Who Have I Become? How Digital Technology Changes Communication

“…some of the things they do to others on social media that they would not say to the other person’s face.”


Is an Increasingly Digital Lifestyle Changing Us? Long-standing Singer/Songwriter Sheryl Crow certainly thinks so. In multiple interviews this week, including Associated Press article “Sheryl Crow Argues for Return to Empathy in Her New Album” by Kristen M. Hall, printed April 16th in the Williamsport Sun Gazette, a newspaper local to Williamsport, PA.

Sheryl Crow
Source: Twitter @SherylCrow

Crow stated she was “upset” about the way “technology has changed the conversation” regarding elections, politics, and general approaches to communication. She goes on to emphasize that, “Now we have this forum for haters to come out and say the worst thing you could possibly say to someone without having the experience of the reaction.”

This is a topic I briefly touched on in my first blog post: “Think Before You Post: Showing Respect Online.” I want to examine this topic a little more closely. I agree with Sheryl Crow’s observations for the most part. I think that people say some of the things they do to others on social media that they would not say to the other person’s face. Crow believes that this is because we cannot see the person’s reaction when they see these posts. Crow goes on to say that “we have become a society without empathy and compassion.” According to dictionary.com, empathy involves the “psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” I believe that people sometimes lose track of empathy online because it is easier to separate the online post from the human being who made the post whenever you cannot see or hear that person.

Crow is encouraging time away from digital devices in order to help alleviate people’s lack of empathy. I do not believe that it is practical or realistic to ask all of society to significantly decrease their digital interactions during an era during which a lot of digital technologies are just being born. Rather than taking this extreme measure, I believe that is reasonable to ask people across the United States and the rest of the world, to consider how their posts and videos might be interpreted by anyone who might potentially view them. If it helps people to imagine that they are encountering their post for the first time as someone else, then I would recommend that as well.

Crow with guitar
Source: Twitter @SherylCrow

Though it is not reasonable to unplug entirely as previous generations have done, it may be reasonable to take temporary breaks from certain digital devices or websites if they increase stress levels too much. People could also set barriers by not using digital technologies or social media during family dinners or important events, as well as during most of summer vacation or spiritual endeavors such as church or meditation sessions.



Think Before You Post: Showing Respect Online

Whenever you see a new post on social media… take a moment to read it and think about it before responding.

So many things are being posted this week, especially on Twitter and Facebook, about the Women’s March on Washington, and Trump’s Inauguration. These topics have obviously opened a lot of communication online, and in person, at the marches, and places such as work, coffee shops, and home.

No matter who people voted for, most people have a lot of thoughts, feelings, and opinions about these topics. It goes without saying, that many posts and online exchanges are angry and disrespectful of others’ opinions. Money Crashers blogger, Brian Martucci advises, in his Social Media Etiquette Tips, “Don’t be reactive.”  Responding to an angry tweet the moment you see it may seem like the best way to handle the situation at first. On the other hand, a knee-jerk reply to an angry post may lead to an angry back and forth exchange.

Whenever you see a new post on social media… take a moment to read it and think about it before responding. Why would that person post that? What thoughts and feelings might have led that person to type that?  If the other person is a stranger, you may have almost no idea why he or she posted certain words or images. Thinking things through may prevent the interaction from becoming increasingly negative.

Granted, you may see words or images that you do not like. One of the most effective ways you can communicate with others is to let them express their opinions, even if you disagree. Extending respect and tolerance to others’ views online is a key component to gaining a broader sense of what other people mean, and where they are coming from.

It is fine (and likely) that you will still disagree with many statements made online and in personal interactions. The important thing is to distinguish between agreeing with someone, and showing respect or tolerance for them and their viewpoints. As much as we may want to, we cannot magically make others understand us. We cannot force people to like us or agree with us. Besides, you do not want anyone to try to force you to believe things you do not.

In the end, you may not be able to bridge the gap between diametrically-opposed points of view. If you extend an open mind, you may find ways to open lines of polite discourse on topics without discussions dissolving into senseless banter. At a minimum, you may gain a better view of what is going on around your community and the world.