates and conveys empathy through her multimedia empire. However, we need more examples and role models of empathy in our everyday lives.
The long-term effects of our technology and social media consumption, both good and bad, remain to be seen. Both are probably best practiced, as with everything else in life, in moderation.