Graham Plaster

culture + diplomacy + ethics + smart power + technology + humanities + entrepreneurship + philosophy

Empathy Wars

The effect of information overload is to make you care more and at the same time care less.

The velocity and volume of information is ever increasing and competition drives every communicator to be better at stealing your heart. Do you care more about our military suicide rates, cancer, the tornado, the kitten in the tree, terrorists, Oprah’s latest book recommendation, Serial, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, vaccinations, immigration … where is your heart? Information overload means that the signals that connect with you are so well designed that they were the ones that managed to penetrate through the noise. Information overload also means you are continually being hardened against the non-stop onslaught of signals. The effect of information overload is to make you care more and at the same time care less.

Caring More

Nowadays people do care about things. They care deeply, but their cares are highly fragmented and decentralized across myriad causes and concerns. For those things that do achieve monopoly in our minds, there are often roots of fear. As Seth Godin explains, the basic reason why many people buy things is to make fear go away. As a result, the messages that are framed within a major human fear often penetrate through the noise and make you care more.

Caring Less

We are desensitized to signals. A commercial can come on calling for donations to end world hunger, scrolling images of emaciated children and impoverished families. For the most part we are still able to return to our show a few minutes later with only mild emotional disturbance. Similarly, the news can flit between interest pieces and breaking events in a way that sometimes feels like a slap in the face. The result is a mental callous, for better or for worse, allowing us to continue with our pleasures while the world around us is so obviously suffering.

The Proper Posture in the Information Age

We are in an information war, an empathy war in which all sides battle for your passions and your loyalty. The proper posture is one which cultivates emotional health, human connectedness, global awareness, and practical involvement in local and international causes. The proper posture is, in essence, love of self and others, perhaps putting others above yourself, but nevertheless taking care of yourself enough to give the best of yourself to the world. This means getting enough time away from all of the noise so you can clear your head and reevaluate your deepest values, then engaging the stream of information as it inundates without becoming calloused or ambivalent.


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