On The Death of Empathy.


According to Dictionary.com, “empathy” is described as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another.”  To put it more succinctly, empathy is the ability to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.”

I think empathy is dying, and it needs our help. 

it doesn't take much more than turning on the nightly News to see a profound lack of empathy in our culture.   In fact, the issue has spread all the way up to the highest office in the land, President of the United States.  President Donald J. Trump is a man who has been adulated by his fans, and elected (at least in part) for his lack of empathy.   One doesn't need to search too deeply to find Donald Trump political posters printed with things like "Trump 2016: Fuck Your Feelings!" or "Proud irredeemable Deplorable";  Referencing Hillary Clinton's comment calling trump supporters "Deplorables" due to their support of Donald Trump in spite of (and likely because of) his more controversial comments during the campaign.   Including, but not limited to his mocking of a disabled reporter during a campaign speech.   Trump's apparent lack of empathy has been seen as a huge positive by his supporters.   And they, in many cases, have followed suit.  Taking this chance to rail against what they have considered to be a culture poisoned by political correctness.   Trump, in their minds, has given them the opportunity to “speak freely” again.   Now, so emboldened, they wear their old bigotries and hatreds proudly once again.

Those bigotries on their own are bad enough,  but attitudes like those amongst those social groups can lead to a distinct reduction in empathy for people outside those particular social groups.

You can see this effect in the recent immigration debate happening in the United States.  President Trump has been stoking fears about criminal illegal immigrants coming over the southern border since the beginning of his campaign.   Despite the fact that the overall numbers of people coming over the border illegally has been in decline for over a decade.

Despite this fact, he has railed harshly against illegal immigration,  calling it one of our top national security concerns. 

He has even gone so far as to start construction of a wall on the border, one he says he wants to get the Mexican government to pay for.   He has also enacted a zero-tolerance policy on the border, meaning that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally is detained, regardless of the context.   This had recently led to families seeking asylum being detained while they awaited a hearing in front of an immigration judge. 

Worse still, until an outcry caused an executive order to be written, the children of those families were removed from their parent's custody and sent to hastily constructed detention facilities along the border.   Some in abandoned Walmart stores,  others in Tent Cities in the hot Texan desert.   The lack of empathy involved in implementing a plan to strip children from their asylum-seeking parents and squirrel them away in what amounts to internment camps is stunning.   And was (quite frankly) shocking,  at least to me. 

Paraphrasing a post from Facebook:

A gigantic warehouse floor with sectioned-off cages is not acceptable. Nor is a tent city in a 105 degree part of Texas. Health and Human Services deem such conditions to be technically within the limits of the law, but the fact is that those children are STILL being treated as nothing more than animals. Children who committed no crime and did no wrong and are too young to even answer for any associated crimes do not deserve to be penned up like goats and cattle. They get food and shelter. They’re forced to sleep on the floor with blankets (and maybe pillows). Or if they are lucky, in military style barracks. They have no privacy, little opportunity to play and be free and grow. These conditions may *technically* be within the limits of the law, but they are hewing to the absolute bare minimum and more closely resemble “barely humane.”...

...Do these children get a reasonable education? Possibly, but what does that education entail- American propagandist materials, perhaps? Religious-right views on morality, white Jesus and “justice?” Do they participate in arts and crafts, which are essential to child development and exploration? Are they visited by child psychologists to watch for signs of depression or aggression? Are the people watching over them simply warden’s deputies or trained child-care specialists? If the children get out of hand or act up or have panic attacks, as children without their parents are wont to do, are they properly cared for or are they threatened with punishment by authoritarian entities who carry nightsticks, tasers and guns on their hips?...

...It’s NOT their fault that they were dragged into a bad situation. It’s also not their fault that many of them were dragged OUT of bad situations. They should not bear the burden of their parent’s decisions. They should not be punished for situations that they had zero control over.

As expected, the reaction from some of the more extreme Trump supporters on social media was horrific to put it kindly.  Calling the South American undocumented immigrants violent criminals, animals, dogs, vermin, and an infestation.  The lack of ability to see these people as fellow humans who in many cases were just trying to make a better life for their family was frankly depressing.  

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of examples of Trump supporters who felt terribly for these people but simply prioritized our national safety above their lives.   While I disagree with these people, I can understand their feelings.

In the eyes of some of these Trump supporters however, these people had been reduced to a status that was somewhere just shy of human.  They were utterly unable to distinguish the fact that these asylum seekers were real people who felt that they were in such danger or desperation that they needed to pack up their family and what little they could carry, and flee to another country.   Leaving everything and everyone they know behind.  To those extreme Trump Supporters, these people were no longer people, but simply a scourge, an evil, a group to be removed for the good of the country.   Nothing more.

This process of "othering" can in it's worst cases lead to individuals who become violently radicalized against people outside of the social group with whom they identify.   This is the mechanism which was weaponized by the Nazi's during the holocaust, leading to the ostracization, then internment, and then eventually death of 6 million Jewish people.   Lest you think we are past this kind of horrific activity, it's still in use to this day in places like Darfur, where a policy of ethnic cleansing has resulted in the deaths of nearly a half of a million people.

Unfortunately, this tendency towards othering (at least to some degree) is part of the fabric of our humanity.  Humans have always tended towards our tribal nature in one way or another.   From packs of hunter-gatherers millennia ago, to todays nations, religions, and even sports teams.  It's our nature to seek out groups of like-minded people with whom you can identify.   It’s one of the major reasons sports are so influential in our culture.   We all yearn for a team to root for and a team to vilify.  But as our culture becomes more global, and the world gets smaller,  it becomes much more important to make sure we do as much as we can to not insulate ourselves.  and to treat our "others" with empathy.  

Unfortunately, the more I look, the less empathy I see.

Studies have shown that Liberal/Progressively Minded people tend to be generally speaking more empathetic than conservatives, who tend to be more pragmatic.  But that liberal sense of empathy is trumped (pun intended) by our affiliations to our political groups.  So, I’m sorry Liberals, but we are just as guilty in this death of empathy as anyone else.    

The group liberals show the least empathy towards is none other than the Trump supporting Republicans themselves.   They are our “other”.  

In fact, I bet some of the more liberal minded among you read the earlier parts of this article thinking to yourself about how terrible and evil those Trump loving Republicans are.  After all, how can anyone who is capable of thinking things that horrific have morals?  How could anyone agree with their stance?   The people who do agree must be just as bad,  Right?   How nice would it be to turn on that nightly news and not have to hear the horrible things that President Trump and his supporters say on a daily basis?   I mean nothing that they say is of any real worth right?

Perhaps, you've even thought about how this country would be better if they were just gone altogether.  Never to be seen again?

Congratulations!  You’ve become exactly who and what you hate.

Don't feel bad.  This path is a slippery downhill slope.   It’s not hard to make one mistake, and slip a little, or make another, and slip even farther.   Falling until you no longer recognize where (or perhaps even who) you are.

It’s easier than ever these days to find yourself hating and then slowly dehumanizing the people you disagree with.

That means that in these most trying times, it’s more important than ever to remember that the people you argue and disagree with are still people.   People with loves, hatreds, interests, families.   You can disagree with them, dislike what they say, dislike what they stand for.   Heck you can dislike them entirely as people. But please never forget that they are just that.  People.

And maybe, just maybe, we can try to remind those that we disagree with that WE are people as well.  We all could do with a bit more empathy.  I’d hate to see it die out for good.  Because, when it does,  I fear we will not be far behind.

Now some food for thought:


The photo above is an interesting one.   If you haven't seen it before, It's called "The Pale Blue Dot".

When the Voyager 1 Probe was leaving the solar system, the team supervising the craft decided to have it turn around and take a photo of Earth from it's distant vantage point.  The resulting photo showed the Earth to be so small from the point of view of Voyager 1, that it was nothing more than a Pale Blue single pixel of the image.   Take a minute to really look at that.

I think the astronomer and author Carl Sagan said it best while he was reflecting upon that very photo:

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

A bit of perspective is a hell of a drug.  Isn't it?

If you take anything away from this article, please make it this:

Never give up on what you believe to be right.  Fight hatred and evil wherever you find it.  Our country will only fall apart if we let it.  But also, please never give up on what it means to be kind.  Never forget the power of what a bit of empathy can do.  Lead by example.  Our world is small, and it's the only one we have.   Let's make the best of it.



I've been an iPhone user since the release of the iPhone 3g on July 11, 2008.  In the eight years ( wow, doesn't feel that long!) that I've been an iPhone user,  I have never once felt that Apple was in any danger of losing its position of power in the smartphone world.   Of course Android would always sell more devices,  they had the same advantage Windows had.   The advantage of an unlimited base of hardware vendors creating devices for the only other viable platform out there.   But to me, Apple would always be the king profit maker, and it was easy to see why.

Android simply didn't have the cohesive hardware/software experience of Apple.   iOS was always smooth, always polished, always cohesive.  We never had to worry that apps from the app store would destroy our phones, because they were always vetted by Apple.  Every corner of design was thought through again and again to be easy enough for even a toddler to easily grasp.  On top of that, the hardware was even better.  From the pebble like iPhone 3g, to the almost Leica-like machining of the iPhone 4 and 4s,  every hardware revision felt like an extension, and improvement of the cohesive whole.  It was truly beautiful.   Especially compared to the earlier versions of Android with chunky scrolling, horrifically bad UI design, cheaply made plastic-y feeling devices, and tons of carrier and manufacturer bloatware even on "flagship" Android devices costing as much or more than the equivalent iPhone (Samsung's early attempts with TouchWiz are a prime example).


Of course in technology, I'm always trying to make sure I'm on the side with the greenest grass.   I've had my share of Android devices float in and out of my house over the years, from a first generation Nexus 7, to a Minix Mini PC,  and even a couple of Amazon Fire Tablets.  Even though none have had the polish of an Apple product,  I've been a first hand witness to the fact that Google has been trying very hard to chip away at Apple's advantage.   Each release is better designed, smoother, and more thoughtful and useful than the last.  Today for the first time, I've seen first hand that Apple has simply not worked hard enough to maintain their advantage, and a large chunk of their business may be in danger because of it.

The Phone that changed my mind - The Blu Life One X

Recently I decided that I am going to have to switch away from Verizon, the carrier I've been with since the iPhone 5.  Since I am still locked into a contract until September,  I figured the only way to figure out which carrier to move to would be to purchase an inexpensive unlocked LTE smartphone online and get a prepaid SIM from AT&T, T-Mobile, and anyone else I could stomach switching to, and simply TRY the services to see which combination of coverage and price would work for me.

A bit of browsing around Amazon led me to the "Life One X" by Blu.  A name that sounds like they put every smartphone naming convention into a hat and picked a few at random. 

Apparently, Blu is an American company that purchases, rebrands, and markets random Chinese Android smartphones as "value" devices in America.    To say that my expectations were low, especially with the absurdly inexpensive $99 off-contract price, is an understatement.   Yes $99 was the full price i paid for the phone, this is an off-contract price.   For comparison the off-contract price of a new 16gb iPhone 6s is $649!

Expectations as they were,  a cursory glance at the specs showed that it was compatible with all of the major LTE bands in America, so into my shopping cart it went, and Amazon Prime delivered it shortly thereafter.


The box the phone came in was basically a black-colored ripoff of an iPhone box, which is to say extremely premium feeling for a $99 smartphone (at that price I would have been satisfied if it showed up wrapped in newspaper).    I took the plastic wrapped phone out of the box (it was lighter and thinner than I expected), and proceeded to look through the rest of the contents of the box.  Not only did I get a smartphone for $99,  it also came with the requisite charger and micro USB cable,  a pair of earbuds,  a screen protector, AND a full size flip open faux leather case!    Here I was expecting to have had to supply my own charging cable at that price.   Another lesson learned, and not the last to be sure!

None of my testing SIMs had come in yet,  so I decided to just play around with the phone on Wifi to see what it could do.    

The phone itself is surprisingly premium feeling with a beautiful aluminium band around the outside and a curved-at-the-edges Gorilla Glass front display.  The giant BLU logo on the front is pretty ugly,  but a lot of Android phone makers seem to do this anyway.  Not sure why.  The back panel is covered in a plastic-y faux leather which can be pulled off to reveal the dual sim trays and the micro SD card slot.   The battery is sealed.   The leather-patterned plastic on the back plate is a decidedly un-premium touch, but not totally unwelcome as it feels pretty good in the hand.   A premium smartphone like this with the quality of leather Apple uses on the Apple Watch would be insanely good.  I haven't held a Moto X with the leather back, but I'd imagine that would be fantastic in the hand.


Turning on the device, I was greeted by the colorful BLU logo and a startup chime.   First impressions;  the speaker on this thing is god awful.    It's that terrible, tinny sound you remember from your old flip phone.   But the display,  the display is absolutely GORGEOUS.   A read of the specs show its a 1080P IPS Display.   It may not be quite as good as the one on the iPhone 6s Plus.   The color gamut is not quite as good, and the accuracy isn't quite as good.   But surprisingly, its about 90% as good!   Colors are bright and vibrant,  blacks are dark, and text is crisp.   

Setting up the device was a breeze,  as it is for most Android devices.   I signed in with my google account, and I was off to the races installing my favorite apps.   The responsiveness of this phone blew me away from the get go.   Everything felt snappy.   There was very little lag even with quite a few applications open.   Typing didn't feel as responsive at first, and I was certainly slower than on my iPhone, but it turned out that the stock keyboard, TouchPal, is just terrible,  and switching over to the Google Keyboard fixed everything and I was back up to speed.  So far so good!   Even the small bit of gaming I did felt pretty good.   Alto's adventure was smooth as silk,  as was Beach Buggy Racing.


So I have spent the last week or so using this phone as my daily driver, and I can say that it has functioned pretty well.   The microphone and the speakers on this device are NOT great.   But I speak on the phone so little that this isn't a giant issue.   Talking over bluetooth is better still.    Wifi reception is good,  and everything remains snappy and responsive.  Battery life also gets me through the day pretty well.   Which is good, because there would be no good way to charge it if it didn't.   Apparently this phone doesn't support any of Android's quick charging standards because charging on this thing is INTERMINABLY SLOW.    Like, overnight slow.  

The camera is also nowhere near as good as my iPhone.   The viewfinder is stuttery, and there is a pretty significant lag between pressing the button and getting a photo.   When you do nail a shot,  it looks pretty good,  but nothing to write home about.   It may be higher resolution than the iPhone camera, but it feels less sharp and the dynamic range seems to be worse.

I also miss having a fingerprint reader for unlocking the device.   I would miss Apple Pay too if I ever used it,   which I don't because there are barely any stores near me that take it.

So far I'm only really missing 3 things from my iPhone.   iMessage, Overcast, and Photoshop Fix.    The latter is coming "soon" to Android so that's good,  but I haven't found a podcast app that is anywhere near as good as Overcast is, or as good as Apple's default app for that matter.   Pocket Casts is decent,  and there seems to be a lot of developer interest in these apps on the Android side now,  so it might just be a matter of time for that one.

iMessage is a bit tougher.   There are a ton of messaging solutions on Android but none that seem to work quite as well at mixing SMS and messages as iMessage does.   Something tells me Google is working hard at this one, and a comprehensive solution is probably on its way.


The point is that this device is far better than it has any right to be at $99.  Is it a great device?  No.   But it is a solidly good one.   The fact that any company can stay afloat selling a device that is this solid for such little money should have Apple worried.   The fact that a $99 smartphone can accommodate 95% of a hardcore Apple user's smartphone needs should have Apple very worried.   

Apple's recent forays into services have not served them very well.   Apple photos is decent but nothing spectacular.   Apple Music is a total mess.   Siri is still slow and inaccurate.  Heck, even iCloud after a few years of baking is still kind of a buggy mess.   It took until the last iOS 9.3 beta for my notes to finally start syncing correctly between my Mac and my iPhone.

As more and more of the things we do on our smartphones are connected to backend cloud services and our devices become more and more just dumb terminals,   Apple is going to have to step up their game tremendously if they want to compete.  Especially considering that Google has way more experience in this area.   All of their services; to use an Apple phrase; Just work.   My contacts are always there,  my Google Docs always work and always sync between my browser and my phone.   Google Photos is a far superior service to Apple photos in almost every way.

They have been able to the fact that  iOS's is simply a better engineered operating system as a bit of a crutch since Steve passed away,  and it seems like they have been coasting a little.   And as the OS itself becomes less and less relevant,  all we will have left to rest on is the quality of the hardware, and the quality of the services.  The hardware quality is as good as ever with Jony at the helm there,  but the services side of Apple is in some serious trouble.

As beautiful as the iPhone is as a device,  I have to wonder how I can continue to justify spending $700+ on a device,  when most of my needs can be met by some random $99 smartphone.

Will I go back to my iPhone?  Yes.   For iMessage, and for the better camera, and for those few apps that I like to have,  I will.    And more than likely I will be purchasing the iPhone 7 in September.    But for the very first time,  that decision is no longer a no-brainer.