In 2018 the SXSW conference took on a new direction for its conversations around interactive technology. It shifted from the idea that the digital ecosystem is driving a new paradigm for people to adapt towards the message that technology should better serve humanity. Susan Lahey summed the conversations up to say “By creating tech to achieve commercial ends, without understanding how it would impact people, we’ve done great damage. It’s time to repair it.” It’s this same message that I share in my book Humancentric. That technology fails unless it means something to someone. We are bestowing a responsibility to human beings to consider people in their commercial models and digital ecosystems. Here lies our most significant advantage over technology, our ability to empathise. As Greg Satell so eloquently writes “a computer will never strike out in a Little League game, have its heartbroken, or see its child born. So it is terribly unlikely, if not impossible, that a machine will be able to relate to a human as other humans can.”
Empathy means: I know how it feels to be you – is this something technology could ever understand? I would suggest not. I do, however, believe it’s something technology can help us facilitate and scale.
Empathy is why social technology has been such a powerful disruptive force. It’s created the ability to replicate empathetic relationships in a digital economy.
As P.J. Maney explained back in 2015, ” we can see in the incredible emotional outpouring of support on social media around the tragic murders in Charleston, the quick change in opinion in the Western world regarding same-sex marriage and the growing support for equal rights for women and girls in their communities around the world.
Empathy is created when we discover the things we share. Verona, by Matthew Nolan, is a dating app that pairs Israelis with Palestinians. Using a cellphone, it asks questions like, “What are you most passionate about?” and finds the similarities in people who, based on religious and political issues, should otherwise have little in common. By emphasising our common traits, empathy can lead to romance.”
It’s important to note that social technology itself is not empathetic, it’s the people who use the technology to facilitate conversations that create the empathetic interaction.
Empathy Driven Skills
So what are the skills we need to succeed in a digital world? If empathy is our edge in the digital economy and the technical skills industry increasingly becomes commoditised and driven by the gig-economy, how do we develop the right skills to succeed.
It’s a discussion I’m having around my seven-year-olds education, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that his future success will be rooted in empathy and not technology. He will naturally learn technology skills, it will be so entrenched in his world that he can’t avoid it. Interpersonal and empathetic skills, however, are a completely different story, these are skills that will need to be actively developed – for our children, our employees and our leaders.
Succeeding in a digital economy, people need to learn to leverage their empathic skills in almost every aspect of their work:
1. In designing user interfaces
2. In writing emails
3. In communicating and collaborating with teams
4. In facilitating tech-infused conversations
5. In communicating complex ideas
6. Developing internal processes
7. Creating a product,
8. Designing marketing and sales collateral
9. Leading teams
Thanks to empathy, we can see why technology will never replace humanity. We can also see how we can make the most of the digital revolution.