December 2015 / January 2016 - Vol. 83

teens busy with smart phones
. Empty Empathy
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by Michael Shaughnessy

A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy among smartphone-using college students. (The Oxford dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.) In other words, in this feelings-oriented world the emotional distance between people is increasing.

According to Professor Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation, part of the decline in empathy is due to the use of communication devices. In her research she found that when youth attend a summer camp where phones and tablets are forbidden, youth quickly grow in their ability to identify what other people are feeling.

Feeling empathy is not the same as acting in love, but empathy is a significant element in loving well. A world without empathy will most likely be a world without love.

Broader but Shallower
She also found that just putting a smartphone on a table in the line of sight between any two people changes the conversation, making it more superficial. Even when people are not looking at the phone on the table they know it has the power to intrude at any point and interrupt a deep conversation. Often, the people present donít even try to have a deep conversation. The mobile phone has increased our ability to be present and connected, but constantly connected seems to lead to being less deeply
connected.

Today there is greater speed and breadth of communication but shallower relationships.

People have adopted new technologies in pursuit of greater control, only to feel controlled by them. They want deep relationships but are stuck with snack food. They are being sold ersatz empathy when they want real love. They are settling for fake and superficial online communities when they crave an authentic one.

It may be that what we offer in the Sword of the Spirit is a real answer in such a time as this.

Michael Shaughnessy Michael Shaughnessy is the Kairos director for the Sword of the Spirit both in North America and Internationally. He is the editor of the Kairos Youth Culture Newsletter. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.
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