Tag Archives: smartphones

The Empathy Of Communication

In The Pathology of Communicative Capitalism, David W. Hill alerts us to the power of empathy, a skill under siege in the digital age:

Empathy is a craft of understanding and responding to other people. It requires attentive communication, listening to others, and responding to the other person such that communication progresses whilst keeping the differences between interlocutors intact, so constituting a meaningful encounter since the other person is met on his or her own terms. Is there any time left for this kind of empathetic communication? Is there any space available? (50)

I asked similar questions in my book, The Intimacy of Communication, earlier this year, wondering aloud if there’s “space for intimacy in a hyper-connected world.” It’s nice to see I’m not the only writer concerned about smartphone addiction in what’s known today as the attention economy.

Empathy is not extinct, of course, but it’s definitely not trending on Twitter. It’s hard to connect with humans across the table from us when our heads are buried in our smartphones. I can’t recognize your uniqueness or meet you on your own terms on a first date, for instance, when I’m lost in thoughtlessness on Facebook.

At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, I admit I’m worried about kids these days, the cohort known as Generation Z. Gen Z follows Gen Y, also called millennials, which follows Gen X. Anyone born after 2001, the theory goes, is part of Generation Z. Given we’ve reached the end of the alphabet, I hope we haven’t reached the end of the evolutionary line.

The more I see kids attached to electronic devices, the more I sense we’ve been invaded by Generation Zombie. Rather than pick their parents’ brains for knowledge or existential templates for approaching the world, Gen Z wants to eat them. They know everything, in screenshot form. They’re born digital consumers browsing through history, with no concern for the past. “No ideas,” to invoke the spirit of poet William Carlos Williams, “but in images of images of things.”

You can’t empathize with an avatar when you’re trying to kill it, even if the human behind it is your best friend in real life. Pretty soon the character of empathy will be harder to find than the rarest Pokémon.

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Words With Adversaries

Yesterday, a thought: I’m a college-educated, middle-class white American male with a loving family—how sad can my universe be? Yes, I have an illness, but it’s not who I am. It’s time to get my head out of my ass—even if it’s just a slow, calculated maneuver. Listing people who piss me off is a good start:

  1. Trump Supporters. Go ahead and vote for the Donald. He’ll make America great again—for rich white assholes looking to make billions on the backs of the weak and exploited.
  2. Frat Boy Alpha Males. We get it—you’ve got a big dick. Stop posturing—you’re just as small in the grand scheme of things as everyone else you put down.
  3. Militant Pro-Lifers. Murdering innocent people sounds more like you’re anti-life.
  4. Obama Haters. We get it—you don’t like black people. Or Mexicans. Or adults who can read beyond a fourth-grade level.
  5. The National Rifle Association. Protecting the rights of domestic terrorists across the USA.
  6. Religious Fanatics. No, you don’t know God’s will. Stop enumerating my sins while discounting your own.
  7. Ted Cruz. We get it—you don’t like black people. Or Mexicans. Or adults who can read beyond a fourth-grade level.
  8. People Who Love Their Smartphones More Than Human Beings.

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Death Of The Waiting Room Magazine

I’ve come to eulogize an old friend. The waiting room magazine is dead. Long live the beep-beep, click-click, tap-tap of the outpatient smartphone!

Sick people used to avoid eye contact at the doctor’s office with a dogeared People, a tattered Men’s Health, an Us Weekly fresh from the bathroom. Now they stare down at their phones, mesmerized by their own importance. Oh, another text. You must be loved.

How will I know who’s going to win the 2011 World Series? Does Mitt Romney have enough of the women’s vote to beat Obama?

The waiting room magazine takes us back in time, far away from the exhausting omnipresence of Now. We don’t believe in yesterday. Tomorrow’s just an auto-update away.

Even the Pope takes selfies. Heaven help us if he tweets Cross emojis when the next shipment of communion wafers arrives.

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The Nine Billion Names Of God

In The Perfect Crime Jean Baudrillard references Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Nine Billion Names of God” to set up his critique of virtual reality and our desire to actualize the world in its totality.

Clarke’s story centers on a group of Tibetan monks who for centuries have been transcribing with great care the nine billion names of God. Logging the final name, we’re told, will trigger the end of the world.

It’s a tiresome task so the monks call in technicians from IBM. Computers finish the job in a few months.

On page 27 of The Perfect Crime Baudrillard describes man’s fate: “As they walk back down into the valley, the technicians, who did not really believe in the prophecy, are aghast to see the stars going out one by one.”

I believe the monks not only knew their project would end the world but actively wished for it.

The rise of IBM and its solution-focused IT professionals facilitated a quicker exit. Computers relieved the monks of their duties. Ethics and the Middle Way no match for algorithms and HTML.

Computers relieve us all from the burden of being human. Tools for the realization of every fantasy, computers fulfill our secret wish to disappear. Social media posts serving as our collective suicide note.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops communicate for us, but not necessarily on our behalf. “I’ll text you,” we say, as if the text creates you—a “you” we never meet. If the medium is the message, today the message is singular: “Show me your text and I’ll show you mine.”

In the valley of the shadow of tech we are all monks—all “IBMers”—exchanging the pleasure of face-to-face interaction for the stupor of screen-to-screen manipulation.

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Till Text Do Us Part

From the greatest graffiti artist of our time: Banksy (via The Guardian)

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Bullet Spoof

After Obama took away my guns, I sobered up, hopped in my truck and went straight to Walmart to reload. I’m a family man, after all.

My cell phone’s a weapon too. I text militia buddies between tactical drills in my backyard, posing for selfies in my finest fatigues.

Imagine both in one convenient package: the cell phone gun. Shit just got real.

Cell phone guns would have all the killer apps. Folks could sign up for the Don’t Tread On Me plan, brought to you by your independent concealed-carry mobile carrier.

Cue Wayne LaPierre, the voice of the NRA: Act now. Before Hillary assumes the throne.

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If Sartre Married A Kardashian

Way back in the twentieth century Sartre famously declared: “Existence precedes essence.” You exist first, Sartre said, then you build a life. You are nothing more—or less—than the choices you make. As a condemned-to-be-free consumer in the Digital Age, I’ve discovered new ways of applying Sartre’s catchphrase.

Facebook precedes friendship

I’m not friends with someone unless we’re on the same page: Facebook. Before Mark Zuckerberg stole from those dopey twins and set the social media world on fire, people connected on a personal level. Facebook eliminates the need for genuine communication. And yet we’re socializing more than ever. Without accepting my friend request you’re just another stranger. Even if we’re twins.

Google precedes memory

Don’t know what I mean? Here let me Google that for you. Eons ago when elders passed down stories via word of mouth, memory played a vital role. Today our myths assume database form, milliseconds from our fingertips. It’s a far cry from oral history. But if you’re at work don’t Google anything with “oral” in it.

Twitter precedes mourning

People used to die in peace, away from cameras and smartphones—and smartphone cameras. Die today as a celebrity and the world will tweet its condolences. There are no private ceremonies anymore. Everyone’s an eloquent eulogist exalting your character in one-hundred-and-forty characters or less.

Instagram precedes eating

Enjoy your chicken enchiladas after capturing the essence of the dish in a shot creatively captioned: “Best lunch ever!”

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