Louis C.K. railed against smartphones on Thursday’s “Conan,” arguing that our mobile devices are getting in the way of our capacity to feel emotion and empathy.
Sure, we may text our friends more than we may ever have called them in the pre-smartphone era, but are we really connecting? Or have we evolved into a culture that uses smartphones to prevent us from feeling?
For all of the possibilities that smartphones open up, like pretty spectacular medical advancements and Amber text alerts, there is the flipside reality, one that shows the destructive cultural impact of mobile devices.
Werner Herzog’s harrowing mini-documentary “From One Second to the Next,” for example, shows lives lost or destroyed due to distracted drivers -- as if replying to a text message were more important than the responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. But the impact is subtler too, as Washington columnist Doyle McManus recently relayed in “How a demon iPad stole my summer vacation.” And you can see ripples in our cyber-connected dating and our formerly romantic love lives too.
It’s like our brains have warped. And for kids, the self-destruction starts early, argues C.K.
“I think these things are toxic, especially for kids,” he told Conan O’Brien. “They don’t look at people when they talk to them, and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ‘cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘You’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up, and they go, ‘Oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘Mmm, that was fun, I like that.’ ”
In recent weeks, our Op-Ed pages have explored our compassion deficit, and it all comes down to connection.
David Wolpe, rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, looked at why wealthy people often lack compassion. One reason: “Wealth allows people to be more independent. Those with considerable resources are less reliant on others and therefore feel less connected,” Wolpe wrote, saying rich people “in general maintain a buffer from those who are less fortunate.”
And Arlie Hochschild, author of “The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times,” looked at research showing how our “empathy deficit” is on the rise. Because empathy can be learned and unlearned, she argued that schools ought to teach children compassion.
“Educators talk about catching up to the Finns and the South Koreans, raising standardized test scores and mastering the three Rs. Meanwhile, we’ve raised our children’s self-esteem and increased their sense that they deserve things and their desire to lead,” Hochschild wrote. “But where will they lead us without empathy? Talk of empathy can be naive and misguided, of course. But thoughtful attempts to foster it in schools, and concerted efforts to expose kids to experiences that naturally foster compassion, would improve our schools and make for a better world. Bringing a little of Paul Farmer into the classroom? Now that would be real school reform.”
Given that, maybe schools should also teach children how to integrate technology into their lives so that they don’t grow up like the rest of us -- using their smartphones as emotional crutches or barriers to real connections.