How can we understand the complexity of human networks, especially when they are massaged by algorithms that drive our social media? Empathy can put us in other people’s shoes. We can try to understand their perspective. Empathy is a requisite perspective for the network era. Empathy means engaging with others. The ability to connect with a diversity of people is the human potential of the internet: but it takes effort.
B.J May shared his story on ‘How 26 Tweets Broke My Filter Bubble’, which enabled him to see the world beyond a workplace that he described as, “All men, all heterosexual, all white”. He decided to follow Marco Rogers’ advice to use “Twitter as a way to understand viewpoints that diverge from your own”. At the end of this experiment, which turned into a permanent practice, May concluded that you can learn when your mind is open, but it can hurt.
“Every one of my opinions on the issues at hand had been challenged, and most had shifted or matured in some way. More importantly, however, was this: The exercise had taught me how to approach a contrary opinion with patience and respect, with curiosity and an intent to learn, with kindness and humanity.” —B.J. May
May’s reflection was directly linked to his engagement with others, often fully so. It hurt to learn. He learned socially, as we have for millennia. We need time for reflection, but even more so, we need experiences to reflect upon. This makes our learning personal: felt in our gut. Real learning is not abstract. Social learning is about connecting with others. It requires empathy.
In the digital era we are only as good as our human networks. Our decisions reflect the diversity of our networks. Complex problems do not have simple solutions and require a deeper understanding of the context. But our close-knit social groups will not provide us with the diversity of knowledge we need to navigate the complexities of our networked world. Simple solutions, or worse, those based on our emotions, will fail us.
Most of our established institutions are not helping us address complex challenges such as climate change and global refugees. Even our markets are singularly focused on short-term profit at the expense of communities and the environment. Individuals need to step up. Individuals connected through active and engaged social networks can be the force for positive change in our society. This requires not just skills, but empathy for others. We learn about other people by engaging with them.
Big data is a false prophet. Violating individual privacy to sell advertising may be a dying business model. Stop listening to the purveyors of silicon snake oil. Even the future of management is humanity, not big data.
“A workforce that receives insufficient emotional attention from management will resist change or participate half-heartedly, no matter what threats are made or rewards are promised.
Having no emotions themselves, intelligent machines are incapable of empathy. Even if they could be programmed to fake empathy realistically—which is improbable—it would have little impact as long as people knew they were talking to a machine. Thus, intelligent machines may become very useful support tools, but are unlikely to displace the best managers.
Moreover, as automation advances there will be even more demand for top-tier techies. Engineers, computer designers, data scientists, etc. will be increasingly able to write their own ticket. Yet they, too, are human and need emotionally supportive and encouraging managers. Otherwise, companies will have a hard time winning loyalty from these priceless talents.” —How Automation Will Rescue Middle Management