I'm a frequent NPR listener. I caught part of an interview with Sherry Turkle on my way to work one morning. Sherry Turkle is an MIT researcher who has been studying the digital culture for nearly three decades. She was talking about her now book "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age".
One thing she said that really caught my attention was that there had been a forty percent decrease in empathy among college students of over the past twenty years. She went on to say that much of this has occurred during the past ten years, and she attributed it to the widespread use of smartphones.
The following is from the radio station's webpage:
"A Pew Research Center study finds that 89 percent of cell phone owners use their phones during social gatherings, yet at the same time, 82 percent of those surveyed said that phones hinder conversations in those situations. In her new book, "Reclaiming Conversation," MIT's Sherry Turkle argues that a lack of face-to-face communication driven by increased smart-phone use is diminishing people's capacity for empathy."
You can listen to the interview here
I was thinking about this on my way to a Mexican restaurant for dinner that night. On my way into the restaurant, I noticed a very pregnant lady standing beside a big pile of stuff. She was in and out of the restaurant several times while I was eating dinner. As I was leaving, I saw her standing by her stuff talking to one of the waitresses. I approached her and offered help. She had apparently been renting a car from the place next door. She had returned there to rent it for another week, but they refused and made her remove all her belongings from the car.
As I approached, she was frantically calling and texting "friends" asking for help. It seemed that no one would come to her rescue. She refused my offer for help, saying the she couldn't trust me because I was a man. I left, but I went back the following morning to see if I could discover what became of her. When I got there, her pile of stuff was gone, but an abandoned sleeping bag had been left behind. It appeared that someone had been huddled there all night long.
I went into the car rental center and asked if they knew what had become of her. The clerk got tight lipped, then said that the lady had some history with the rental company and was on their “do not rent” list. I wondered if the rental agent had felt any empathy at all for the customer as she was turning her out on the street with nowhere to go and no way to get there.
I next went into a paint store in the same shopping strip to inquire about what they knew. They said that the police had been there in the morning talking to the lady for about an hour. They didn't know what happened to the lady nor her stuff, but I couldn't help wondering if being homeless in itself was considered a crime in Sunnyvale, CA.