May Seriously Diminish Your Empathy

I mostly shut up about my thoughts on the internet a while ago.  In part because the idea that not all was well had gone main stream and in part because I began to bore myself!

For the nth time I should point out that I work in technology and consider the internet to be both wonderful but also something we need to look very hard at to ensure it serves us for good.

Our history is littered with our obsessions with new and interesting things which, encouraged by well meaning marketing people, we thought terribly cool, but which turned out to be rather bad for us.  When we look back it is easy to ridicule our forebears for embracing cigarettes, radium toothpaste, soda with cocaine in it and my favourite, radium cigarettes.





My favourite which I stumbled on while writing this and simply could not believe:


Then there is this.  Shouldn’t they be talking to each other?


“…In 2010, a team at the University of Michigan led by the psychologist Sara Konrath put together the findings of 72 studies that were conducted over a 30-year period. They found a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000.”

The whole article is here:

The whole NY Times Article that comes from is here.  It is about Sherry Turkle’s latest tome, Reclaiming Conversation.  If you think this goes on a bit…

Much of that decline is attributed to our use of the internet and primarily social media.  That study was carried out on students.  Typically outgoing, bright young things.

I am wondering if Social Media (among other online things, I’ve tried to keep this short, but I could have added on line Gaming for example) is doing so much more harm than good, that we ought to either re design it (see previous tedious rambles on that) or simply turn it off.  Not as individuals, but off altogether, pull the plug.

Empathy matters, it is essential to our being human, it is essential to our humanity.  Empathy is what causes us to behave well towards each other it is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

I have no idea what level of empathy has fallen to among young poor, uneducated, unemployed, isolated people.  I am willing to guess that it has fallen a lot further than 40%.  Every time we suffer a terrorist outrage, those factors tend to feature in the analysis of the perpetrators, as do tales of radicalisation through Social Media with its narrow perspectives, easy anonymity and lack of accountability.

The situation in Europe at present is dangerous and complicated.  The causes many, having built over centuries.  Declining empathy, arcane though it sounds, is a dangerous and destabilising accelerant though, and I suspect what is tipping the balance towards chaos.  Dewy eyed middle class concerns about ensuring that bright young things are fully rounded are a bit of a side show. The examples are many.


I suppose we could put a health warning on it.

Social Media May Seriously Diminish Your Empathy.

I doubt that will be enough.

I wonder also if we will look back with incredulity at how we allowed ourselves to embrace something that damaged our very humanity. (And yes, its good fun and I’ve learned a lot and made some new friends, blah blah blah.)

Anyway, what do you think?


So I Can Get Back To My Book

So I can get on with my incredibly interesting book on Existentialism (boy are you all gong to regret my reading that!), I need to get this out quickly.

This brilliant cartoon describes the death of Twitter, and I suspect Facebook and LinkedIn which suffer from different mixes of much the same malaise. LinkedIn is particularly cretinous these days.

The Comic Long Slow Death of Twitter

It is at once funny and insightful.

It describes the symptoms but not the causes.

There are roughly three (I bet there are loads more but I really want to get back to my book):

The business model,  which is advertising.  This is the killer.  My guess though is that we’d pay $1 per month for a service free of ads and sponsored posts, especially if it were bundled into our mobile or broadband bills. It is not complicated.

The bad behaviour, which flows from a lack of accountability generally fuelled by anonymity.  Accountability flows from authenticated identity and reputation. They are things we need to solve in the internet as a whole for all sorts of other reasons, not least that it has value and might end up being the currency we use to pay for all this.

The fact that even if we still post we have largely stopped listening to each other.  Digital media dilute empathy to zero. That is why many companies insert personal steps into digital experiences, it is the bit you remember. The larger the group, the more quickly and completely that dilution happens.  Is the magic number 150?  No idea, I don’t really care. I suspect it varies from conversation to conversation.

So,  to get the joy back we will have to:

  • Pay a little, a very little, really it is such a small sum we’d barely notice.
  • Only get to join in if we declare and can authenticate (now there is a word…) who we are.
  • Tweak the platforms to more easily support smaller conversations.

I suspect what will really happen is that the second item on my list, once solved will spawn services that will blow away the tired old prototypes that are FB, Twitter and LinkedIn so the platforms won’t get tweaked but evaporate in a puff of irrelevance

Rant over, now where is my book.. (At The Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell and unrelated to this post, except perhaps it is really).