Empathy and the Internet: Positive Potentials vs. Risks
AbstractInternet enables the exchange of information with incredible speed, allowing at the same time users to share their feelings, thoughts and opinions. This exchange that can be carried out virally spreading the interest about people and events that transcends our geographical and social horizons, represents a civilizational progress when it’s not recognized just as technological progress, but also as an increasing process of humanization of man and society. Empathy, which was once reserved for the narrowest community, can now be expanded globally. This optimistic view, however, doesn’t take under consideration that human capacity for empathy isn't limitless. Perceptual, cognitive, and emotional overload can lead to saturation and desensitization or dissociation where there is apperception of others, but without any emotional involvement. The paradox of empathy lays within its possibility of being used as a means of control and manipulation: it’s then a pure mimicry of empathy. It can serve a better acquaintance, rapprochement and understanding of other people and cultures, or, on the contrary, non-relations such as impersonation, inauthentic communication, and ultimately online harassment. Therefore, the possibility that Internet gives us to be connected to others is less important than the personal attitude that each individual has towards it and to others via the network. Internet isn't empathic by itself, but it can help one’s basic empathy, which is developing in vivid interpersonal contacts in the real world, to expand to the remote and sensory unobservable others. In this article we’ll analyze the empathic potential of social networks, as well as their features that can narrow or even shut down empathy.
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