The internet is often blamed for isolating us from one another. Is it possible to flip the script?
As a tech company with a mission to humanize the online dating space, the question "How can technology bring us together?" is something we think about all the time. As countless articles with titles like "Why the Internet Makes Us Monsters" remind us, the internet can be an intensely isolating place, where relative anonymity and detachment combine with disinhibition to make us behave toward each other in ways we never would in real life. (Just check the comments section of your favorite blog for confirmation of this. Or better yet, don't.)
What's less obvious within this narrative are the ways that the internet has also been used as a force to bring us together. Today in the Seattle Weekly, Kelton Sears points out the power of social media not only in giving individuals the resources to expose injustices in realtime, but to aid in a process of "collective sense-making," where solidarity and solace may be sought in the wake of tragedies such as the police shootings that are weighing heavy on our collective conscience this week. And as award-winning author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates has observed, this kind of violence is nothing new, but the technology to capture and stream that violence in realtime is.
Technology may be neutral on its own, but how we choose to use it can expose, reinforce, amplify, and even redirect currents that are already present in society. New technologies have the power to help us create a more just, empathetic world if we let them. But first we have to get our intentions straight.
When it comes to dating apps, interfaces and design choices are an obvious way that creators can intentionally cultivate a spirit of connection or isolation. Our #MoreThanMeat campaign, created in partnership with experimental media agency Hello Velocity, explores the way that the swipe-based interface and "shopping for humans" display contributes to a common feeling of dehumanization and objectification on popular dating apps like Tinder.
The alternative to dehumanization is radical empathy, vulnerability, and connection.
Whether we're conversing with anonymous strangers in comment threads or looking for someone to spend time with, the less we see those individuals as human beings with thoughts and feelings just like ours, the more likely we are to engage in objectifying behavior.
Here are some ways that all of us can temper the effects of dehumanization on our online interactions:
1) Slow down your expectations
The on-demand economy of the internet promises speedy delivery of virtually everything you could ever want; can you really blame people for thinking other people should work the same way?
But if the people you're talking to aren't robots, that invariably means taking a little time to get to know someone. Patience is a virtue, particularly when it comes to making connections.
2) Be yourself
This doesn't mean forsaking tact or common courtesy; it just means that you have to be honest about yourself if you expect the same in return. Perhaps this should be obvious, and yet the more we engage in "personal branding," both on and off dating apps, the more we end up selling an image rather than presenting a complex, fully formed human being.
But it's impossible to keep up an image forever. The more you are able to integrate your real thoughts and desires with that image you project to the world, the more based in reality and ultimately satisfying your interactions will be.
3) Remember that the people you meet online are real people, not just pictures
This is the flip side of #2, and it's where the skill of empathy comes in.
Talk to each other. Spend time learning the things that can't be captured in a photo. Remember that you are worthy of dignity and respect, and so is every person you meet online, even if there's no personal chemistry.
Practice having empathy for people who might not interest you at first glance: you might be surprised by what's under the surface.
4) Spend at least as much time listening as you do talking
This really is the key to all great communication and yet it's easy to forget. You already know what you think about things. The real learning takes place when you truly hear someone else's lived experience from their perspective. What you hear might not always interest you, and that's to be expected. What's important is that you exercise those powers of receptivity to the unknown, because this is where true insight will strike you when you least expect it.