Sunday, October 11, 2015

#284 / Empathy #4

Sherry Turkle, who is the Abby Rockefeller MauzĂ© Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, is urging us to "Stop Googling." 

"Let's Talk," she suggests. 

Turkle's article, making these suggestions, appeared in the Sunday, September 27, 2015 edition of The New York Times. And Turkle is pretty convincing (though I am not about to give up Googling cold turkey and completely). 

What I found most compelling was the following observation from Turkle's article:

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.

Turkle relates a plummeting decline of empathy among college students to the spiraling use of cellphones. Whatever the cause, empathy is precious

In this life, we are given an inescapable assignment: we must live together or die. To quote again the words of Ellen Bass:

What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

There we are. All of us. And it is empathy, that precious gift, that allows us to see our condition, and seeing it, to come together and survive.

Image Credit:


  1. Thanks for the rec. Much to think about there.

  2. Turkle offers no actual evidence to support her speculation that cell phones caused any of the findings in the Konrath paper [1]. Instead she argues from non sequitur, anecdote, and opinion which is unscientific. In fact, I question whether the effect in this paper is even real. The outcome of a meta-analysis like this is only as good as the papers it examines. These are all campus surveys. Trends in campus surveys change over time, e.g. increase in efforts to expose prejudice of minority groups. This can show a changing trend even when the empathy of attending students is unchanged. Before we start looking for something to blame for the decrease in empathy, we should conduct a high-quality study to test whether the effect is even real.



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