How does your organization view communication technology? Does digital connectivity enhance human interaction, or replace it? In an op-ed for the New York Times, renowned social psychologist Sherry Turkle took a powerful and thought-provoking look at the impact of technology on human empathy and connectedness. Her conclusions demonstrate why, in an increasingly impersonal age, retaining a human touch will be more important for companies that want to create continuous value for employees, clients and customers.
The problem with modern technology, argues Turkle, is although it cannot truly emulate human relationships, it is promoted as an adequate replacement. The stark reality is machines are unable to understand what makes humans think and feel certain ways. And instead of truly understanding us, they deliver an unreal performance of empathy.
“Machines have not known the arc of a human life,” writes Turkle. “They feel nothing of the human loss or love we describe to them. Their conversations about life occupy the realm of the as-if.” Technologists who market AI as friends or companions are not complementing but helping to dissolve our own humanity, warns Turkle. A company’s overreliance on technology for daily interactions (email, texts, automated messages, etc.) can make employees and customers alike forget what they know about real life, and lose their creativity, ability to show empathy and innovative capabilities in the process.
Technology can have incredible benefits – but only if it serves rather than dominates, and does not ultimately replace human beings. For Turkle, as she reveals in her presentations and interactive workshops, the goal should not be to make technologies with pretend-empathy but to create organizations that increase the empathic potential of their members. This means a strategy of restoring conversation in corporate environments is more important than ever before.