What happens when empathy gets in the way of efficiency?

Humans come standard with unreasonable and superfluous needs for care and affection.

02 May 2024

Bronwyn Williams

Last month, I was diagnosed with cancer, but that’s not the disturbing part. The disturbing part is that I was diagnosed via WhatsApp, and, to add insult to injury, after that single 18-word message, the “diagnosing” doctor ghosted me and was unavailable via phone or SMS to answer any of my many questions.

The legalities of such behaviour aside – the Health Professions Council of South Africa clearly states medical records are only to be shared via WhatsApp if a patient has specifically initiated or explicitly given their consent – the sheer indignity of the whole experience is to my mind a far more interesting topic to explore. I now have far deeper empathy with anyone who has been dumped by SMS and ghosted by a romantic partner. After the shock comes the humiliation, and then a whole lot of unanswered questions. I sincerely hope that none of you reading this have to go through either experience. Both these examples, of course, are just the logical end point of the “untact” society so many technologists, professionals, politicians (and cowardly ex-lovers) are deliberately building right now. Or, more explicitly, what happens when we see empathy as getting in the way of efficiency, as an inconvenient means rather than the end we are actually looking for, as human patients, customers and citizens.

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