The Internet Empathy Epidemic.

“Mirror neurons have been hailed as the cornerstone of human empathy, language, and other vital processes” – Jason Marsh

I first wrote this post in the Fall and now I believe it to be true more than ever. We are lacking empathy at a rate that I have never experienced in my nearly 17 years studying and practicing psychology. When you comment on something or post something online – you are still responsible for the emotional impact of this comment. However, we are more disconnected than we have ever been and we lack empathy for this reason.

The 300, 400, 1000, 2000 friends you have on social media are not real friends. I’m not trying to be cruel, I’m explaining how social creatures like humans are built. We are wired for social connection. This means real-life social connection. There is no substitute for this. When someone looks you in the eyes and says “You matter” or “I love you” it has a significant impact on your sense of self-worth. This is not the case for social media and texting interactions.

We are addicted to likes and comments because they give us an immediate buzz but this is not the same as a real-life conversation with another human. Our brains are wired for human to human contact – this is why there is a significant lack of empathy. We are not connecting with people face to face anymore.

Our mirror neurons (empathy drivers) are activated by eye to eye, face to face, and human to human contact.

Have you ever said something to someone and immediately had the feeling that you hurt them? This is how our mirror neurons operate in the brain. This experience is on a spectrum with “empaths” feeling another’s experience more intensely but we all have this capability.

Months ago, the brilliant, beautiful, and talented Leslie Jones was harassed violently on Twitter for hours. This attack was led by Milo Yiannopoulos, a notorious coward and online bully. He was subsequently banned from Twitter for inciting this violence. People viciously attacked her looks by likening her to a gorilla and sending her pictures of gorillas attached with racial epithets. It was a horrific lynching made possible by human disconnection and lack of empathy.

Does this happen in real life? Absolutely but not to that scale or for that extended period of time without an escape for Ms Jones. There is a growing lack of empathy that makes these events more common and our feelings of guilt less likely. There is a social responsibility that comes with expressing yourself in front of actual humans that has been lost online or over text.

As Glennon Doyle Melton wrote in a blog last week, “Who you are online is who you are, there are not two of you”

This means if you feel comfortable calling me a dumb bitch, I’m an idiot liberal, or that I’m going to Hell – you are saying this. Not internet the you safely behind the keyboard – you, the real you is saying this to me, the real me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media, I’m writing this blog online but I spend time with humans in real life.  When I comment online I try my best to pause and think would I say this to their face? If not, I try to not say it. I’m not always perfect at this but I’m trying to be mindful that there is an actual human on the other end of that screen with feelings and emotions.

We have to mindful of the speed in which technology is evolving and how that is impacting our relationships both in positive and negative ways.

“Mirror neurons enable me to see you as an intentional being, with purpose and intention” – V.S. Ramachandran, Neuroscientist


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