After reading Shelly Turkle’s article this week, I discovered the thing that resonated most with me, was the discussion about empathy- or the seeming lack thereof. The idea that empathy in our society is on a decline, paints a very stark picture, couple that with pinning the aforementioned decline on technology- I’m really having a difficult time processing that. Turkle site’s a very interesting study that was done with American college students and compared to a previous study that was done. While it was a very interesting study, some things that I found myself questioning and wondering about, were:
- Is it not possible that this specific group of people were perhaps just ‘less’ empathetic than the historic group?
- If I reflect upon my time and experience in University, I was a young, new mom working several jobs just to make ends meet – I wasn’t very generous in my time or money given, there wasn’t anything to give! So perhaps there is a fallacy in thinking that the amount of empathy one has in that age group is indicative of how empathetic people are.
- Furthermore, we can question here the differences in the historic amounts of empathy shown, as I would argue the amount of people attending University in this age group over the last few decades has increased dramatically- and as such the people being studied may (at that point in their lives) have less opportunity to be around others and considerate of others.
- Who created the ’empathy’ scale that was used, and what are the biases that it holds?
- Why, when this scale is used to women appear “more empathetic”?
Additionally, I found it interesting that ‘white people’ were less empathetic, although, I find that easier to explain, because ‘white people’ are supported in society and set up to achieve success much easier than those whom fall beyond the ‘ghostly centre‘ (Graham & Slee). As such, I find it easy to believe that ‘white people’ (as described in the study) are concerned less with the well being of others, than they are themselves. But I digress…
Getting back to Turkle’s article and the points she raises about student’s no longer feeling empathy, and a seventh grade student who ‘didn’t have feelings’ about not including another student, or the ‘device free camp’ that caused children to be able to read the emotions and expressions on other kids faces.
I have a difficult time connecting the one student’s response to a societal breakdown of instilling empathy, people can have countless ‘disorders’ and diagnoses which go diagnosed, and could account for such a thing. Additionally- humans are multi-faceted beings with different ways of dealing with situations, and as such, this specific instance could easily be an instance of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ when the students felt threatened in the situation and shut down.
In reading the study, it is apparent that they list many possibilities for why society could be ‘declining’ in our empathetic values. They discuss family life, and the change in family dynamics, the increased striving for success (career goals and educational goals).
As I was toiling with all of these ideas, it was like the digiverse was trying to speak to me, and let me know that all is not lost! I came across a Ted Talk titled: Zak Ebrahim: I am the son of a terrorist
If we can see evidence of someone who was raised on hatred of others, and has made a choice to live differently, how can we simply write of the possibility that empathy cannot be a fluid thing, that comes and goes, or increases and decreases based on ones circumstances?
Then, even more hope appeared via my twitter feed via @courosa and @ with their recent blog which speaks to ways we can work to be more empathetic, and teach the ways to be more forgiving in a world that remembers!
All and all, I don’t agree with Turkle, I can’t – I think we can work with technology and be empathetic. We may need to build these skills, but it can be done.
I choose hope!