Empathy is the bond one person have for another that shares the feelings or understanding like a mother and her baby. This basic but powerful connection between two people can establish a friendship, family, and love. However, if a group or a large body of people shared the same feelings or ideas it can force changes to those in power or even establish a new country like our Founding Fathers.

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Showing of empathy can define who we are as human, however, with today’s smartphone and social media, we are slowly losing our ability to empathize with other people. We are neglecting face-to-face interaction and trading it for the world-wide-web. The internet helps us to be more efficient by connecting us to billions of people around the world at the speed of light, but we are too depending on this digital technology. Digital technology can be detrimental to human’s ability to empathy, as mentioned by Pew Research Center in “Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’”. The article talks about how social media platform are created to connect people but the study has shown that social media users will only share their own opinions on matters with those who have the same view. Also, Wagner quote of Kelly in “When your Smartphone is Too Smart For Your Own Good: How Social Media altered human relationship” stated that “We tend to follow and interact with people who agree with our point of view, so we aren’t getting the same diversity of viewpoints as we’ve gotten in the past.” (Wagner 2015) This activities takes away the diversity of ideas and views of other which results in the lack of empathy for those who did not share the same view (Pew 2014). This idea of technology is interfering with the human ability to empathize is also being shared by Sherry Tukkle.

Sherry Tukkle, who studies online connectivity for more than 30 years presents us with a problem that digital technology like the smartphone has greatly affected our ability to communicate face-to-face, to show empathy, and give a sense of loss in her article “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk”. In her recent work, she has learns how harsh smartphone and social media interfere with family relationship especially during face-to-face interaction. One of her examples was an interview of a girl at a summer camp where the girl explains how her father is using google to facts check their conversation, and another interview of a boy who talks about his parents always on their phone when they are around him. Growing up during this digital age, kids are able to emerge themselves in technology which takes away their chance of developing friendship and learn how to empathize with others. She learns during a visit to a middle school of girl is acting robotic like and showing no empathy when was asks about the way she treats another girl. Even growth adult and college student are using a smartphone as an excuse to find an alternative escape during the boring conversation. College students even developed a method they called “rule of three” to allow them to turn to their phone during a face-to-face conversation with their friends(Tukkle 2015).

Pew, Tukkle and Wagner show the painful reality of how technology has badly altered the way human connect and develop, but these human traits are extremely crucial throughout human life that it can not be neglected which being empathized by Clare Cain Miller.

Claire Cain Miller expresses the importance of developing social skills at a young age to prepare for the job world where everything is going automotive. In her article “ Why What You Learn in Preschool is Crucial at Work” she talks about the importance of how social interactions can develop skills like empathy, cooperation, and flexibility that will help us in the scare job market. Miller learns that during preschool kids are learning and developing these characteristics that are crucial part in a successful work environment. She notices how Preschool allows kids to interact with each other from one project to the next and develop their social skills, which is a what job place is and what it looking for in employees. Furthermore, Miller discovered that jobs that require a strong social skill are constantly growing compared to other high-paying jobs, which are on slowdown due to automation. With the continuous changes, some colleges have started to introduce work collaboration between students to help them develop social skills (Millar 2015). She expresses the importance of these skills and where we can learn to prepare for the future of automation.

Technology had already set its footprint on our world and nothing will revise that because we developed technology to help us achieve greater things. Human is smart, emotional, and caring being but we can also be ignorance where we rely on technology too much that makes us become lazy. Our ignorance self is the cost for lack of empathy, not the technology we develop.

In order to understand exactly how technology and social media negatively affects our ability to empathize with one another, we would begin by examining how social media changes the way we interact, beginning with childhood development. Although empathy is an innate human ability, it is also developed when we are infants, through face to face contact. The more face to face contact we have with others, the better we become at being able to read specific expressions and body language. For example, a baby learns that his or her mother smiling indicates happiness and safety. At the same time, a child who sees his or her mother frowning or anxious will also be able to understand these emotional differences and may react accordingly.

When children become older, they use the same technique when talking with friends. However, the main difference in the modern era is that technology often replaces the need for face to face contact. Instead of being able to read emotions or expressions that someone makes, we instead rely on text communications or social media posts. Without the visual cues of body language, however, we can lose our ability to effectively understand emotional tone (Best et al. 37). What someone might believe to be an honest statement, if the only way this is seen is through a social media post, it can be interpreted as sarcastic or another mood that doesn’t reflect the actual intent of the person who made the post. This can be frustrating, and often with social media people become much more comfortable when typing a text message than interacting with another person face to face.

Because technology is so prevalent in our modern lives, we therefore begin to lose our ability to read people, which in turn makes it more difficult to understand, and ultimately empathize with other people. There are less opportunities for people to interact face to face. As children get older, most of their social connections become based on who they know online, and their interactions become entirely based on social media posts, texts, and emojis. With these fewer opportunities, our skills at empathizing with other people means become diminished over time, simply because we are not practicing face to face communications as often.

Another factor to consider as to why social media hurts our ability to empathize with other people is because social media posts tend to reflect the best of who we are, rather than an honest portrayal. We are much more likely to talk about things that paint us in a good light, such as getting a promotion at work, or when we start dating someone new (Orehek and Human 60). Social media also gives us the ability to control how other people see us. We only allow photos that are flattering to be posted, and currently there are social media apps that even allow us to manipulate how we look in ways that are not authentic. Aside from Snapchat filters that will post bunny or cat ears on our photos, there are also apps that will remove all blemishes and even make us look slimmer, if we so choose.

The effect of all this digital manipulation on social media is that we are creating a fake reflection of ourselves, or at least one that only shows the good and hides the bad. This makes us see the world through a filter that is distorted (Seidman 402); we believe our friends’ lives to be perfect, even when they are not, because everything they post is designed to make us think they are living a perfect life. The impact this has on empathy is that we are less trained to see when things are not going so well, and therefore we are less able to deal with these situations when they happen. For example, if someone loses a job, we may not know how to express condolences or show empathy because we are used to portraying everything in a positive light. Even if we do sympathize with someone else, we are unsure how to express it outside of a short social media message wishing condolences, when it would be more appropriate to have a more constructive conversation with the person. However, because the nature of social media is constant updates, we often only glance at what is going on, and by the time we have something to say, everyone has moved on.

Another negative impact that social media and digital technology has on our relationships, especially with our peers, is that it can create both insecurity and resentment, which hurts our ability to empathize with others (Marshall et al. 35). Whether we like to admit it or not, there can be a competitive aspect for social media; people with the biggest friend lists, or people who always get a hundred likes on all of their posts, might make people who only have a small group of friends, or who do not get much attention on their posts, become more insecure (Andreassen et al. 290). Instead of popularity being determined by qualities such as kindness or talent, social media makes popularity more clearly defined by the specific number of likes we get on our posts (Perloff 77). This can make it difficult to see someone in a way that ignores all those factors; with social media, we instantly see who a person’s friends are, and how much attention they receive. All of these would be unknown factors in a world without social media; when we meet someone, we would be viewing them in regard to the characteristics and personality they show in person, not on how popular they already are. Because we can often see who a person interacts with on social media, we also might judge them negatively through association if we do not have kind feelings for a person’s friends. Even though the person in question might be wonderful, we are less able to empathize with them if we are simply evaluating who they are in regard to their social network alone. When we are able to make our own opinion about someone, and not basing our opinion of someone solely on their social media posts, we become better able to empathize with them because we get a truer sense of character. Without social media, there is no reason to feel competitive or self-conscious about our own social media imprint, which often act as barriers for getting to know someone.

Social media can also have an addicting aspect as well. According to Nancy Cheever, people who do not have access to their smartphones, or who take down their social media account, will often experience feelings of anxiety. While social media makes us feel secure, it can get to the point where we are constantly checking our phones, even if we are with someone else in person. It is becoming more common to see two people together, but not paying any attention to one another because they are constantly checking their phones. Instead of empathizing and communicating with the person we are with, we are checking superficial posts online that have no real impact on our relationships. The more addicted we become to technology, the less time we have for building relationships in person, and this negatively impacts our ability to empathize with others over time.

All of these negative associations with social media and technology therefore make it more difficult to truly understand one another. Although technology allows us to stay more connected, much of the ways in which we connect with one another through social media becomes superficial or meaningless. Technology is inevitable, so inventions such as smartphones and social media will only continue to grow. However, it is important to understand that although these technologies can help us stay in touch, they can never truly replace face to face interactions and relationships that are built by spending quality time with one another. As long as we understand this issue as a society, we can include a balance and technology and real world interactions.

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  • Best, Paul, Roger Manktelow, and Brian Taylor. “Online communication, social media and adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review.” Children and Youth Services Review 41 (2014): 27-36.
  • Cheever, Nancy A., “Out of sight is not out of mind: The impact of restricting wireless mobile device use on anxiety levels among low, moderate and high users.” Computers in Human Behavior 37 (2014): 290-297.
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