Digital Empathy

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When I drive home from the office, I pass an elementary school and there are always shenanigans taking place.

I worry that my children are going to face bullies. They will. We all do. Regardless of the mass media attention that this has received in the past few years. Regardless of how many young lives we have lost or that still remain ruined. People often point to social media as an aggravator of the situation. A friend of mine put it best: "social media is the best thing in the world, unless you have teenage kids… then, it’s the worst thing in the world." Yep.

What happened?

When we first got computers there was not much human interaction. In the early days of modems and BBS, it was still hard to be anonymous, plus we truly wanted to connect with others who were like us. It was a small village. The Internet changed that. Social Media completely changed everything again. We believed that social media was all about this notion of a "conversation." In both of my business books (Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete), I write about why I love this kind of technology: it’s about real interactions between real human beings. The truth is, that it’s more about artificial interactions between human beings who are hiding behind technology. If we ever want to move things forward, we’ll need this technology to make us feel empathy within these interactions. It’s not dramatic. It’s a fact. So long as you can type something about something or someone and not have to look them in the eyes, this will never truly be "real." You may have seen the following clip of Louis C.K. being interviewed by Conan O’Brien about why he hates smartphones. It’s funny (so it’s worth it just for the laughs), but Louis touches on something very real and troublesome about the interconnected of our technology, and the vacuum that exists between humans when the vast majority of communication doesn’t require looking into someone’s eyes and feeling their reactions… that’s real empathy.

We need some digital empathy.


  1. Do you think that this blog post and Louis C.K.’s bit is blaming technology? That’s not my read at all. Understanding how these tools change our behaviour are an important component of solving the bigger problem. Especially, when you consider that most parents and teachers probably haven’t even recognized this very lucid insight into the human condition and how it absolves us of our empathy.

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