Empathy is the ability of a person to share someone else’s feelings and it is the most important trait that we, as humans, possess. It is not only reserved for humans, animals such as rodents can also feel it. However, humans are particularly good at experiencing empathy. It allows us to feel love, communicate and cooperate to live together in a community.
The internet is mainly used for staying connected with friends and loved ones or searching for news and information endlessly, and such long hours online can tend to expose a person to shocking and sensational images and videos. As a result of this repeated action, after hours of watching such content, people are desensitizing their natural circuits to them in such a way that they’re unwittingly training their empathic skills to turn off their emotions.
From the science side of it
Multiple pieces of research have suggested that spending a lot of time on the internet is leading to a lesser attention span and makes us more distracted. What if it is also making us less empathetic? Is it leading to the degradation of our capacity for moral attention, the capacity to notice the morally significant features of any given situation to respond appropriately to? There are evidences to indicate that it is a possibility. Internet and the tech companies continue to create design elements that are constantly feeding off our uninterrupted attention to things that really matter, or even to notice them at all. There is a very good point to ex-President Obama saying that social media might have turned out to be the biggest threat to democracy.
Moreover, according to science, there is a specific region of the brain that controls the tendency towards lack of empathy and selfishness. When making such choices, younger people use a brain network in the temporal lobes while older people (or those more empathetic) use the prefrontal cortex which is a region that processes how our decisions can affect others. Scientists are concerned about how the internet and technology might be interfering with young people’s learning and development of basic empathy skills, such as making eye contact or noticing nonverbal cues during a conversation.
Using the internet for the good?
There are people who consider the internet as a source for the good of humankind and implementing empathetic behaviour in others. Sharing common experiences through social media platforms or online gaming can contribute to one learning about others and their lives, and gaining insight that would otherwise be not accessible to him in real life. Moreover, the internet and social media platforms have also been increasingly used for raising awareness about global humanitarian issues. These social media platforms can also be used to perform fundraising where internet users from all over the world can send in donations. The ‘Sweet Seeds for Haiti’ was able to raise around $487,500 within three weeks.
The significant correlation between the internet and empathetic behaviour should be enough to shed light on the role they play around each other. Spending more time on the internet can definitely lead to lesser empathetic behaviour among internet users. It is also affecting our social and cognitive skills, which seriously needs to be addressed. One thing you can try to prevent that from happening is to limit your or other people’s internet browsing times. For instance, with Xfinity Internet, you have the option to pause the internet connection for several devices or schedule the internet to be turned off after a few hours or so. In the ned, you should be aware of the internet and technology’s assault on the brain to feel compassion for others. When your brain dissociates itself from unpleasant experiences, that is when you should be really worried about losing what defines your humanity. Despite its negative impact, there are some scenarios where the internet might lead to encouraging empathetic behaviour and feelings among internet users.