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Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Empathy Diaries

What a life! #TheEmpathyDiaries
72, 'eh? Ma'am, can I see some ID?
I forget now how this book came my way (IIRC it may have been an Amazon recommendation), but I am immeasurably grateful it did. I've been on a reading tear across the past two weeks (while watching every day of the ominously portentious Derek Chauvin murder trial live).

I related to Dr. Turkle's memoir on so many levels. Right outa the chute, I had an "Amen" moment.

Yeah. Fundamental to the SOAP process: Look, Listen, Palpate. "Information" has to effectively abet those, not replace them.
Recall that this blog commenced as an iconoclastic (often heretical) tech diary of my work in Health IT prior to my retirement. Early on, I took no prisoners. See my "Clinic Monkey" spoof site.

Beyond Sherry's astute academic and tech observations, I was quite moved at the outset by her candid, often painful personal "memoir" revelations regarding family difficulties. I am two years her senior, born in western Long Island not far from the NYC Queens borough. All of my family hails from that area (e.g., Floral Park, Elmont). Her descriptions of her young life resonated with me vividly—"empathic" reactions in spades.
I too experienced ongoing parental turmoil. My Dad came home from WWII minus the leg he left behind on Sicily (night landing glider crash). His teen dream of becoming a golf pro dashed, he would subsequently be the chronically angriest man I ever knew, a hair-trigger combative. I mostly just feared him and tried to avoid his wrath. My Ma was profoundly clinically bipolar, hobbled by recurrent "nervous breakdowns" landing my sister and I at Grandma's in Elmont and her in "sanitariums," where the go-to treatment of the era was electroshock (lithium, where art thou?). All it did was make her angry as well. I sometimes have joked (unfairly) that it was "a miracle I'm not a serial axe-murderer" given the enervating acrimony under our roof.

By the time I was 18, I'd had quite enough, thank you very much. In lieu of college, I went on the road in a bar band. Got my first college degree 21 years later at age 39 and hung up the axe. I now joke that I'm just "an ailing, old washed-up guitar player."

I also used to joke that I traded the guitar for the keyboard—the IBM 101 PC keyboard. It paid better.

Sherry is on a bunch of videos on YouTube. e.g.,

Wonderful. Buy and read her memoir. A great life story, and a person with compelling, timely analytic observations on technology and humanistic ethics.

My favorite quote from Sherry's book.

Goes to my concerns with respect to the overlapping exigencies we face: The Covid-19 pandemic, economic turmoil, academic disruption, healthcare system stresses, climate change, pollution, menacing threats to democracy, and social/racial justice challenges.

We're gonna have to materially Up Our Game, IMO. and, time is not on our side.
“I’ve explored the human effects of science and technology since I arrived at MIT from Harvard in 1976 with a doctorate in sociology and psychology. My subject is the “inner history” of technology, how it changes our relationships, including our relationship with ourselves. Over the years at MIT, I have been able to see how easy it is for a fascination with technology to take well-intentioned people away from empathy and its simple human truths. So technologists become invested in the promise of electronic medical records and forget how important it is for physicians to make eye contact with patients during their meetings. Engineers become fixed on the idea of efficiency, and soon it seems like a good thing to prefer texting to face-to-face talk, because on screens we can discuss personal matters with less emotional vulnerability. Talking to and through machines makes face-to-face exchanges with people seem oddly stressful. And less necessary. These days, our technology treats us as though we were objects and we get in the habit of objectifying one another as bits of data, profiles viewed. But only shared vulnerability and human empathy allow us to truly understand one another.”
NetFlix miniseries documentary, anyone?


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