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What is Empathy?

 

Empathy is how we treat absolute strangers. It is our ability to put ourselves in the situations that others are going through.

When we communicate face to face with others, the mirror neurons in our brains help us deal with the other person’s facial expressions and cues that their body is sending. As our brain interprets this data, our levels of dopamine rise when we hear something nice in what they’re relaying to us. Similarly, there is a spike in the stress hormone, cortisol, when we hear about trauma related events.

This is how we connect. This is how we build out social currency, by being understanding and diplomatic about others emotions and feelings. This is how we find common ground, create rapport and build social networks in real life.

 

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No Tone, No Emotion?

 

Each of us seems to have a different definition of what freedom of speech means. Just look at the online landscape of content, be it YouTube, Twitter or Tiktok, and you will understand what I’m talking about.

Communication in our digital age is becoming more and more linear. Our online messages to our friends and bosses have no tone, none of our intended emotion and can’t demonstrate our nonverbal cues. And can you imagine a live video feed like this where a teen was threatening to commit suicide for hours on end (and eventually followed through) had in its comments section? “You’re better off dead.” Imagine typing this out anonymously versus saying it to someone’s face.

A passive act like reading and that too on a flat screen is leaving us unable to process the intended emotion behind it. People who neglect the non-verbal side of communications, often leave an ’emotional vacuum’ which is harmful for themselves and others. With AI barreling down us into the future, there’s an urgent need for emotional mastery – the art of understanding ourselves and others. If AI understands us better than our own needs and what we must put into our shopping cart next, then we’ll become puppets in our own future.

 

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A Humane Future For Our Digital World: 

 

The point is, in our mad rush to build sentient (self-aware) robots, we’re losing our human edge. But, there’s hope. Empathy is a learned skill. It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When we learn to be empathetic, we can understand others and become more acceptable of them without passing judgement. When we see things from other’s perspective, we begin to understand that their rude behavior or their lack of respect towards us stems from a deep lack of respect for themselves.

While humanity is in the throes of technology, robots will overtake us as soon as they learn how to empathize. We’ll lose the battle, if we don’t mend our ways with digital detox and digital minimalism.

In the end, our life is simply an exercise in how often we choose to display our empathy. Who knows what our future holds for us? Robots might take our legs out for a walk in the woods for us, find our misplaced keys which chips attached to our forgetful brains and also call our mothers using our simulated voices.

But, when your mother answers the phone call, will the robot pick up the nuances and subtleties in her tone enough to understand that she is feeling lonely?

 

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