Menu

Timesdelhi.com

April 21, 2019
Category archive

psychology

Consumer-focused healthcare can save lives by focusing on changing behavior

in Amazon/articles/behavior/behaviorism/CBT/Column/Delhi/diabetes/Disease/e-commerce/India/machine learning/Politics/psychology by

Everything we do in the $3 trillion healthcare market today only affects 10% of outcomes to premature death.

You read that right. All of that, for just 10% of outcomes:

That 10% exists for a reason. Genetic predisposition is hard to change. So, unfortunately, are social circumstances and environmental behavior. But that 40% of behavioral patterns — why can’t we tackle that? This is what real prevention would look like: nothing comes even close to mattering as much towards whether you will die prematurely as your behavior does.

We can do better than simply focusing on that small 10% slice of the pie; in fact, we’re looking in the wrong place. Doctors, entrepreneurs and founders need to be thinking (and treating with) lifestyle as medicine. Because behavioral change is the best and most powerful way to impact that whopping 40% slice.

Too often we think of this as the “just eat right and exercise” problem. As we know very well, that platitude will not solve our healthcare problem. The true problem is the difficulty of modifying behavior. We know this, because the platitude doesn’t work. We like to eat what we want, to exercise or not exercise if we choose. In short, humans like our patterns. They’re hard to change.

Tech, on the other hand, modifies behavior very well. Just look at the phone you’re probably reading this on, which has foundationally changed the way we communicate — along with huge other swaths of human behavior, in both positive and negative ways — from the ability to call a ride service in practically any city at any time to tracking your health to screen addiction. We know technology modifies behavior; we live this every day. So the question is, how can we target this superpower ability of tech to have 4x the ability to impact that the $3 trillion healthcare budget does?

How does it work?

Let’s think about why technology actually does work for modifying behavior. For one, it’s always there, thanks to the leap in mobile tech, whether that be phones or fitness trackers. Second, technology’s ability to do constant A/B testing essentially enables RCTs, or Randomized Clinical Trials, every moment that technology is present and being used. These RCTs are invaluable laboratories for learning about what is effective therapeutic behavior modification, or improving efficacy — and it’s not toxic. Most medical products are released and then rarely get updated (think about how old the stethoscope is!). Rolling out new versions of products has been difficult and expensive. But that no longer has to be true. The same kind of A/B testing that Amazon does, for example, to optimize ecommerce — everything from the look of the website to the flow of the experience to the nature of the shipping that you get — can be now applied to behavior modification for health. Comparing the immediate efficacy of two algorithms for lifestyle behavior modification on two different populations can happen not just over years or months — as a RCT would have to be — but over weeks and even days, improving our responses and lifestyles that much faster.

Second, applying Machine Learning to vast amounts of new data is identifying all kinds of nuances of human behavior that we aren’t nearly as good, as humans, at noticing. For example, correlating patterns with data like where you shop, when you eat lunch, what activities do you do, what shows you watch, what your exercise routine has been, how much you sleep, even perhaps whether you remember to charge your phone. Identifying the clues in our behavior that eventually add up to significant lifestyle risk is the first step towards changing and improving that behavior. Like it or not, we live our lifestyles now through our phones — ML allows us to learn from it.

And last, technology allows us to scale existing therapies in new orders of magnitude.  Programs which have proven extremely effective at behavior modification through personal interaction — such as Diabetes Prevention Program for Type 2 Diabetes — have been by definition hard to scale; computation can extend their reach into the billions. Or take for another example depression, a complex disease where the molecules involved are poorly understood: drug therapies have been challenging, but therapy, specifically CBT, has a very strong track record, and computational CBT — ie, CBT scaled with technology — the strongest.

Even conditions as mysterious and difficult as cognitive decline can be treated much more effectively with technology. This is another fascinating example where the biology is so complex at the molecular level that breakthroughs have been far and few between. On the other hand, cognitive is painfully clear at the behavior level. And it is also very clear that behavioral treatment in the form of cognitive stimulation helps significantly. In this study, for example, the auditory memory and attention capability of patients who received cognitive stimulation training 1 hour per day, 5 days per week, for 8 weeks improvement was significantly greater than those who did not.

These are big challenges to meet. Behavior is the result of thousands of small decisions at every moment of every day: do I sit or do I stand? Do I drink this beer? Even, do I take regular deep breaths? One of the biggest challenges to face is how we ‘read’ this behavior and turn it into reliable data. There’s also the issue of small sample sizes: in order to narrow down to a meaningful experiment, you need, at the moment, to have very clear definitions of behavior, which often means small sample sizes of people who always do X in Y conditions. The science of behavior and decision making itself is complex, debatable, and often evolving. And there’s the company building practicalities: to build a company in this space, you need to find people who understand clinical science, data science, experimentation approaches, behavioral science *and* product and UI.

But that’s exactly the opportunity. These things are coming; we understanding more about behavior every day, as devices enter our daily lives and health data becomes more and more fine-grained. New conceptions of roles that blend behavioral science and product design are clearly emerging. All of these means are not exclusive and can be combined into powerful ways of modifying behavior for health. Those that can connect all these dots have the ability to build companies that can take a giant bite out of that 40% — and have tremendous impact on mortality for huge swaths of the population.

There’s an old joke that plumbers have saved more lives than doctors, because improving sewers and sanitation (and eradicating the disease that went along with that) was so impactful on longevity for humans. By cleaning up the modern day ‘sewers’ of our lifestyles — not through magical drugs, complex procedures, or platitudes about prevention — but through a real infrastructure of technology that is being built right now — technology will bring an analogous impact.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Turns out the science saying screen time is bad isn’t science

in Delhi/India/Oxford/oxford university/Politics/psychology/Science/Social/social media/statistics by

A new study is making waves in the worlds of tech and psychology by questioning the basis of thousands of paper and analyses with conflicting conclusions on the effect of screen time on well-being. The researchers claim is that the science doesn’t agree because it’s bad science. So is screen time good or bad? It’s not that simple.

The conclusions only make the mildest of claims about screen time, essentially that as defined it has about as much effect on well-being as potato consumption. Instinctively we may feel that not to be true; technology surely has a greater effect than that — but if it does, we haven’t found a way to judge it accurately.

The paper, by Oxford scientists Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski, amounts to a sort of king-sized meta-analysis of studies that come to some conclusion about the relationship between technology and well-being among young people.

Their concern was that the large datasets and statistical methods employed by researchers looking into the question — for example, thousands and thousands of survey responses interacting with weeks of tracking data for each respondent — allowed for anomalies or false positives to be claimed as significant conclusions. It’s not that people are doing this on purpose necessarily, only that it’s a natural result of the approach many are taking.

“Unfortunately,” write the researchers in the paper, “the large number of participants in these designs means that small effects are easily publishable and, if positive, garner outsized press and policy attention.” (We’re a part of that equation, of course, but speaking for myself at least I try to include a grain of salt with such studies, indeed with this one as well.)

In order to show this, the researchers essentially redid the statistical analysis for all these experiments and datasets (Orben explains the process here), but instead of only choosing one result to present, they collected all they could find.

For example, imagine a study where the app use of a group of kids was tracked, and they were surveyed regularly on a variety of measures. The resulting (fictitious, I hasten to add) paper might say it found kids who use Instagram for more than two hours a day are three times as likely to suffer depressive episodes or suicidal ideations. What the paper doesn’t say, and which this new analysis could show, is that the bottom quartile is far more likely to suffer from ADHD, or the top five percent reported feeling they had a strong support network.

In the new study, any and all statistically significant results like those I just made up are detected and compared with one another. Maybe a study came out six months later that found the exact opposite in terms of ADHD but also didn’t state it as a conclusion.

This figure from the paper shows a few example behaviors that have more or less of an effect on well-being.

Ultimately what the Oxford study found was that there is no consistent good or bad effect, and although a very slight negative effect was noted, it was small enough that factors like having a single parent or needing to wear glasses were far more important.

Yet, and this is important to understand, the study does not conclude that technology has no negative or positive effect; such a broad conclusion would be untenable on its face. The data it rounds up are (as some experts point out with no ill will towards the paper) simply inadequate to the task and technology use is too variable to reduce to single factor. Its conclusion is that studies so far have in fact been inconclusive and we need to go back to the drawing board.

“The nuanced picture provided by these results is in line with previous psychological and epidemiological research suggesting that the associations between digital screen-time and child outcomes are not as simple as many might think,” the researchers write.

Could, for example, social media use affect self-worth, either positively or negatively? Could be! But the ways that scientists have gone about trying to find out have, it seems, been inadequate.

In the future, the authors suggest, researchers should not only design their experiments more carefully, but be more transparent about their analysis. By committing to document all significant links in the dataset they create, whether they fit the narrative or hypothesis or go against it, researchers show that they have not rigged the study from the start. Designing and iterating with this responsibility in mind will produce better studies and perhaps even some real conclusions.

What should parents, teachers, siblings, and others take away from this? Not anything about screen time or whether tech is good or bad, certainly. Rather let it be another instance of the frequently learned lesson that science is a work in progress and must be considered very critically before application.

Your kid is an individual and things like social media and technology affect them differently from other kids; it may very well be that your informed opinion of their character and habits, tempered with that of a teacher or psychologist, is far more accurate than the “latest study.”

Orben and Przybylski’s study, “The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use,” appears in today’s issue of the journal Nature Human Behavior.

News Source = techcrunch.com

We finally started taking screen time seriously in 2018

in 2018 Year in Review/Android/Delhi/How to Break Up With Your Phone/India/iPhone/mobile/Moment/Politics/psychology/screen time/smartphone/smartphone addiction/TC by

At the beginning of this year, I was using my iPhone to browse new titles on Amazon when I saw the cover of “How to Break Up With Your Phone” by Catherine Price. I downloaded it on Kindle because I genuinely wanted to reduce my smartphone use, but also because I thought it would be hilarious to read a book about breaking up with your smartphone on my smartphone (stupid, I know). Within a couple of chapters, however, I was motivated enough to download Moment, a screen time tracking app recommended by Price, and re-purchase the book in print.

Early in “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” Price invites her readers to take the Smartphone Compulsion Test, developed by David Greenfield, a psychiatry professor at the University of Connecticut who also founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. The test has 15 questions, but I knew I was in trouble after answering the first five. Humbled by my very high score, which I am too embarrassed to disclose, I decided it was time to get serious about curtailing my smartphone usage.

Of the chapters in Price’s book, the one called “Putting the Dope in Dopamine” resonated with me the most. She writes that “phones and most apps are deliberately designed without ‘stopping cues’ to alert us when we’ve had enough—which is why it’s so easy to accidentally binge. On a certain level, we know that what we’re doing is making us feel gross. But instead of stopping, our brains decide the solution is to seek out more dopamine. We check our phones again. And again. And again.”

Gross was exactly how I felt. I bought my first iPhone in 2011 (and owned an iPod Touch before that). It was the first thing I looked at in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. I would claim it was because I wanted to check work stuff, but really I was on autopilot. Thinking about what I could have accomplished over the past eight years if I hadn’t been constantly attached to my smartphone made me feel queasy. I also wondered what it had done to my brain’s feedback loop. Just as sugar changes your palate, making you crave more and more sweets to feel sated, I was worried that the incremental doses of immediate gratification my phone doled out would diminish my ability to feel genuine joy and pleasure.

Price’s book was published in February, at the beginning of a year when it feels like tech companies finally started to treat excessive screen time as a liability (or at least do more than pay lip service to it). In addition to the introduction of Screen Time in iOS 12 and Android’s digital wellbeing tools, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all launched new features that allow users to track time spent on their sites and apps.

Early this year, influential activist investors who hold Apple shares also called for the company to focus on how their devices impact kids. In a letter to Apple, hedge fund Jana Partners and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) wrote “social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged,” adding that “it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.”

The growing mound of research

Then in November, researchers at Penn State released an important new study that linked social media usage by adolescents to depression. Led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, the experimental study monitored 143 students with iPhones from the university for three weeks. The undergraduates were divided into two groups: one was instructed to limit their time on social media, including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, to just 10 minutes each app per day (their usage was confirmed by checking their phone’s iOS battery use screens). The other group continued using social media apps as they usually did. At the beginning of the study, a baseline was established with standard tests for depression, anxiety, social support and other issues, and each group continued to be assessed throughout the experiment.

The findings, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, were striking. The researchers wrote that “the limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group.”

Even the control group benefitted, despite not being given limits on their social media use. “Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baselines, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring,” the study said. “Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes a day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”

Other academic studies published this year added to the growing roster of evidence that smartphones and mobile apps can significantly harm your mental and physical wellbeing.

A group of researchers from Princeton, Dartmouth, the University of Texas at Austin, and Stanford published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that found using smartphones to take photos and videos of an experience actually reduces the ability to form memories of it. Others warned against keeping smartphones in your bedroom or even on your desk while you work. Optical chemistry researchers at the University of Toledo found that blue light from digital devices can cause molecular changes in your retina, potentially speeding macular degeneration.

So over the past 12 months, I’ve certainly had plenty of motivation to reduce my screen time. In fact, every time I checked the news on my phone, there seemed to be yet another headline about the perils of smartphone use. I began using Moment to track my total screen time and how it was divided between apps. I took two of Moment’s in-app courses, “Phone Bootcamp” and “Bored and Brilliant.” I also used the app to set a daily time limit, turned on “tiny reminders,” or push notifications that tell you how much time you’ve spent on your phone so far throughout the day, and enabled the “Force Me Off When I’m Over” feature, which basically annoys you off your phone when you go over your daily allotment.

At first I managed to cut my screen time in half. I had thought some of the benefits, like a better attention span mentioned in Price’s book, were too good to be true. But I found my concentration really did improve significantly after just a week of limiting my smartphone use. I read more long-form articles, caught up on some TV shows, and finished knitting a sweater for my toddler. Most importantly, the nagging feeling I had at the end of each day about frittering all my time away diminished, and so I lived happily after, snug in the knowledge that I’m not squandering my life on memes, clickbait and makeup tutorials.

Just kidding.

Holding my iPod Touch in 2010, a year before I bought my first smartphone and back when I still had an attention span.

After a few weeks, my screen time started creeping up again. First I turned off Moment’s “Force Me Off” feature, because my apartment doesn’t have a landline and I needed to be able to check texts from my husband. I kept the tiny reminders, but those became easier and easier to ignore. But even as I mindlessly scrolled through Instagram or Reddit, I felt the existentialist dread of knowing that I was misusing the best years of my life. With all that at stake, why is limiting screen time so hard?

I wish I knew how to quit you, small device

I decided to talk to the CEO of Moment, Tim Kendall, for some insight. Founded in 2014 by UI designer and iOS developer Kevin Holesh, Moment recently launched an Android version, too. It’s one of the best known of a genre that includes Forest, Freedom, Space, Off the Grid, AntiSocial and App Detox, all dedicated to reducing screen time (or at least encouraging more mindful smartphone use).

Kendall told me that I’m not alone. Moment has 7 million users and “over the last four years, you can see that average usage goes up every year,” he says. By looking at overall data, Moment’s team can tell that its tools and courses do help people reduce their screen time, but that often it starts creeping up again. Combating that with new features is one of the company’s main goals for next year.

“We’re spending a lot of time investing in R&D to figure out how to help people who fall into that category. They did Phone Bootcamp, saw nice results, saw benefits, but they just weren’t able to figure out how to do it sustainably,” says Kendall. Moment already releases new courses regularly (recent topics have included sleep, attention span, and family time) and recently began offering them on a subscription basis.

“It’s habit formation and sustained behavior change that is really hard,” says Kendall, who previously held positions as president at Pinterest and Facebook’s director of monetization. But he’s optimistic. “It’s tractable. People can do it. I think the rewards are really significant. We aren’t stopping with the courses. We are exploring a lot of different ways to help people.”

As Jana Partners and CalSTRS noted in their letter, a particularly important issue is the impact of excessive smartphone use on the first generation of teenagers and young adults to have constant access to the devices. Kendall notes that suicide rates among teenagers have increased dramatically over the past two decades. Though research hasn’t explicitly linked time spent online to suicide, the link between screen time and depression has been noted many times already, as in the Penn State study.

But there is hope. Kendall says that the Moment Coach feature, which delivers short, daily exercises to reduce smartphone use, seems to be particularly effective among millennials, the generation most stereotypically associated with being pathologically attached to their phones. “It seems that 20- and 30-somethings have an easier time internalizing the coach and therefore reducing their usage than 40- and 50-somethings,” he says.

Kendall stresses that Moment does not see smartphone use as an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, he believes that people should replace brain junk food, like social media apps, with things like online language courses or meditation apps. “I really do think the phone used deliberately is one of the most wonderful things you have,” he says.

Researchers have found that taking smartphone photos and videos during an experience may decrease your ability to form memories of it. (Steved_np3/Getty Images)

I’ve tried to limit most of my smartphone usage to apps like Kindle, but the best solution has been to find offline alternatives to keep myself distracted. For example, I’ve been teaching myself new knitting and crochet techniques, because I can’t do either while holding my phone (though I do listen to podcasts and audiobooks). It also gives me a tactile way to measure the time I spend off my phone because the hours I cut off my screen time correlate to the number of rows I complete on a project. To limit my usage to specific apps, I rely on iOS Screen Time. It’s really easy to just tap “Ignore Limit,” however, so I also continue to depend on several of Moment’s features.

While several third-party screen time tracking app developers have recently found themselves under more scrutiny by Apple, Kendall says the launch of Screen Time hasn’t significantly impacted Moment’s business or sign ups. The launch of their Android version also opens up a significant new market (Android also enables Moment to add new features that aren’t possible on iOS, including only allowing access to certain apps during set times).

The short-term impact of iOS Screen Time has “been neutral, but I think in the long-term it’s really going to help,” Kendall says. “I think in the long-term it’s going to help with awareness. If I were to use a diet metaphor, I think Apple has built a terrific calorie counter and scale, but unfortunately they have not given people nutritional guidelines or a regimen. If you talk to any behavioral economist, not withstanding all that’s been said about the quantified self, numbers don’t really motivate people.”

Guilting also doesn’t work, at least not for the long-term, so Moment tries to take “a compassionate voice,” he adds. “That’s part of our brand and company and ethos. We don’t think we’ll be very helpful if people feel judged when we use our product. They need to feel cared for and supported, and know that the goal is not perfection, it’s gradual change.”

Many smartphone users are probably in my situation: alarmed by their screen time stats, unhappy about the time they waste, but also finding it hard to quit their devices. We don’t just use our smartphones to distract ourselves or get a quick dopamine rush with social media likes. We use it to manage our workload, keep in touch with friends, plan our days, read books, look up recipes, and find fun places to go. I’ve often thought about buying a Yondr bag or asking my husband to hide my phone from me, but I know that ultimately won’t help.

As cheesy as it sounds, the impetus for change must come from within. No amount of academic research, screen time apps, or analytics can make up for that.

One thing I tell myself is that unless developers find more ways to force us to change our behavior or another major paradigm shift occurs in mobile communications, my relationship with my smartphone will move in cycles. Sometimes I’ll be happy with my usage, then I’ll lapse, then I’ll take another Moment course or try another screen time app, and hopefully get back on track. In 2018, however, the conversation around screen time finally gained some desperately needed urgency (and in the meantime, I’ve actually completed some knitting projects instead of just thumbing my way through #knittersofinstagram).

News Source = techcrunch.com

Investors are waking up to the emotional struggle of startup founders

in Brad Feld/ceo/Column/Delhi/Economy/Felicis Ventures/India/Politics/psychology/Startup company by

As the Gartner Hype Curve goes, from the peak of inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment, so goes the founder’s emotional journey.

Most founders hit the trough sooner or later, the proverbial nadir of their startup life.

The company’s business model undergoes the dreaded pivot. Teams dissipate and the foundation starts to fall apart. Startups die. Investors cut their losses and move on to the rosier pastures of their portfolio.

And what is often left is a depressed broken founder, dealing with the consequences of ‘crushing it’. But too often, its the founders psyche that gets crushed. Not much can be done about it but that’s changing.

Gartner Hype Curve: No emotional support needed

Several venture capitalists have now stepped in to address this challenge. The Felicis Ventures pledge to set 1% of investments aside to support founders development is a start. Brad Feld has been writing about his journey for years. Former investor Jerry Colonna founded Reboot to find a way to help founders establish their own path of radical self inquiry.

When I reached Jerry to discuss founders emotional challenges, he invoked the compassionate kindness of a zen monk who has been dealing with wayward children for way too long. “A lot can be done but we need to start with changing the language around this subject,” he said.

From depression to dark angels

A prominent VC told me that “we are a blend of the dark and the light’ and we need to respect both parts. I was not quite sure what he meant till I dug around and found the works of Carl Gustav Jung. Jung describes these are forces inside us – the light being the benevolent and the dark forces of greed, arrogance, self-delusion and hubris.

Jung pointed out that “the word “happy” would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” As we are forced to face our dark side, we begin to come to terms with our challenges. And it’s only then we can build our own compassion.

Those who have experienced the dark nights are able to emotionally empathize with founders, and help them become resilient. Just as a founder who has taken a company public can help a startup scale their business. Because Jung correctly said that “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”

 

This man of matter ……rose up too far in the world….(image and caption by Carl Jung. Source: “The Red Book”, circa 1930)

When we start to change the language around this subject, it can become safer and easier for founders to discuss their situation. Instead of saying “I am depressed” a different way could yet be “I’m facing dark times”. The goal is to not trivialize the magnitude of the problem, but to make it gentler in self expression and social acceptance. We are too sold on sunshine, but that’s only half of the equation.

With co-author (and friend) Brad Feld’s guidance, I am working on my third book tentatively titled “Depression: A Founders Companion” and am looking at ways of how (a) founders reflect and identify their dark nights (b) how founders endure these times and (c) how can society respond and serve them when they are at their emotional nadir.

Only if we understand these issues can we can serve each other well. If you know any founders who can share their anonymized insights with dark nights, please request them to fill this survey. It will take less than 10 minutes and can help us to collectively address these challenges.

So far, several founders have shared that the primary cause of concern is social stigma. VCs will abandon the investment, team members will see the CEO as a weak person or worse, they will try to behave differently. Even if someone musters up the courage to discuss their mental health, we as a society do not know how to handle this information. We run, hide or escape.

Often, we try to cheer up people with lame sentences or hijack the conversations by discussing our own stories. (Hint: Neither of these are effective). Not only do we need a new language, we need a new social framework. In this case, the overused VC cliche of “how can I help” is like a doctor asking the wounded patient, “so how can I treat you today”. I’ll let you guess how effective that approach can be.

Feel those feels – be vulnerable

Catherine Shu wrote in a post  that asking for help when you are depressed is one of the bravest things you can do. Asking for help makes you vulnerable, but it does not mean you are weak. It does not mean you are deficient.

Brad Feld writes that  “I encourage you to let yourself feel the emotions you are feeling.”

It’s a line his wife Amy uses with him all the time: “Brad, feel your emotions. Don’t suppress them. Just feel them. Process them. And then reflect on what you are feeling. Any, more importantly, explore why you felt them. It’s probably uncomfortable. But it’s part of being human. And, while tragic, we can learn from it to help ourselves, and help others.”

And Sam Altman, the former head of Y Combinator  has weighed in on the subject, writing:

“… a lot of founders end up pretty depressed at one point or another, and they generally don’t talk to anyone about it.  Often companies don’t survive these dark times.

Failing sucks—there is no way to sugarcoat that.  But startups are not life-and-death matters—it’s just work.

Most of the founders I know have had seriously dark times, and usually felt like there was no one they could turn to.  For whatever it’s worth, you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t be ashamed.

You’ll be surprised how much better you feel just by talking to people about the struggles you’re facing instead of saying “we’re crushing it”.  You’ll also be surprised how much you find other founders are willing to listen.”

These struggles are not unique, but they are individual. That said, the best way to overcome them is as a community and these early steps from investors should go a long way toward building that community.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Empathy technologies like VR, AR, and social media can transform education

in Amazon/ceo/cognitive science/Column/Dara Khosrowshahi/Delhi/empathy/harvard/India/literacy/Mexico/Politics/psychology/social media/social media platforms/Tim Cook/Uber/Virtual Reality by

In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker makes the case for reading as a “technology for perspective-taking” that has the capacity to not only evoke people’s empathy but also expand it. “The power of literacy,” as he argues  “get[s] people in the habit of straying from their parochial vantage points” while “creating a hothouse for new ideas about moral values and the social order.”

The first major empathy technology was Guttenberg’s printing press, invented in 1440. With the mass production of books came widespread literacy and the ability to inhabit the minds of others. While this may sound trite, it was actually a seismic innovation for people in the pre-industrial age who didn’t see, hear or interact with those outside of their village. More recently, other technologies like television and virtual reality made further advances, engaging more of the senses to deepen the simulated human experience.

We are now on the cusp of another breakthrough in empathy technologies that have their roots in education. Empathy technologies expand our access to diverse literature, allow us to more deeply understand each other and create opportunities for meaningful collaboration across racial, cultural, geographic and class backgrounds. The new empathy technologies don’t leave diversity of thought to chance rather they intentionally build for it.

Demand for these tools originates from educators both in schools and corporate environments who have a mandate around successful collaboration. Teachers who are on the front lines of this growing diversity consider it their job to help students and employees become better perspective-takers.

Our need to expand our circles of empathy has never been more urgent. We as a nation are becoming more diverse, segregated and isolated by the day.

The high school graduating class of 2020 will be majority minority and growing income inequality has created a vast income and opportunity gap. Our neighborhoods have regressed back to higher levels of socio-economic segregation; families from different sides of the track are living in increasing isolation from one another.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Dean Hochman

These new empathy technologies are very different than social media platforms which once held so much promise to connect us all in an online utopia. The reality is that social media has moved us in the opposite direction. Instead, our platforms have us caught in an echo chamber of our own social filters, rarely exposed to new perspectives.

And it’s not just social media, clickbait tabloid journalism has encouraged mocking and judgment rather than the empathy-building journey of a great piece of writing like Toni Morrison or Donna Tartt. In the rich depth of literature, we empathize with the protagonist, and when their flaws are inevitably revealed, we are humbled and see ourselves in their complex, imperfect lives. Research has since proven that those who read more literary fiction are better at detecting and understanding others’ emotions.

What follows are several examples of empathy technologies in bricks and mortar schools, and online and corporate learning.

Empathy technologies enhance human connection rather than replacing it. Outschool is a marketplace for live online classes which connects K-12 students and teachers in small-groups over video-chat to explore shared interests. Historically online learning has offered great choice and access but at the cost of student engagement and human connection.

Outschool’s use of live video-chat and the small-group format removes the need for that trade-off. Kids and teachers see and hear each other, interacting in real-time like in a school classroom, but with participants from all over the world and from different backgrounds.

Live video chat on Outschool

The intentionally of curating a diverse library of content is a key difference between the new empathy technologies and social media. Newsela is a news platform delivering a bonanza of curated, leveled content to the classroom every day. It’s the antidote to the stale, single source textbook, refreshed once a decade. In the screenshot below, children are exposed to stories about Mexico, gun rights and Black women. Teachers often use Newsela articles as a jumping off point for a rich classroom discussion where respectful discourse skills are taught and practiced.

Newsela’s interface.

Business leaders are increasingly touting empathy as a critical leadership trait and using these technologies in their own corporate education programs for leadership and everyday employees. Google’s Sundar Pichai describes his management style as “the ability to trancend the work and work well with others.” Microsoft’s Satya Nadella believes that empathy is a key source of business innovation and is a prerequisite for one’s ability to “grasp customers’ un-met, unarticulated needs.” Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Apple’s Tim Cook round out a cohort of leaders who are listeners first and contrast sharply to the stereotypical brash Silicon Valley CEO.

To deepen employees empathy, cutting edge corporations like Amazon are using virtual environments like Mursion to practice challenging interpersonal interactions. Mursion’s virtual simulations are powered by trained human actors who engage in real-time conversations with employees. I tried it out by role-playing a manager discussing mandatory overtime with a line worker who was struggling to keep two part-time jobs. The line worker described to me how last-minute overtime requests threw his schedule into chaos, put his second job at risk and impacted his childcare situation.

For Mursion and Newsela, empathy-building is an intentional outcome of the product. They are deployed in learning environments where trained educators can use them as scaffolding tools. With Mursion, employees can practice hard conversations and receive feedback from their facilitators and peers. With Newsela, teachers can use the gun rights article as a jumping off point for a richly facilitated group discussion.

What the broader tech industry can take away from educators’ adoption of empathy technologies is that storytelling, elevating common elements of the human condition and taking a humanist approach to building products will help us break out of our tiny echo chambers and by doing so, enrich our own lives.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Go to Top