Saturday, February 1, 2020

Books: "The Future of Feeling" In The Tech Era, By Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips

The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World
By Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips
Little A; hardcover, $24.95; paperback, $14.95; ebook; $5.99

Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips is a journalist and editor who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and her writing on law, finance, health, and technology has appeared in many publications, including the Establishment, Institutional Investor magazine and Law360. She also writes a blog and newsletter about empathy featuring reportage, essays, and interviews (more information at

Ugolik Phillips' new book is The Future of Feeling, an insightful exploration of what social media, artificial intelligence, robot technology, and the digital world are doing to our relationships with each other and with ourselves. 

There is no doubt that technology has made it easier to communicate, but it also is easier to shut someone out when we are confronted with online discourse. Why bother to understand strangers, or even acquaintances, when you can troll them, block them or just click 'unfriend' and never look back? However briefly satisfying that may be, it is eroding one of our most human traits, empathy.

Ugolik Phillips shares her own personal stories, as well as those of doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers, journalists, and scientists about moving innovation and technology forward without succumbing to isolation.

"In the grand scheme of things, online scuffles and tech gadgets can seem unimportant," Ugolik Phillips writes of empathy. "But if being plugged in affects our ability to empathize, there's actually something much deeper at stake than online discomfort. Being able to recognize - if not always fully understand - another person's mind-set or perspective is about more than having civil conversations. Empathy is also key to child rearing, and participating in a human community, both online and off.

"My own concerns about the effects of this online life collided with my work as a journalist when I started reporting on health-care technology and got more familiar with the ways our lives are increasingly embedded in the digital world. Algorithms, activity trackers, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are sometimes advertised as benign, even savior-like, innovations. The Fitbit can help use lose weight, a virtual trip to the beach can help us de-stress, and algorithms tracking our internet activity may even be able to tell if we're depressed or suicidal. But as I learned more, I couldn't help but wonder: If our interpersonal connections are already this frayed by phones and social media, how much worse could it get as tech becomes even more pervasive and we become even more dependent on it? What will happen to empathy in an even more tech-obsessed future?"

There is a discussion on how technology companies are aware of the issues their products have created and are trying to create ways to remedy it, to mixed results.

The Future of Feeling is the perfect book for anyone interested in how our brains work, how they're subtly being rewired to work differently, and what that ultimately means for us as humans.

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