Who or What is to blame for the lack of digital empathy?

Blog, Digital Futurist, Generational Collaboration

In the world we’re living in today, we have never been more divided, especially here in the United States.

While at the same time, we’ve never been more connected, attached to our devices 24/7 having instant access to people around the world..

Yet for many of us, we’ve never felt more alone. Right? 

The beauty of social media for many in the world today is that it’s leveled the playing field. It’s given everyone a voice. Yet the reason we have a problem with fake news, bad news, and people finding success by selling unicorns and rainbows is that social media has genuinely given everyone a voice to say whatever they want.  

But let’s be honest social media wasn’t created to stop bad people from doing bad things or prevent stupid people from doing absurd things. Social media simply eliminated our ability to ignore and hide from these things and gave us access to people and actions that, for centuries, had never been exposed.

No social media isn’t to blame for this problem; we are!

I believe each of us owns a piece of the blame, and we each can fix it. Yes, the obvious reasons such as not caring enough to do our research and our preference to spend 10X more time discussing and highlight the bad/fake in the world opposed to the little attention we give to the good things happening around us each day. 

One of my most popular keynotes in 2019 was titled “Digital Empathy,” with the focus of putting a spotlight on the idea that digital “should” empower us to have a deeper understanding of the world around us. Thanks to digital, we have direct access into people’s past, unfiltered access to the digital breadcrumbs influencing people’s actions in the present, and in most cases, plenty of insights into their plans for the future.  

This digital access provides us a 360-degree view that at the very least should give us the framework we need to be empathetic towards those we are connected to.

Now let’s be clear this doesn’t guarantee trust just as authenticity or transparency don’t guarantee trust as they both provide a window into who someone is allowing us to determine faster and in most cases to a better degree how trustworthy someone is or isn’t.

Shouldn’t a 360-degree view enable Empathy?

Empathy isn’t just about having a 360-degree view, we must have the desire to feel, understand and share in the feelings that this view provides us. Or as I like to break it down on stage as:

It’s a desire to understand someone from all sides, being able to walk in their shoes and feel where those shoes have been without judgment or own bias.

In the world we’re living in right now, 2020, I believe social media has gone through a pretty fun evolution.   

  • From it’s only a passing-fad period to a time not long ago.  
  • To the days where both platforms and marketers were doing what they could to remove the “social” out of social media. 
  • To a world-changing vehicle for movements and cultural transparency.
  • To become the preferred medium for the leaders of countries to share unfiltered thoughts and even engage with each other. 
Roosevelt-Radio-to-World-Leaders-Tweeting

The idea that the preferred communication between world leaders over the last year has been Twitter is pretty mind-blowing if you sit back and think about it. Let’s take politics out of it and just think about the fact that President Roosevelt conveyed his thoughts to the US via fireside chats on the evening radio addresses that were scripted and weekly yet revolutionary. To today where we get instant access to the president’s real-time views and we can all agree his tweets aren’t scripted or consistent. Now some would argue that this access to a world leader can do more harm than good but let’s save that argument for another time. 

Social media has given a voice and exposure to all the bad that has been happening in the world. And I believe we all feel that it was long overdue, but we had to get to a tipping point for us to get to a position where we move could level set and forward.

Role of Social Media Driving Forward Empathy

As we move forward, we must start fresh, not from the mindset of hiding the bad or the hate or putting technology first instead, each of us making it our mission to build a foundation of trust in this hyper-connected world.

We are living in an age where building trust must be a top business priority, which is requiring a drastic shift in mindset across company cultures. For years on stage, I’ve focused on helping audiences under the value of community, and how we as consumers don’t trust billboards or websites or marketers; we trust people we can relate to, which in many cases are our social media connections.

Interestingly enough in 2020, the micro-influencer and marketing education of today’s consumers might have pushed us to a point where a mass majority of consumers now question trusting their social media connections.

For many, our friendships and relationships will be put to the extreme test over the next 9 months in the US as our political divide injects itself into every aspect of our lives. Forcing us to realize our network isn’t as trusted as we think as most connections were built based on someone’s alliances and our assumed relatability with that person.   

Sadly though, this lack of trust has been building for years, and marketers have always evolved or, in some cases, moved to the next shiny objects in hopes of the consumer never catching up. Social Media has given the consumer more information, access, and a louder voice than ever before, making it near impossible for today’s marketers to continue their old ways.

For those stuck in their ways or not willing to change, they look at this new lack of trust equation as a social media problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth and but we must acknowledge this type of thinking exists and impacts the world we are living in today. With the role, impact, and power of social media still being questioned today, it comes down to two different approaches:

  1. We Blame social media and technology for the bad in this world and for forcing us to examine ourselves and others in ways that were uncomfortable and, in many cases, troubling.
  2. We recognize and own the fact that we are all human, We are all vulnerable, we all make mistakes, and we have an opportunity to be better humans and leverage social media and technology to make the world a better place!

The answer is clear to me, as I do believe that we are living in the most significant time in history.

But as I said earlier to make the world a better place and disrupt the influx of bad news and fake news, we must all do our part.  

We must do our part and that starts with us owning and telling our authentic stories while amplifying the good in the world, and lastly, removing judgment and leveraging our digital 360-view to better understand and feel for those around us.

In part 2 of this series, I will breakdown how we as leaders, can lead with vulnerability and authenticity while maintaining and, in many cases, increasing our authenticity. 

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