In his book The Shallows, Nicolas Carr expresses many concerns about the lasting impact of technology on the brains and resultant behavior of people. He describes a shortening attention span in response to interactions with new media and in many a change in work ethic. Author Hawthorne was able to enjoy peaceful contemplation in a field until the roaring sound of a train interrupted it. While for Hawthorne it was the sound of a train, for people today it is the constant alerts and feedback from the technological tools that they seek out and carry with them every day. According to Carr, this does not just impact attention to work and information. It also makes it harder for people to feel empathy. He discusses and experiment performed by Antonio Demasio, the head of USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute. They found that the constant distractions are making it harder to give the adequate amount of attention to feel empathy. He quotes Mary Helen Immordino Yang, who believed that people weren’t taking enough time to reflect and consider the position of others.
Jon Ronson, in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, focuses on the behavior of people, their actions online and how they impact others. He discusses, in depth, different cases of people taking action against a corporation or a person. In cases like the LA Fitness not canceling an unemployed couple’s membership, people paid attention and put forward enough effort to get the gym to cancel it. However, he also expresses distress regarding how people respond to things on the internet, bringing up cases like Justine Sacco and Hank and Adria, whose lives were greatly changed from being shamed online. Ronson asked the question “Has Twitter become a kangaroo court?” Someone responded that “Twitter still can’t impose real sentences” (p.56). The way he looks at cases shows that people can impose real sentences that have huge impacts on the lives of others. He brings up a young woman named Mercedes who uses the internet to speak out against injustices she sees. One example that I think relates to Carr is a young boy who was posting videos of himself abusing his cat. Mercedes and people like her were able to get the cat away from the boy, but did not look into why he might have been acting this way, like maybe he was experiencing his own abuse. Those involved in the shaming are even able to say things that otherwise would be unacceptable, for example threatening rape. It seems to me that Ronson is showing that people often react too quickly and make assumptions about things they see online, and the way that they can take it and frame it has a lasting impact on people’s lives without giving them a chance to defend themselves as they would in court. People are willing to give attention to things, but maybe it has less to do with empathy and more with wanting to be a part of the group.