I actually love technology ... most of the time. All of those good things that it has brought to our lives to make them easier, simpler, quicker ... and enables us to keep in touch. With my travel schedule, family in various parts of the world, visiting offices in different locations and all that entails, technology including social media means I am almost always in touch or at least contactable. That's the upside. But I worry about a growing downside - especially involving the technology we call social media.
During the last few months I have started to hear the word empathy used an awful lot more than I have previously. It is a valuable human trait that we are in real danger of losing, and if we do so it will be to the detriment of the world, but let me explain the connection.
On August 18, 1988, George H. W. Bush received his party's nomination for President of the United States of America. In his acceptance speech, he called for a "kinder, gentler nation." A sentiment echoed and welcomed I am sure by the majority of people around the world, not just in the USA. Fast forward 30 years and I'm not entirely sure where it has eventually led us, but I don't see much of that sentiment in evidence today. And it has been a growing concern for me. For example, go back to the trolling that was going on when someone supported a particular course of action that others disagreed with - only to find they were then subjected to unidentified and vitriolic attacks on them via "social media", by people who did not have the courage to be identified as being behind an alternative viewpoint and - worse - using highly charged language to vent their anger.
But it really sank to low depths last week in Hong Kong when, following the suicide of the 25year old son of the Undersecretary for Education, cowardly internet users were taunting the Undersecretary, and "congratulating" her on the suicide. Whilst she may not have been the most popular recent appointee to Government - that is absolutely no excuse for such behaviour. Thankfully many right-minded people have come out publicly to express their outrage at this misuse of social media: although that said, perhaps not quite everyone! The Students Union said they regretted the suicide but also said that one should ensure that the concept of freedom of speech must be respected. What?? Oh well ... that's all right then, say anything you like because it is "freedom of speech". I am sorry, no it's not!!! Freedom of speech, yes I am all for it, but where do these people get their ideas that making callous, cruel and personally hurtful remarks against an individual while hiding behind an anonymous mask counts as "freedom of speech"? It goes against every idea of common decency, and indicates a complete lack of empathy.
But look, isn't the cause of this becoming embedded in the way in which children grow up today. (And before you jump up and down - no, not all children). Having been handed a means of communicating with other people without actually having to look them in the eye, or allowing them to operate remotely behind an alias - even using someone else's pictorial identity they suddenly adopt a meaner, less caring attitude to life. They will of course point out, they have lots of "friends" - except they haven't met many/any of them yet, at least not in real life. And they feel emboldened by their ability to use strong language and words - and feel "braver" for it because they do not run the risk of identification. So far anyway - although I am very against the "big brother" scenario that this suggests is the only way to curb these outrages.
And the other downside to using "social media" for communication purposes is the inability to understand from the inflections or tone of voice a situation that a real life conversation would convey. The ability to misinterpret, sometimes deliberately, what has been written is high - often because it has been written ambiguously, which leads to further, misunderstandings, hate mail even ... and all in the name of "freedom of speech". A child brought up with the ability to be empathetic would stand a better chance of understanding.
The amount of hate in our world is on the increase, which means we must encourage our children to use social media for all the right and positive reasons, but also teach them to communicate verbally with one another. To understand emotion, to create feelings and speak out their thoughts directly to one another and to adults so that if they have a point of view - they should express it clearly and confidently, and watch the reaction on someone's face as to the impact it has.
But for now ... a kinder gentler world? ... I wish.