Is Technology Destroying Empathy?
“So are you sure you don’t wanna [kill yourself] tonight? … YOU KEEP PUSHING IT OFF…Go in a quiet parking lot or something…you just have to do it…there is no way you can fail. Tonight is the night. It’s now or never” (LeBlanc). These are only a few of the disturbing texts sent by Michelle Carter that led to her boyfriend’s suicide. Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after urging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy to kill himself. The judge sentenced her to 2.5 years in jail. This is one instance where technology was used as a medium to encourage self-harm. Technology may be the reason for people’s decline in empathy.
From the time of our children’s conception to the start of their adulthood, parents try to instill emotional intelligence in children, the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes, to tell right from wrong. However, technology is interfering with the development of empathy. People, especially teenagers are using technology now more than ever, this extreme use of technology limits human interaction. Ben Parr an award winning journalist explains that the average teenager send more than one hundred texts each day (Parr). Teens have many of their conversations over text, this lack of face to face conversation can lead to a decline in empathy.
One effect that technology has is that it perpetuates confirmation bias, which is when one only searches for information that supports one’s argument. With the internet, if we wish, we can choose to search for websites, news articles, and political figures that only support our own beliefs. Using social media, we can then force our beliefs onto other users. Ashley Feinberg of wired magazine explains that as of June 26 2017 president Donald Trump has blocked fourteen twitter users that have expressed their dissatisfaction in him (Feinberg). Even the leader of the free world is not immune to confirmation bias. More often than not we see something we do not agree with on social media and are ready to make a personal attack instead of intelligently refuting the argument. We often feel the need to defend ourselves against a post that has nothing to do with us. Many of us do not realize there is a person behind ‘ifarted666’. A difference of opinion does not justify a personal attack. Not being able to see the person restricts us from empathizing with them.
Online dating applications also make us indifferent of other people’s feelings. Ghosting is a new phenomenon among online dating users. It is the act of terminating all communication with a person that you are currently dating, but no longer want to. This is done instead of simply and maturely telling the person that you are no longer interested. According to Tiffany Beverlin, journalist for Huffington Post, about 50 percent of both men and women have been victims of ghosting (Beverlin). People ghost to avoid a conflict and emotional discomfort. This deplorable act leaves its victims devastated and depressed at times. Bruno Nessif a writer for Bravo media writes about his interview with relationship coach Adam Maynard, Maynard explains that ghosting causes emotional pain because it is a rejection without actually being rejected. This lack of closure can lead to depression (Nessif). Many people who ghost have been victims of this act, and when they ghost someone, they perpetuate the problem.
Cyberbullying is a relatively new form of torment. It is bullying that utilizes the internet as its medium to hurt others. The fact that so many people, including bullies have access to the internet creates a ripe platform for cyberbullying. It is arguably more devastating than traditional playground bullying. Once something is posted online it can never be removed. The victim feels a sense of hopelessness because the victim is usually alone. Carmen Hassan of CNN writes about Brenda Vela’s tragic death. Vela had received hateful text messages prior to her suicide, her bullies used an untraceable smartphone app to send her messages. In December of 2016, Vela shot herself in the chest in front of her family (Hassan). Bullies who harass their victims online do not see the impact they can have. Consequently, these cyberbullies will have less empathy for their victims as would a traditional bully.
Of course there are a lot of benefits that technology provides. For example, applications such as WhatsApp allow people to easily and instantly reach one another all over the world. You can use it to keep in touch with your buddies on the bowling team or your family in Kickapoo, Kansas. We have also seen that social media can be used to spread justice and democracy. George Griffin of PBS Newshour explains that, social media was the catalyst of the 2011 Egyptian uprising, it united people who had the common goal of overthrowing president Mubarak (Griffin). Social media allowed irate egyptian citizens to be in instant communication with one another as they marched for change.
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The ability of instant communication comes at a risk, a substantial one, our loss of empathy. It is well known that human interaction is needed to develop empathy. This face to face interaction allows us to understand each other’s emotions. It allows us to feel for each other’s joy, sadness, and excitement. The technology that keep us connected with one another is a poor replacement for human interaction. We must not let technology destroy this bond between people.
Where is the empathy for Conrad Roy, where when we should be mourning for him, we are instead making memes of Michelle Carter’s eyebrows. Have we become so unsympathetic by a buffet of smut, horror, and disgusting media where we can’t even feel compassion for Conrad, who was encouraged to take his own life. We must take the time to empathize for each other, because if not the human is taken out of humane.