Are we self-obsessed?

Alina Alam
Columnist

How much do you really care about others?

According to a study done by the University of Michigan, college students are less empathetic today compared to students 20 to 30 years ago. Overall, students today are about 40 percent less empathetic than those of the ’80s or ’90s.
While the study reveals the drop in empathy, the research done by the university does not address the reason behind it. Some people have speculated that social-networking sites have made us self-obsessed, and because of this, college students have become less empathetic.

Whether or not these are contributing factors, it is clear that the students to whom we are being compared came from a completely different world than ours.
Today, our society is fast-paced and dominated by technology. Society has numerous ways of connecting with one another through the emergence of social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

Technology is growing, and our society is rapidly changing. We are drifting farther from the reality of the late 20th century. Maybe the speculators are right, and the decrease in empathy is due to the possible self-obsession that results from social-networking websites.

These websites allow us to connect, at least on a superficial basis, with hundreds of people, many of whom we probably do not know on a personal level. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we can usually find a way to connect with the cyber-realm; most of us are guilty of checking these sites on a constant basis, despite what else we may be doing.

Social-networking sites can be seen as very self-centered. While they may have originated as a way to stay connected with people, they are also methods of constantly letting people into our world and minds, at least the aspects which we dare to share.

On Facebook, we have a profile that we update religiously, telling people what we are up to, what we are thinking, and even where we may be. On Twitter, we do the same thing: we share what we’re thinking, doing or we comment on the thoughts and actions of others.

Despite this, I would hesitate in dumping the majority of the blame on these sites. Just looking at the last couple of weeks, we can see the empathy students displayed as a nation through social networking.

Through Facebook and Twitter, numerous people have expressed their outrage toward the Trayvon Martin case or disgust toward the Kony 2012 situation because of the awareness raised through these very sites. This support comes as a result of the feeling of social injustice toward both situations, which comes as a result of the empathy that allows us to feel this injustice.

I will admit that I have met many people who fulfill the image of a typical self-obsessed teenager that seems to lack the ability to empathize with others and is unable to or struggles to see situations from another’s perspective.

There is evidence to support the claim that empathy is a trait with which we are born because it appears naturally in children. The ability to empathize, however, can be influenced as we progress through our lives, diminishing or growing.
If we are truly less empathetic now than before, then there is not a single or dual cause. If people are becoming less empathetic, it probably has more to do with the way society is structured and how kids today are being brought up.

In this fast-paced society, many of us struggle to keep up and build a place for ourselves, which is perhaps why we sometimes fail to take a glance at the world around us. The way empathy is defined by this study is outdated and should not be measured by daily acts of kindness towards strangers or how much of our day we dedicate to thinking of others.

Martin’s case and Kony 2012 have proven that when we want – and when we feel passionately enough – we are able to empathize and feel for the wrongdoings of the world. These sentiments are strengthened, not diminished, by social networking.

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