There are two important aspects of this article, which are technology and empathy. What do you understand by technology and empathy? Technology is a general term for the processes by which human beings customize tools and machines to increase their control and understanding of the material environment (i.e., developing a more advanced tool from the pre-existing ones, the mobile phone evolution).
It is very interesting to note that most people think of technology only in terms of tangible products; computers and software, aircraft, pesticides, water-treatment plants, birth-control pills, and microwave ovens, to mention a few. There are other factors such as engineering know-how, manufacturing expertise, various technical skills and so on which are equally important.
Empathy can be defined as the human ability to put oneself in another’s place to understand better what others feel or think. When discussing technology, empathy shouldn’t be considered. Still, through the evolvement of technology to the productions of mobile agents who interact and work on behalf of their users, the word empathy came into the scene. Empathy is a core part of human reasoning and communication. With the rise in technology leading to the development of communication tools, it has become more crucial and important in the human relationship with technology.
Some time ago, I was opportune to be in a technology seminar tagged “Artificial Intelligence and its Ethics.” During this seminar, the speakers dwelt much on technology and empathy. How has technology affected the way of doing things and what is its result? For instance, with the emergence of new technologies in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, and so on, empathy and ethics come into question because these gadgets don’t create themselves. They are products of humans and they relay whatever is programmed in them (and even the best of them that learn from the regular happenings and occurrences still learn from humans).
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TECHNOLOGY AND EMPATHY
There are lots of questions we ought to ask ourselves when considering a subject like this. Initially, technology doesn’t deal with human empathy; it is developed to assist humans in various activities. But over the years, the more technology advances, the more the empathic relationship. How technology affects human empathy depends on your view and opinion; you cannot just say technology has reduced human empathy just because that’s the way you view it, or that’s the way it affects you. Looking from both the negative and the positive sides of technology to empathy, there are important points to behold. Technology is learned and discovered daily, so the empathic relationship also changes as we learn new and advance in technology evolution.
Technology and empathy will become a vital discussion in the future because as mobile agents’ development comes around, it is surely going to affect human empathy. So many people have argued that empathy is not a keynote for discussion when talking about technology so far. The technological means does its job well and doesn’t cause any harm. There are further discussions about this and several questions must be asked. What was the state of interpersonal relationships between human beings before technological innovations such as social media came in place? How has it improved communication and relationships? How has it improved heart-to-heart discussion and human expression of the truth?
The relationship between technology and empathy wouldn’t have existed if there were no human technological aids. As said before, technology is not created to end human beings’ existence, but the wrong use of it might spell an end to it. For instance, if a bad person creates a bot (robot) to perform his or her bad atrocities but presents it in a good way or if it’s been hacked by outside to do a different task rather than its initial programmed task.
INFLUENCE OF TECHNOLOGY ON HUMAN EMPATHIC BEHAVIOUR
So much has been said about the relationship between technology and empathy, now we are checking what has been the influence over the years of technology on empathy. If there is a relationship between the two, no matter how small it might be, we cannot talk about influence. Because of the rise in social media use, there has been a rise in research investigating the influence of social media use on adolescent’s psychological development.
As one of the arms of technology, social media has been at the most important and prioritized daily adventure by the old and young. There have been many positives about it, including improvement in self-esteem, social competence, friendship closeness, digital marketing, talent showcase, and assistance or help online.
There have also been negative reports on how social media has affected human empathy, which is the inappropriate use of social media, which includes social bully, exposure to pornographic content to underage groups, the easy spread of fake news and information, and an increase in the number of internet scammers.
Reports have shown that social media gave rise to an increase in internet fraudsters and scammers. Empathy leads us to experience and understands what other people are feeling, but in a world where you can keep yourself busy online without having to relate with peers. It has been said that children who grow alone without having to relate with peers or people find it hard to relate with people later in their lives.
From this perspective, it is safe to say that empathy is reduced among people. The goal of empathy is “interrelationship,” but with the rise in technological appliances where people can be alone without feeling the need of anybody. A survey was carried out among some American college students. The result shows that with the increase in the use of the internet, especially social media, empathy among these students is on a decline.
There are some arguments for why technology use, especially social media, has negatively affected human empathy. One of these arguments is that, even though social media has given us the opportunity to make new friends and facilitate connections online, it doesn’t enhance communication and social skills during offline meetings.
Another argument that is similar to the first one is that it is hard to tell how the person at the other end of the chat is feeling. You can’t tell what their body language is or their facial expressions, and you are limited to what the chat says. This means that a person might pretend while online and easily get away with it. Also, people have argued that technology has reduced empathy through social media because anybody can claim to be anything online.
WHY TECHNOLOGY REQUIRES EMPATHY
Engineers in various fields of technology do not undermine the experience of one important figure, which is the “End User.” Whenever there is an innovation, the engineers have the end user’s experience as their main priority. The end-user is the person who relies on technology to solve some critical problems and ease their workload. So, the users’ experience will prompt the engineers or the developers to improve on their subsequent editions of the device.
How can this be achieved? A thorough understanding of human behavior plays an important role in creating a user-friendly application or device. This is where empathy is needed in technology innovations. The developers and engineers are not creating for animals. Their sole goal is to assist humans in reducing their workload and getting jobs done easily.
This cannot be done without putting human feelings and relationships into consideration. Even in the creation of games, one of the things that makes it very interesting for the end-users is getting themselves immersed in the game (i.e., they can relate to the gaming experience). Since we know that empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings, in technological creations, empathy is needed to balance the act of being able to think and feel like an end-user. What is the gain when one creates assistance and people find it so hard to use or relate with it? So, the developer or engineer must use empathy to understand the behavior of the end-users.
Moreover, it is known that people who take a very logical approach to understand an end user’s perspective are at risk of over-analyzing the situation on the ground and getting disconnected at the end. When attached and engrosses in emotions over a situation, trying to understand what the end-user might be feeling might result in sympathy.
Sympathy brings about an unproductive cycle of criticism. It won’t lead to any solution because sympathy only leads to feeling (sorry) for the potential end-users of the technology to implement rather than feeling with them. When the concept of empathy is applied to technological implementations, it leads to a stronger end-to-end process. It provides viable solutions to the problem of why the technology innovation in question was thought about.
Finally, the relationship between technology and empathy has come a long way to what it is presently, right from its (empathy) application in the development and implementation of the technological appliances down to how it influences the technology’s end-users.