I hope this article finds you well.
In the following paragraphs, a delicate topic will be tackled – the matter of the connection between the biggest human success – technology and the most human emotion – empathy. Since I want to approach my readers in the most accessible and understandable way, I chose to turn to you through well-known for everyone email communication.
This week, at my second job in a restaurant in Maastricht, I met а girl with a disability. To celebrate her birthday, she had come with her friends for dinner. I was determined to bring her a small dessert at the end of the dinner with a candle in honor of her day. Unfortunately, the girl left before I could carry out my idea. Although I was aware that the situation was out of my control my eyes teared up and I felt blue – then I realized that I was feeling empathy towards a stranger. My colleague had difficulty validating my emotions and instantly showed me that around 2 million people in the Netherlands have disabilities so we cannot feel bad for all of them. Showcase my coworker proved the statement that the more technology develops the less empathy is left in society.
Technology has reached unpredicted historical levels improving our daily life in many aspects but it still has its limits – technology cannot create human emotions. A 2011 survey conducted at the University of Michigan showed that every third out of four students is 50% less empathetic today than they were three decades ago – the decades in which social media was born. Our brains are exposed to an enormous amount of information that makes them incapable of handling the emotional stories told to us. The purpose of social media is to remove the information an individual does not want to see and to load the feed with the so-called “chosen for us” content. Have you ever wondered why if you haven’t interacted with a friend online for a long time suddenly this person disappears from your feed? The algorithms create a need for impression and a desire to look good in front of other people which deviates humanity from the way of empathy to the way of narcissism. Therefore we live in the century with the most sources for communication and socialization and yet we live in the loneliest century ever in the human history. Polarization, individualism, detachment, and the need for constant acknowledgment – sadly, those are the keywords for our generation.
The job of a waitress is a social experiment itself – if I leave serving aside, I apply ultimate people skills and often go into the role of an observer, a conversationalist, and sometimes even a therapist. As a person pursuing journalism career, getting to know people, what captivates them and simply noting their behavior has given me a glimpse over the topics pondering in the public’s conscience. With every year passing by, reservations for one started to become more and more common. The big groups of people for dinner are usually people above middle age while the youth is dining more and more with their laptops on the table. I am much more likely to strike up a conversation with elder people, even though the language is sometimes a barrier, than with young people who fall into my age group. The irony hides in the choice of the young people to zone out the reality by avoiding “unnecessary conversations with the servers” and diving into an alternative virtual reality filled with pictures of other people’s lives.
However, these micro-interactions with strangers can have a more significant impact than we realize. People who act friendly on a daily basis tend to be happier and feel less lonely and detached from the world which creates a bigger space for feelings like compassion and empathy. Empathy is a muscle – the more we use it the more it grows. A small step like greeting the barista guy, choosing to shop in a local store, or leaving our phone aside to be more present with our partners persevere the humanity inside of us and helps us come together in a world that is falling apart.
Of course, society is not only a bottom-up initiative – our leaders must prioritize creating more opportunities for inclusivity, tolerance, and civility. Today we perpetually need governments that put the development of global competencies on their agenda, but also let’s not forget that we ourselves choose who leads us.
Technology is the engine system the world needs while empathy is the medicine. Simply, the antidote is that one could not live without the other but in order for them to survive, a sufficient balance is needed. We can be the light for each other by seeing the light in each other – the future is ours.
Thank you for your patience.
About me: I am an intern for GMM and a graduate student in the European Studies program in Maastricht. I grew up in the second decade of democratic Bulgaria, which is why I have always been at the crossroads between the remaining ideals of the transition years and the new ambitions for a modern and united Europe. That resulted in a strong passion for Politics and Social Sciences accompanied by the ability to approach new problems and ideas with curiosity and critical thinking. My calling and highest aim are to creatively spread my balanced perspective to the world through a journalist’s career.