What Makes Empathy So Powerful In Technology? – Hacker Noon

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Recently I have been exploring how empathy can be instilled into technology and why is empathy a powerful part of what is lacking and what is present in tech.

There are arguments which show that technology lacks empathy and vis versa it creates immense amounts of empathy.

This article in the New Yorker explores how in certain cases there is a vacuum of empathy in technology applications. Where as this article in the observer explores how tech can either lacks or is empathy.

One book I have been reading is called Applied Empathy by Sub Rosa founder Michael Ventura.

In this book a few applied use cases are explored and frameworks for applied empathy are developed.

To address the question of:

What Makes Empathy So Powerful In Technology?

I will explore how the 7 archetypes of empathy outlined in Michael Venturas book can be developed around profile types in tech and how each type gives a different power.

The 7 empathy archetypes described are:

  1. The Sage — be present here and now
  2. The Inquirer — interrogate assumes truths
  3. The Convener — anticipate the needs of others
  4. The Alchemist — test and learn at all costs
  5. The Confidant — develop the ability to observe and absorb
  6. The Seeker — be confident and fearless
  7. The Cultivator — nurture with purpose and intentionally grow

In the book a detailed description for each of these is explored and a positioning matrix is developed to allow you to discover how much of each of these archetypes you are yourself.

This article online also goes into greater detail as well.

A separate framework is established for applying to technology products — I have been exploring how each of these archetypes can define a user’s journey and how each can be applied in combination with others to address the needs of each type of archetype.

The Sage — be present here and now

In this archetype the user wants a way to detach and focus on the here and now. For most technology products we try to pull people into them rather than engage with the world around them.

I think there is an opportunity here to explore more seamlessly integrated technologies such as the nest or august door lock — one book called the best interface is no interface by Golden Krishna explores this.

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: Being present and voiding noise is a key part of how we interact and spend our day apps like Flipd and Forest are making a great first step to clear distractions from our phones to be more present in the real world.

The Inquirer — interrogate assumes truths

For technology today this is often addressed with in-app chats or help sections — alternatively how can this be developed into a method for self discovery — why doesn’t each product should have it’s own internal search functionality to the same extent as Google or Bing? In questions and answers.

For example, in using an app that helps manage my finances, I would like to ask the question:

Why am I not saving as much money as I want to? and see an applicable response to me / information to help get me there

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: having the ability build a connection with the user in a real way — having that link to ask questions and be insightful creates power for the tech and the user.

The Convener — anticipate the needs of others

Quite a few experiments and tech companies to do this — automated selection and suggestions based on your previous history — to anticipate can in some use cases mean ease of use. One professor, Moran Cerf, from New York has taken this to another level to anticipate our selections:

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: given that tech can offload decision making for us, this is extremely powerful however true anticipation of our desires is a mix of regularity and deep understanding of the present.

The Alchemist — test and learn at all costs

A core ideology behind almost every tech company today is the process of iteration and feedback to improve their product — I ask myself though why isn’t the focus on enabling the user to better understand iteration and expansion in the use of the product?

For example, a mobile app which lets you order food online — could there not be explicit experiments within the app to help maintain your dietary goals?

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: to learn we need to experiment and discover what works for us as individuals if tech can help guide us through that experimentation process power can be given!

The Confidant — develop the ability to observe and absorb

At the core of what most technology products are is this — they let us log our information, conversations, wants and desires into an app which enables us to do certain things.

A question I ask myself is how can we in-turn translate in to becoming the primary beneficiary from this information.

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: like a diary technology can help us track and log information in an infinite way, discovering the insights from this information is one way to really give power to the user.

The Seeker — be confident and fearless

This archetype as well as the last one is much more abstract as to be confident and fearless in quest for new information is part of what the technology companies are building towards however most of the time the focus is on internalizing the information and seeking quest for the business rather than the user in individual specificity.

As a seeker myself I find myself turned down blind roads by misinterpreted assumptions made by technology on my own behaviour or in conversations with others — being human we make mistakes and technology does not always act as a good mode to express mistakes — emails, texts, phone calls, websites, apps, devices etc. can often be misinterpreted and our true seeking quest is only discovered when we send hand written letters or meet someone in person.

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: each day we seek new information whether it is on instagram or feedback from a selfie that was taken via likes, the power I find rests in the feedback loop between seeking information and getting immediate valuable feedback.

The Cultivator — nurture with purpose and intentionally grow

Here is the ideal goal for many products in market — a tool, an app, a device, a pill, a book … all that will change your life and let you grow in ways you have not discovered before.

I wonder though what is the feedback loop required to enable a more intentional and natural experience with each of these types of products to let a user adapt with where they are in their life and adjust accordingly.

Why is this powerful? My hypothesis: in technology the thought that I can grow by using a small tool or widget becomes exciting if I was not able to do this before — this hook is powerful.

All Types In Combination

My view for the current combination of types for software and hardware products — I find weighted towards the confidant and alchemist archetypes — this is interesting from the perspective as we give our secrets to a computer and allow the computer to experiment however lack the anticipation and present part of value.

Figure 1: Archetype Positioning for Tech Products

To summarize each archetype has a different meaning and purpose when applied to technology — how we apply and balance each of them can drastically shift how we use, gain value, and develop products.

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