Have You Become Emotionally Numb to the Social Media Buzz?
News move fast. Since this email was drafted on Friday, the horrific Sri Lanka attacks occurred and raise the same issue we tackled here, prompted by the fire at Notre-Dame: how to mourn and express empathy on social media. Some reflections...
Do you remember when the news broke last week and your feeds filled up with posts, tweets, and live streams of #NotreDame and #Parisisburning?
Did you post something yourself? Or hit “like,” “retweet,” or “share”?
What made you do it, and how did you feel afterwards? Better? Worse? Indifferent?
Let me tell you how I felt.
I sat with a couple of friends, all of us scrolling through our feeds, ooh-ing, sighing, and occasionally showing each other pictures of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris—in flames. It was awkward, and yet somehow, not unusual. The day after, I had a lingering sense of unease, not because I care so much about this cathedral, but because of the in-the-moment-overflow of sensationalism, the cries for #onehumanity, the #throwback posts to “back when I visited Paris last summer.”
I was aware of both a sense of actual compassion, mostly for the French people (and maybe because I have a strong emotional connection to fire and the sense of loss it brings), and feelings of disappointment about the comments being made by my circle of friends, who were almost making fun of the social media buzz.
I asked my colleague Jaimie, who lives in Paris, how the event and associated buzz were making her feel. This is how she responded (quoted from her essay When the Smoke Clears):
I actually cringe when I see people, en masse, jump on the disaster porn social media bandwagon. (...) If crying is an interpersonal tool, an evolutionary capacity unique to humans that allows us to signal to one another when we need help or comfort, then I’m willing to consider posting to Instagram or Twitter a 21st century extension of that human function. Let’s say the posts are like digital tears shed all over the world. I get it, sharing is caring. And yes to sharing. Yes to caring. Yes to solidarity and to empathy. But, there’s something sleazy about the gamification of feeling on social media, where there is “liking” involved, where social capital is gained by posting.
Do we really think that expressing our compassion, our caring, and our empathy by simply tapping on a screen in the midst of a rapid-second scroll is appropriate, justifiable, or even desirable?
Think about it. And then, give this a try.
Next time you feel the need to express a reaction on social media:
Pause for a minute. Pause for a minute. Think about whether this “like” will make a difference in how you feel right now.
Ask yourself what intention is behind your reaction, and don't trick yourself. Do you honestly care about the topic? Do you just want people to agree with you?
To “like” you for the fact that you posted an old photo that will end up in an ocean of digital tears that will be washed away by next Monday?
And then, make a decision. If you do care, maybe you want to reach out personally to friends, or to the people and organizations involved. Maybe you’d like to start a discussion with your co-workers about how they feel and what they think. Maybe you’d like to take some kind of action in response, on your own, or with friends.
Every time you catch yourself operating on autopilot, reacting unthinkingly, take a second and pause. It's the smallest thing.
Do not accept the numbness. What are you really feeling? Trace your thoughts and reactions back, and think about what it is that you really want to communicate before sharing.
I will try my best, too. Let’s check in in a couple of weeks and see if anything changed.
Monika & the House team
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