There are millions of people who want to interact with others in a more productive way online—but how can we empower them to do so? Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness talks to NPR’s Here & Now about technology and empathy, and how to intertwine them, to make a better, and more human, future for us all.
“Technology platforms don't help their shareholders by making users feel happy or socially connected, but by keeping them online,” said Jamil Zaki in a recent interview for NPR’s popular program Here & Now. And when keeping people online is prioritized at all costs, it’s easy for social media companies to see all engagement as good engagement—even though things like anger, vanity, and drama are a huge pull to keep people coming back. How can we turn that around and use social platforms to promote social goods, real connection, and supportive communities?
Zaki, the Director of Stanford’s Social Neuroscience Lab, mentions apps like KoKo, where people can go to ask for, or give, emotional support. Studies show that the users of this platform who found it the most rewarding weren’t who you’d necessarily think: “Believe it or not, the ones who had the sort of most positive outcome were not those who were receiving help, but the ones who were giving help to others,” Zaki explains. “Oftentimes we think of kindness to others as something that sort of will, deplete us. But instead, it turns out being kind to others helps us as well.”
As it stands right now, the world wide web can be a dark and even dangerous place—but it’s not without hope. As individuals and companies alike start to better understand the true value of empathy—something Zaki explores in detail in The War for Kindness—the internet can evolve to better integrate it. “I think if you rewind to 10 years ago and look at an old issue of Wired, people were breathless thinking about the wonderful global community that we'd be able to have through the internet,” said Zaki. “And I think that that potential remains.”