If I spend just 10 seconds looking at my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds, I realise the only thing being fed is their primary master, "Me, Myself and I". The mere fact that the word "selfie" exists in the Oxford Dictionary is indicative of the digital, dopamine-fueled world we live in.
Australia has been a bit slack in our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others; the very definition of empathy. Look at Tinder, where with a mere swipe to the left or right we either accept or dismiss a whole human being, having no more empathy for them than you would a deck of cards. And why wouldn't we? It feels great to be in control; it feels great to be liked. 'Likes' are our social currency, they validate us.
But as a nation, we have started to wake up to the shallow veneer of affection that social media affords us. We are holding up our phones and saying "No more falsities, give us something meaningful, something that makes us feel truly human'. The most downloaded Apps in the App store currently are Ad blockers. Ad blockers literally stop the endless barrage of soulless commercial messages from brands.
Statistically, Australians are more alone than ever before -- and that is only going to get worse. The number of people living on their own in Australia is set to climb to 16 percent by 2020 (ABS). For most, the search for a 'like' is nothing more than a cry for empathy. The rate of suicide in Australia is testimony of this cry for another human to simply reach out and sympathise. It is a national emergency to say the least.
The irony is that while technology can be partially to blame for our self-absorbed tendencies, it will also be our saviour. Moore's law of computing has held true, and as the power of computing doubles every two years, this new technology is saving us from spiraling into the vortex of endless 'likes'. Technology, as it gets smarter and cheaper, will help us feel more emotion for ourselves and ultimately others.
Mindfulness Apps are the new hot ticket to deliver some digital calm. For kids, Smiling Mind does wonders and for adults Headspace is the winner.
Virtual reality is fast becoming a real force within society and will critically change how we empathise with others. Preya McMahon, MD of Zing VR said with Virtual Reality the passive narrative is gone. According to McMahon, it will be "replaced by complete immersion into the story, creating bonds and emotional reactions unlike anything we have ever experienced before and will change the way we tell stories forever and give us a new lens in which to feel for others".
Even health and wellness experts believe the extremism of diets and hard-core exercise regimes is waning to deliver a new empathy to oneself. When we see Nike shift from "Just do it" to " Feel better for it" and Reebok's "Be more human" campaign, we know they are playing on a bigger trend they see in society.
Wellness expert Matthew Craig, Director of Bounce Rehab, claims it's the year of being empathetic to yourself. The trend is moving away from strictly following health diets such as Paleo, 5:2 and 'I Quit Sugar' -- away from strictness itself. The trend about taking the best of these diets and workouts and working on what works best for you as an individual.
The thriving health-food industry is producing food that promises to make you feel better, the gift of emotional wellness not just physical. The Greene St Juice shop in Melbourne has drinks called "Life force energy" and "Personal power" -- all highly emotive propositions to feel some self love.
But it gets better. Once we can be kinder to ourselves we will start to show empathy for others, again the tech-fueled collaboration economy is delivering that. When we share each other's resources, such as through Airbnb, we get a really accurate idea of what it is like to be in someone else's shoes (or, in this case, house). According to collaborative economy expert Rachel Bottsman, 52 percent of Australians have participated in the collaboration economy. These businesses are the anti-establishment and deliver a new equality to society. A new empathy, if you will.
Can we envisage a world where Facebook no longer asked us "What's on your mind?" but "What's on your neighbour's mind?"
These days when I jump in my Uber, I look up from my Instagram feed, talk to the driver and ask him what his day has been like. I'm not sure why, but I am always surprised that the human interaction of just asking someone about themselves is more deeply satisfying than a notification of another thumbs up on Facebook.
I guess that's just part of being a human being.