Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Empathy, Jason Calacanis and Internet Asperger's Syndrome

Every once in awhile I'll get a g-talk message from A Mother in Israel. She'll say something like, "Shouldn't you be asleep?"

You have to love that.

She's up because she's 8 hours ahead. And she knows what time it is in Chicago.

So I was about to do that, go to sleep at a proper hour. The fish tank lights are off. Little One has moved on to his bedroom in the basement, computer science hieroglyphics map the dining room table. But FD, my main person, isn't home yet and it just feels weird going to sleep if I haven't seen him since morning.

Even though I have you.

He took the cream cheese with chives, I got the peanut-butter and marmalade. It's been a long day. We left an 8 inch square pan of pizza for him and some salad. This is a supportive relationship.

He had ten E.R. admissions, two patients, and a consult in the hospital while on call.

While all I have to think about is an initial visit with terror, persons badly in need of anger management. I get anger management treatment block sometimes, it happened today, just couldn't do it, not today, could not treat someone with anger, and it wasn't the obligatory tough guy clothes that threw me (leather is warm) or the attitude, we talk about it; or hands in his pockets or the mention of a particular gang. We talk about all of it. Lots of kids are in gangs, and many former convicts, people who have served time in the penitentiaries, did their time in gangs. It's nothing new.

But I had to send him to a better doctor. Then take a two hour nap.

So I'm waiting for FD to get home and can surely review for class tomorrow, because I teach on-line tomorrow night, and that would be the responsible thing to do, but. . .

Well, what would you do at 11:30 pm? You know what you would do. You would turn to your addiction, check email or read blogs or post, maybe check out Twitter, or Facebook, Digg or Flicker. You would socially network is what you would do. Who are you kidding?

So funny. I'm talking to a guy who just got his MBA and he's looking for a job. I tell him, "Well, you're the MBA, but isn't it true that
It isn't what you know; it's who you know?"
Still true.

So social networking can't be all bad. There have to be some realtime rewards, somewhere, someway, somehow. A little West Side Story music from the band. But people meet people, they fall in love, create communities. The gangs are few on the Internet. But tough. Boy, are they tough.

Only a week ago we talked about letters, these things we once wrote to people in ink. Some of us waxed nostalgic. Probably there were three of us who did that. But letter writing, unless it is resume writing, isn't really social networking. Social networks get people together, create communities of people who think alike.

We've talked about the danger of Group Think. (Read the Boy with the Funny Laugh, it's on the blog somewhere and has made rounds on the Internet).

Anyway, Group Think can turn violent. And web gang-banging, mental cruelty characteristic of certain people free to comment, is unfortunately something most of us have to fop off.

Cyber-bullying is, unfortunately, not so rare as we think. Social networks do turn violent. We have several examples of this, including Lori Drew, who created an alias on MySpace to develop a romantic relationship with 14-year-old Megan Meier.

MondoReb at Death by 1000 Paperclips really wanted me to write on this at the time, but I didn't have the stomach. I tried, but every time I thought of Ms. Drew, an adult, mentally beating on Megan, psychologically torturing her as her "love" I had to go and watch Seinfeld. The cyber-bullying resulted, as you may know, in Megan's suicide.

Abraham Biggs killed himself in front of a live Webcam audience on JustinTV as the audience cheered him on.

Josh Harris' social experiment, "We Live in Public," made him sick. His pod of people under 24/7 surveillance in New York drew vicious attacks, violent responses from a once loving community of fans.

A Korean woman, Choi Jin-sil, killed herself, too, from the pressure of rumors about her on the Internet. According to Jason McCabe Calacanis,
The bullying in Korea has become so intense that you're now required to use your Social Security Number to sign up for a social network. This lack of anonymity is one of the most enlightened things I've heard of from one of the most advanced--if not the most advanced--Internet communities in the world.
Who is Jason McCabe Calacanis? Jason is an entrepreneur who started with the Silicon Alley Reporter and the Digital Coast Reporter. He is a tireless socializer and nearly single-handedly drove much of the tech blog revolution we see today.

At one time his staff included the likes of Xeni Jardin, who would later become a journalist and blogger at Boing Boing, but Jason is Dow Jones stuff (which may mean nothing now for all I know). Besides developing businesses and consulting with digital companies, Jason also blogged quite a bit about his car. He drew criticism for that, having a nice car.

And he has dogs, too, something else people didn't like.

He co-founded Web Blogs, Inc, perhaps the whole concept that blogging could be a living potentially supported by advertising.

Isn't that our goal, friends? Let's talk. Did I ever tell you that I wrote to Kleenex and asked if they wanted to advertise here? I thought it appropriate. They were so nice. The Kleenex people appreciated the thought but basically said,
We actually don't need to advertise. We're Kleenex.
Oops. Off to Puffs.

Anyway, he's a genius, Jason McCabe Calacanis, and has been profiled in The New Yorker and Wired. He's a wonderful writer and psychologically sensitive. Now his focus is on Mahalo, a "human" search engine. He tells us that in the process of butting heads with too many angry people, traumatized (I'm thinking), he no longer blogs. In his retirement letter he tells us that he'll miss it, but most of all, he'll miss the comments.

But he sends email to his fans. Maybe you, too, can get on his list of thousands.

Mr. Calacanis is now ranting about Internet Asperger's Syndrome (IAS). You can read about this yourself, quite the discussion.

He's saying, basically, that as Internet addicts we're losing our empathy, a symptom of Asperger's. Our empathy is going to cr__, as some of my favorite first degrees might say, resulting in epidemic Asperger's. We're becoming robots, no longer able to get outside our obsessions with email, Facebook, blogging, statistics, whatever.

The more defensive among us might get upset with this piracy, an ex-blogger, a big shot entrepreneur using psycho-babble to describe the behavioral health of essentially healthy individuals, depending. And it is a real disrespect to sensitive people with Asperger's. You can read about Aspergers on my blog, check the sidebar. Remember Cho?

But not to repeat, Mr. Calacanis' understanding of Asperger's is that there is
a dual nature of Asperger's, . . .it makes the individual focused on very specific behaviors--obsessively so in many cases--while decreasing their capacity for basic empathy and communication. It's almost as if you trade off intensity in one area for common decency and communications in another area--not that the person has a choice.
I never saw it quite this way, but let's not split hairs. There's something in the brain that misses social cues, and there is obsessive behavior, but the directionality has never been established.

What is directionality?

It is, If. . .then.


To make an assumption about causality, one that is this grandiose, needs what we call substantive research. Evidenced based. Where's the beef here? I haven't read everything on Asperger's but have yet to see this established.

Personally, I think that one has nothing to do with the other. These are separate dynamics within one very complicated brain.

But what Mr. Calacanis is saying, really, is important and meritorious and I thank him for putting it all out there, so eloquently, so personally.

What he wants to say, I think, is that our social skills are ebbing. We're losing them.

Whereas once your mother would say, "Dear, telephone," and you would jump to get the phone (it had a cord, you had to do something outrageous, move to talk on it) now you're screaming,
"Not now! I'm busy!"
An old friend you haven't seen comes over to say hello and you're happy to see him. But there's that piece of you thinking,
D____! Why does he have to come over right now?! Why now?! I'm blogging!
Your spouse comes home, after a hard day at the hospital, and it is an effort to put it away, your computer, to look into his tired eyes and say, "Let's sit down and talk about it."

You want to know if I did, don't you. You want to know.

Sure I did.

But wait. We're not finished. Jason McCabe Calacanis has dubbed today Empathy Day. If you Twitter, you're supposed to say something nice about someone and add,


to the message.

Go for it. Even if Mr. Calacanis has a lot of chutzpah diagnosing people. That's worth marketing, empathy.



blognut said...

I don't twitter - but you rock, TD. #empathyday

I can see how this happens - I find myself imposing limits on the amount of time I will spend writing/reading blogs, emails, text messages, etc. If I didn't do this, I'd never get out of this chair, I think.

Jack said...

I know an awful lot of people who are afraid to post online because of the pounding that they have taken there.

People say things that they would never say in person. They come at you relentlessly and if you don't know how to ignore it you are in big trouble.

I have probably been guilty of it myself, using words as a club.

Certainly it has led to bit of a degradation of social skills.

therapydoc said...

And more than that. Whatever happened to social grace?

But Asperger's? Such hyperbole and I feel, insensitive. Take it back, Jason.

therapydoc said...

And more than that. Whatever happened to social grace?

But Asperger's? Such hyperbole and I feel, insensitive. Take it back, Jason.

Lou said...

We bloggers ask for other's opinions. With comments,I think it's implied. But every time I have gotten a differing opinion, it has stung, made me angry. Everytime I have given a differing opinion, it has resulted in bad feelings and dropped links.
I think we assume we are talking to someone we "know". We write as we would to someone we have a history with, when in fact our true views are totally unknown to one another.
That said, the profanity bothers me A LOT!

Samurai Scientist said...

I think a little snarkiness is pretty par for the course in the blogosphere... you've got to take it with a grain of salt.

A lot of sites now have comment ratings systems, a la YouTube, and those should also help bring down the snarkiness level.

Cat said...

It is not just blogging that does this but the whole virtual reality of games online - I have seen my boys becomeother people - In fact over a 4 week period I got sucked into the game world - the role - the wonderful bliss of - CYBER - and what a great outlet to ignore my own real life...

Now everyone gets about 30 minutes of fun time on the computer at home.

Nice read as always!

Retriever said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Marie said...

Great post, as usual! I find these conversations so interesting, because I talk with my students often about how they think the benefits they have in life affect how they treat/act around other people. The anonymity of the internet is so addicting to some people that they feel the power to be who they aren't without the fear of getting caught... to which I kind of understand.

Blogging can definitely be cathartic. I write more on my blog than I say to most people. Is that good? No, but I'm in therapy for my trust issues so I don't find it to be a problem.

Your reference to the adult who taunted the little girl and the guy who committed suicide online with people cheering on reminds me of the movie "Untraceable". Very important subject matter because it is so true. You could connect that movie perfectly with this post.

Syd said...

I don't get the Asperger's syndrome and blogging. I do believe that the texting and total focus on computers has lessened social interactions. And I've read that young people don't have particularly good social skills because they spend so much time on line and not talking face to face.

therapydoc said...

Thanks everybody. I have a feeling that if I watched that movie it would traumatize me.

I'm at a pretty low level when it comes to movies these days. Charlie's Angels sounds good or maybe the latest wedding movie.

therapydoc said...

The thing I haven't even mentioned is that to do this, to cyber bully or act snarky, to deliberately hurt people on the internet, requires a little sociopathy. There are people who hurt, and when they do, they sometimes hurt other people. Sometimes they get to the point of not even hurting. All they do is hurt other people and don't feel it. You see this stuff all the time on TV, but it's very real.

Although Mr. C really approves of owning one's profile on the Internet, I can't begin to wrap my head around that and feel safe.

I'd be up all night, every night.

life coach Steele said...

I receive Calacanis's email as well and thought he was spot on with the commentary of internet users. If you read comments on one would thing humanity was dead.

the psycho therapist said...

First, you are hysterical. Your sense of humor (comedic timing) is superb. I love reading your pseudo rants. Fatigue looks great on you!

Second, I learned about many new aspects of human behavior while being a participant-observer in the cyberland experience (translation: a blog with comments). Fascinating, simply fascinating. Context really is everything.

Third, thank you for a lovely beginning to my day.

Jason said...

Thanks for the feedback.

I tried to make a clear point that there was not a cause and effect between the focus/lack of empathy in asperger's by saying "It's almost as if..." as opposed to "it is a fact that.."

I guess I could have been more clear.

I will have you know that I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and considered going for my phd--as such I'm 15% more knowledgeable than the average individual on such subjects and 7% as knowledgeable as a professional such as yourself.

That does give me the ability to diagnose a social diseases spreading to 1/3rd of the online population correct?

also, when does IAS get put in the DSM IV? It's been like three days since I sent the email... is there a twitter account where I submit IAS to the DSM?


Seriously, my emails are designed--on average--as 80% my own personal therapy, 10% marketing my ideas and 10% thought bombs.

They should be taken as seriously as that % allows given your tolerance for ambiguity.... or not.

best j

ps - you're great! #empathyday

therapydoc said...

Thanks, Jason.

I'm hoping that the good doctors (all PhD's, MDs, for the most part) who put together the DSM V, a tome scheduled for production in 2011, surely by 2012, will add your dx, change the wording to something like

6512.001 Profoundly Inconsiderate Monomaniacal Internet Junky

You're so right on the point that looking people in the eye beats by a thousand miles, reading what strangers opine (although around here we like to think we're all close bud's even if we don't hang out much).

Alix B. said...

Smacks head.
Off to facebook.

This is a greatest hit, thanks

Annie said...

theradoc,As usual very interesting post. I have little to add to the other comments. I keep my life much simpler than some other bloggers and I have a hard time keeping up. I still enjoy your posts. Peace, Annie

Norma said...

I was up at 11:30 once or twice. Probably senior prom. I started blogging because people were so nasty for no reason on Usenet. Blogs give you the control to dump their comments. And I don't get a lot, but the nasty ones are usually liberals.

therapydoc said...

Norma, you know you can't burn the candle at both ends. One of my mother's friends used to tell me that, but she's gone now (olah b'shalom). But let's not roast an entire group, way too big a stretch, nasty comments = liberals. But in that context, maybe it made sense at the time.

Anyway, now you can complain to the President.

And Alix, yeah. It's my job, not always but sometimes, to guilt people. Thanks.

And thanks to all of you, by the way, who comment.

I rue the day when I'll have to close comments due to secondary traumatization, what else. I've already had to toss it around, this idea, closing comments.

But not yet.

muse said...

amazing post
You went into so many directions, I hardly know what to reply to.

Helen said...

Wow - what can I say - I love it.


Isle Dance said...'s a beautiful thing.

JJ said...

That'd be sad if you closed comments, TD! They're fascinating. I hope you don't have the burden of censoring too many "snarky" ones. By the way, that word, snarky, is wonderfully expressive. I'm a fan.

By the way, maybe I'm dense but what is "a g-talk message"?

therapydoc said...

JJ, not to worry. Before I did that I would have to kvetch a lot more than I do, and would need more to kvetch about (kvetch means complain, for those of you less than yiddishfied)

G-talk, I think, is the correct way to say Instant Message on G-mail. AOL has AIM, G-mail has g-chat, or g-talk. I imagine Yahoo has something similar.

It's a little window that pops up on a screen with a hello, s'up type of message.

If I'm there it's likely that I won't see it for hours, so it's not likely to get a response from me. But you never know.

blognut said...

TD, I have anxiety over the notion that you might ever close comments!

therapydoc said...

I'm touched.

Stacie said...

I am always afraid of how communication via internet affects both me and those I communicate with. As a blogger, I spill so much and read so much out here in cyberspace that I seldom stop to think that I am using so few of the tools that humans have to relate. There is no eye contact, no body language, no hand shake or hug. Are we communicating at all really? or are we just yelling out there into space hoping that someone will answer with the occasional emoticon? I sometimes think that our Facebooks, blogs, etc., are just social cop outs. when you're face to face with someone, you can't just go offline and ignore them. It takes effort, empathy and courage to carry on relationships in the real world.

Stacie said...

oh, and I love your blog #empathyday ( a little late)

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts