The internet, its people, and the decline of empathy and self-awareness

Being an IT man, I’ve been involved in technology since my early childhood. Went through the internet boom, its evolution and expansion. There were times as a young kid, where I was pulled into this magical information bubble— a place where it seemed you could be anyone and do anything. Whether it was meeting girls on mIRC, massaging your latest online alter-ego on some social website or forum, or doing a semi-literate blog post — it felt like discovering a brave new world, and sometimes an escape from the grim reality of an everyday life. Having also a tough time in my teenage years, and a few depression gigs — the internet was the savior and my latest best friend.

However, it still didn’t encompass every detail of our lives. You couldn’t plug in your toaster on the internet, take 50 pictures of your breakfast, or watch cat videos while taking a dump — because the technology was not there yet. Like it or not, we had to disconnect eventually… We had to go out, live, think, study, work. Sometimes these breaks were done voluntarily, or sometimes just to avoid paying a huge bill at the end of the month.

As times went by, the internet arguably became one of humanity biggest inventions up to date. It span globally, giving us unprecedented access to information, resources, people…. It was used to liberate communities, give voice to the oppressed, and connect the world in a manner that was never done before. But as everything in life — it comes with a side effect.

The more I contemplate this topic, the more I feel the internet caught our vulnerable psyche with its pants down. Having the possibility to project any personality upon the cyber medium is an opportunity not many seem to be able to pass. Whether it is a flurry of breakfast and smoothie photos/stories on Instagram, or front row seats to a vacation trip someone took and didn’t hold back on posting every little detail of it, or becoming a twitter intellectual, or even a wannabee writer — I think it all boils down to the same basis… we project the version of ourselves that we desperately want to be. And this creates a psychological problem.

The internet gave us a stage, and we are relentlessly using it to create the perfect alter-ego. The majority of content we put out there is usually well curated to have the utmost appeal to our specific online tribe of people (“influencers”, celebrities, housewives, our friends, family, writers, photographers, etc, etc.). And still I believe that’s not the key issue — rather the non-stop availability of these platforms, and the fact that we’re increasingly using them and our online alter-egos to interact with each other — therefore, widening the gap between virtual and reality.

I feel like we have found the perfect way to shelter our insecurities, and collectively dive into a shared illusion.

“Here’s a video of me helping a homeless person, now please like, share and subscribe” — It might become common to bump into something like this .

Photo by Isabell Winter on Unsplash

Among all these informational bits, we’ve developed a process to quantify our own value. The amount of likes/claps/retweets/subscribes somehow directly correspond to one’s worth — and this has created an army of popularity gatherers willing to properly market their lives in accordance to the latest trends, in order to gain more online recognition. The paradox here is that the more we indulge this needy behavior, the more dependent on the internet persona we become. And like any other addictive substance, one would always want more of it.

It is no wonder we live in an age where anxiety and psychological disorders are almost a normal thing. Somehow we’ve managed to sedate ourselves from the real life, leaving us with all the glamour and status which the social platforms bring. Everybody becomes the star of their own reality show.

Going back to my original point — I believe this greatly affects our introspection capabilities, awareness, and empathy. By growing a dependency on constant information consumption, and using alter egos as a main interaction mechanism — we leave almost no room to reconnect with our deepest and most genuine feelings, engage our real fears, analyze our thoughts processes. Showing a genuine and truly vulnerable personality is not a widely popular endeavor… even if we do show it, we prefer only the well-polished glimpses.

And as a result we’ve become more self-absorbed. By being constantly cocooned in our own little worlds and dramas — we have less time and desire to care for someone else… And when we do, we can’t always find that real someone else — rather a herd of well polished personas.