Technology & Empathy
Literature Review on technology's empathic role and the interlink between the two.
Some scholars believe that the driving force behind our evolution is in fact not solely survival and reproduction, but also the need to connect. They believe our species is continuously seeking to broaden and deepen mutual connections in order to transcend ourselves. Author Edith Cobbs explained it beautifully when she wrote:
“The need to extend the self in time and space- the need to create in order to live, to breathe, and to be – precedes, indeed, of necessity exceeds, the need for self- reproduction as a personal survival function “ ( as quoted in Rifkin, 2009; 40).
We achieve transcendence through technology, which is an extension of our human minds; an embodiment for our ideas. With the emergence of language, our most influential technology, our minds were finally freed from limitations (Kelly, 2010; 37,44). Language enabled the extension of human social networks and complex social environments. A new school of neurocognitive scientist now believe language developed as an outlet for empathetic expression (Rifkin, 2009; 96) which then gave way to other technologies, further enhancing our empathetic extensions. Currently we are living through the most effective of these technologies with the digital form. The internet is allowing for global interconnection, granting us the ability to access information and each other at a quicker pace and a greater volume than ever before.
Technology has been present in our lives since the Paleolithic ages, working as an extension of our physical, and most recently, our mental limitations (Kelly, 2010; 37). As technology advances, so do our civilizations, bringing people together, heightening our empathetic sensitivity and expanding our collective consciousness (Rifkin, 2009; 2). The final stage of our technology will be artificial intelligence, as many believe this might very well be our final creation. This paper will aim to define the importance of empathy within the development of our technology and the role it inhabits in our biology. It will explain how digital technology when used for the abilitation of empathy, allows us to profit both individually and as a species.
The term technology has been subject to various interpretations. In his book Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, media theorist Marshall McLuhan referred to technology as both the medium and the media. The medium is defined as “any extension of ourselves," while the media is that which “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (McLuhan, 1964: 19-20). Author Kevin Kelly shares a similar opinion when describing the technium, a word he coined to define the “greater, global massively interconnected system of technology.” Technium includes hardware, culture, art as well as social and intellectual institutions (Kelly, 2010;11-12). Sociologist Daniel Bell had a more explicit interpretation. He referred to the tools we adopt to broaden our mental capacities as intellectual technologies. These technologies arguably have the greatest continuing influence on the way we think (Carr, 2010; 44-45). Despite all terminologies, technology is understood to be the tools we use as amplifications of our human capabilities; whether physical or mental, these are extensions of ourselves. Technology is deeply rooted in our humanity and allows us to expand on it, as anthropologist Amber Case points out, “technology ends up being more human than technology, because we're co-creating each other all the time” (Case, 2010).
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