Finding Community and Empathy Online
Finding Community and Empathy OnlineiStock

The online world can be isolating — and it can even contribute to rage, depression and extremism.

But technology and the web can also be used to foster community, understanding and even spirituality. Professor Jamil Zaki says that while popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter are programmed to amplify people’s weaknesses like vanity and fear, there are places online designed to encourage connection and empathy.

Zaki authored a book on the subject, "The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World," and teaches an undergraduate class titled "Becoming Kinder." His article "The Technology of Kindness" appeared in Scientific American.

“Technology platforms don't sort of help their shareholders by making users feel happy or socially connected,” he says, “but by keeping them online.”

Online giants favor what former Google ethicist Tristan Harris calls “extractive” technology, which takes advantage of people’s vulnerabilities.

But Zaki’s article discusses a more empathetic alternative — what the Center for Humane Technology calls “regenerative” technology that highlights healthy interactions over outrage or fear.

“I guess the message of regenerative technology is that there are tons of people, millions of people who, if they could, would want to interact in a more productive and kind way online,” he says. “The question is, how do we create those opportunities for them and make sure that they're available to everybody?”