Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Image from www.sxc.hu

I recently read a journal article entitled 'Empathy in the time of Technology: how storytelling is the key to empathy'

It was a revealing read, and I'd encourage you to explore it, but it also reminded me of something that occurred earlier in the year, so let me backtrack for a moment.

You may remember some time ago when I turned everything upside down on Facebook, literally. I turned my photos, all my text, anything within my power, upside down. I posted status updates for some weeks upside down as well.

At first, people in my circle of friends thought it was funny, a number of them sent messages asking how I'd done it ... but after a while, the joke seemed to wear off. First one, then several more contacted me asking when things were going to return to normal.

Comments followed in response to my upside down status updates with offhand remarks about the fact that they tired of it and would I stop? Please? Then I received a more vitriolic message from a friend for whom it had obviously gone too far.

It was a small social experiment, and I'll admit, unlikely to tell us anything profound, but I was eager to see just how important social media was to the people around me.

That some were put out, insulted even, that I was poking fun at what was for them an important part of their social agenda. Many were defensive about 'seeing the joke', and were obviously unsettled by my actions, and this brings me to my point. Social media affects many of us to a degree we're often not ready to admit.

Sites like Facebook have come upon us so quickly, with such incredible growth, that it's hard find perspective, hard to appreciate how dominating this influence has become, particularly on the minds of our young adults.

If you subscribe to PJ Manney's thoughts on empathy and social media, and I do, then storytelling and reading are perhaps the most potent tools in our arsenal to combat failing empathy in young adults addicted to social media.

I'd also argue that story building using digital media tools and other web2 applications, is equally important. Storytelling with digital media encourages the author to see applications like Facebook, and their involvement with it, more objectively. It provides a disconnect that's often lacking.

Encouragingly, recent studies suggest that those young adults spending most time than their peers, are also more likely to read more prolifically for pleasure than their peers. I choose to see this as an encouraging sign that we can't live without empathy, that it is such an integral part of who we are that we will over time, seek out those things that will restore the balance. I'm just hoping that will happen sooner rather than later, and that through digital storytelling, we might be able to speed things up a little.

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