Is our technology making us autistic?

Is our technology making us autistic?

Summary: Lack of eye contact and a lack of empathy are sure signs of autism...

TOPICS: Health
Advert for the charity"Autism Speaks."


I saw the above at a San Francisco bus stop and it reminded me of this excerpt from an article written by Curt Woodward senior editor at  Xconomy, about Google’s top echelon: 

During Schmidt's decade as Google CEO, before co-founder Larry Page took the helm, there was a standing rule for one senior-executive meeting: No computers, no smartphones, and talk to each other face-to-face for one hour per week.

It was so hard to resist the pull of the Web, though, that Schmidt had to walk around the meeting room and look for people hiding their phones under the table, dispensing fines to the offenders.

 "Even one hour per week, you couldn't have a civilized conversation. So when Larry replaced me, he gave up. And now I sit in the meeting, typing away like everybody else, with no eye contact. So, if you like eye contact, I'm sorry--you lost," he said to laughs.

 Schmidt: Google Glass Critics "Afraid of Change," Society Will Adapt | Xconomy

The lack of eye-contact is pervasive and extends well beyond the Google C-suite. It seems likely that our technologies are encouraging autistic types of behaviors.

We even see it in how tech companies try to use "Big Data" to understand social behavior by customers and communities when empathy is pretty much all you need. It provides insights that data analysis won't reveal. Lack of empathy towards others is a sign of autism. 

There are quite a few tech companies who sit at various points on the autistic spectrum. The disorder isn’t curable but it is treatable and companies with an autistic culture can still lead highly productive lives — they just need some help in playing well with others.

Treatment requires sometimes unplugging from our always-on, always-with-us technologies. Be Here Right Now will be a new mantra and the new manners.

It is derived from the 60s rejoinder but remade for our times, with an emphasis on “right now,” and it implies a real-time environment — a concept familiar to engineers.

We only  have ”now.” But our tech steals it from us constantly with shoals of glittery distractions. Sometimes the price is worth paying but other times our technologies get in the way of meaningful experiences.

There’s no such thing as augmented reality, as Google Glass is often described. There’s something in the way — it’s an occluded reality. 

Be Here Right Now is scary and great. It’s a good kind of scary to switch off for a while. It’s great for startups because original ideas come from original experiences. Original experiences are those that are found as unfiltered, and untainted by other people’s opinions, curations, and as un-occluded as possible.  

It’ll lead to original ideas — increasingly rare in Silicon Valley.

 - - -


Home | Autism Speaks - there is also an app for IOS and for Android. 

Topic: Health

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  • Seriously its much simpler

    I think in fact social interaction is a skill and the more we rely on a separation type of connection like text, email, or other non face to face interaction. We never learn how to communicate. Its very much like people taking a text the wrong way, you can't see a person so you tend to use your own emotions to decipher what the text meant. People over react because they cannot get any real emotion from a text. Its funny because a lot of job interviews base a lot of weight on how a perspective applicant can interact and be social. In most employment situations getting along with others is a priority. No, we are not all becoming autistic. We are simply not learning how to be social on a face to face basis.
    • I agree.

      social interaction is a learned skill, and with your face stuffed into the internet all day, you never learn how to communicate one on one.
      • So, Here we are...

        Typing about social interaction, not living in the internet, and
    • Pauses and awkward moments

      When I am running meetings and somebody uses a device to surf the web, check mails, Facebook etc. I just pause until they are finished. The usually get the message fairly quickly.

      Alternatively, I'll ask them to verify what I have just said was correct. They usually give up using their mobile devices after a couple of times when they look like idiots, because they can't ask a question - and I usually ask a pertinent question, that is in their domain of expertise.
  • There's actually an entire movie about this...

    Warm Bodies.
    The Werewolf!
  • Lack of eye contact and a lack of empathy are sure signs of autism...

    ...or maybe most people are just boring.

    After all the social media of most people posting pictures of food and such I think most of us in IT are just sick of dealing with common people.
  • Empathy suppression is an acquired skill

    It's been taught throughout history and has greatly facilitated all manner of criminal and warlike behavior.
    John L. Ries
    • That said...'s much to avoid empathy with people you've never seen in person than with those you have regular in-person contact. The first can be seen as an abstract concept, while the second is undoubtedly a living, breathing human being.
      John L. Ries
  • Google Glasses

    talk about lack of eye contact,...
  • Not sure how I feel about this article

    As an aspie (aspergers affectee) myself, I don't lack empathy.

    I lack the natural instincts for it, but empathy is a quality good and decent people have, and I wanted to be a good and decent person. So I concentrated really hard on learning to relate to people around me, and to understand their suffering, triumphs, frustration, etc. In the end, I am probably more perceptive than most people, because I am very conscious of the skills required to pay attention to what is going on with a person, to be solicitous and listen when the questions are answered.

    The eye contact thing is something I consciously work at too.

    So I don't like being dismissed as lacking these capabilities, and for inattentive phone users to be compared to me. I really try hard to give people my attention, my caring, my compassion, and my joy in their triumphs. People who ignore other people to stare into their phones aren't like me - they aren't even trying!
    • I have to agree with you.

      I think he shouldn't have asked "Is our technology making us autistic" as from all I have read and understand, "autistic" is not something you are turned into by outside influences, instead something a person is born with, to varying degrees.

      Empathy on the other hand is something people (and many animals) are born with, but as history has shown, can be conditioned out of them - Races of people conditioned to look upon others as less then human, and not worthy of your compassion to their plight.

      I do believe with Tom that our technology can, and currently is, conditioning people to lose empathy. Like the atom, where it can power a city, it can also destroy it. For the upside there is a downside.

      Our technology we use, for all it's benefits has it's downside. People are being conditioned to lose their empathy towards others, instead focusing on the shiny device in hand, and what someone you can't see or feel has to say. People don't even excuse themselves to respond to a text, they just jump right in like their life depends on it.

      Someone dare called me a Luddite because I'm opposed to Google Glasses. They have no idea that I like technology, and helped design some of it in the past.

      No, I dislike Google Glasses as I already see it as the next step to losing empathy, as you can now focus on the glasses, and lose touch with those right next to you 24/7
    • Not Genuine Autism

      Your point is well taken.
      I think that for too many young ones these electronic external factors are affecting and conditioning them deleteriously in our increasingly technically dependent society, producing autistic like symptoms only. Not autism by medical diagnoses per say.
      Lack of one on one interaction social skills being developed for which there is no substitute, and the lack of sufficient motivation to effect radical changes resulting in what many of us see as an aberrant seriously skewed value system. Very one dimensional perception living at a screen for long hours daily. Consequently shallow in emotional development and any inability to form lasting meaningful relationships or to develop marketable work habits and ethics ala team players.
      Also more extremely extrapolated a verging on psycho/sociopathic lack of empathy in issues of violence, injuries and death. This last one is scary. And books/papers have already been published on the cold, disassociated humanoids resulting from a constant unrelenting diet of violent video games digital genre.
  • lack of empathy

    doesn't that mean we're all becoming Psychopaths?
    (maybe it was Unreal Tournament, or Americas Army or......)
  • Lack of eye contact... also a symptom of social phobia; not just autism.
    John L. Ries
  • Isaac Asimov I Robot Universe

    He had whole worlds that could only communicate over viewing screens. People couldn't stand to breath the same air. These books were copyrighted in the early 50's. Not bad for predicting the future as we are well on our way.
  • The author is confusing his nouns and adjectives

    No, technology is not making us autistic; it is making us selfish, rude, and anti-social.

    People who sit at a table on a date or parents who sit at a table with their child and play with their smartphone instead of communicating with the person in front of them are self-centered members of the Jerry Springer generation. People who text or use Glass when driving are putting the lives of others at risk for the most childish reasons.

    If anything, technology is making us psychotic.
    • No argument from me about people ignoring others...

      my wife and I don't get out much (her health), but when we do we are amazed at the number of people, even those on obvious "dates", who sit at the table or booth, staring at some phone/tablet screen. They show more interest in whatever text message or social network status than they do in the person they are supposedly on a romantic outing with. Mind boggling...and the distracted driving, well, it isn't by no means "scientific" but in my estimation at least 80 percent of drivers are actively interacting with usually a phone of some sort, either by call or texting, instead of keeping their attention on operating the vehicle. My pulse rate has a tendency to jump way up when I observe this behavior, especially when the vehicle is one of those large trucks of some sort, either 18 wheeler or other utility truck...that's a lot of tonnage that may be headed towards you! Every day, I encounter at least 3 drivers that cross over the center line, and I live in a rather rural area with relatively low traffic.
  • Populist excuse of the day

    Next week it'll be vaccines or wi-fi signals causing it again.

    Lack of social contact amongst neurotypicals does not turn them into autistics. It's that simple. Something else is having an analogous effect and people who really are autistic don't need to get any more graft than what's already being endured.

    So now that we're all lambasting technology, do we as a society do something or what?

    It's like the local news whining about rush hour traffic. Most jobs are at set time periods and those aren't changing, so don't expect change as a result.

    But back to the point: Let's start looking at root causes. Not blaming irrelevancies and making scapegoats out of them.
  • In some cultures...

    eye contact is not received good at all. Talking with another person making eye contact with them breads distrust from the other party.

    Blaming a behavior that is different, not using eye contact, calling it autistic at best is disingenuous. At worst completely wrong.