The wo/man behind the machine

There is no doubt that digital platforms have transformed our methods of communication, giving us ever more scope and opportunities to reach out to one another in instant and impactful ways. Nowadays, even while in transit, with a few taps on our phone, we can join international meetings, sign up for events, order goods to be delivered immediately and even vote on important issues. Much of the time we are interfacing with automated sites, but in many of our other interactions, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we are engaging with real live people at the other end and our actions have genuine consequences for them.

I think too often our ability to ‘click and unclick’ according to our whims has inured us from the impact of our actions, and just because we have the ability to disengage so effortlessly, does not absolve us of our responsibility to the real life sentient individuals at the other end. We’ve all had horrible experiences of being berated, dismissed or even ghosted through texting or social media platforms. For me, most recently, I had a tourist from one of my guided walks give me a one-star review because I had to cancel a tour due to my mother being in hospital – just because she could, without any accountability for her behaviour.

For every interaction, regardless of the medium used, we have a moral obligation to treat one another with respect and dignity, and to consider one’s actions as fully as you would if the individual – with all of their feelings and fragilities – were standing right in front of you. Just because it’s easy to dismiss people online does not make it right.

The value of communicating in person has now become even greater than ever because when you’re face-to face, it’s more difficult to be indifferent and unaccountable, as you are actively engaging and resonating with a humanity that you know and feel to be in yourself.

 For all of its undeniable benefits, technological innovations in communication are also progressively chipping away at our genuine, if flawed experiences of being human and eroding our capacity to be kind and empathic with one another. We should not abuse our privilege of being able to reach out to one another in so many multifaceted ways by devaluing those we are connecting with and shunning our responsibilities to act respectfully and compassionately with the real-life people at the other end of the virtual world.


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