Try my shoes – not my digital profile

As I travel around the world, teaching mediation in Europe, Asia and Africa, I return from these experiences energised by the reception of so many “students” to the mediation process. (1)
It is real face to face conversation that is vanishing like mist on the bright morning of Silicon Valley’s ascendency. (2)
The growth of Artificial Intelligence is set to revolutionise our lives but how much of a threat will it be to our Emotional Intelligence? If forecasts prove to be true AI could bring large scale erosion of jobs in many commercial, managerial and professional fields, including the diagnostic and clinical work of doctors. It will give us even more time to interact with the digital world as it predicts our moves and organises our world accordingly.
Mediation is growing in popularity in the world of alternative dispute resolution. It is a democratic process offering a win/win resolution to its participants. The reasons for its success are based on principles of Emotional Intelligence; empathy, equality, respect, confidentiality, trust and empowerment and most effective when conducted in face to face conversation. It is an entirely different experience to an adversarial approach to dispute resolution where there is a winner and loser.
However, there are very good reasons for being concerned about the survival of these principles in the virtual world of digital technology. Research is beginning to discover that “ children are driven into a form of induced autism by their mobile phones. One study has revealed a 40% decline in the markers for empathy among college students. Many of the youngest interviewees find it impossible to project themselves into the mind of another. (3) The imaginative and intellectual effort that is that is used in being together is showing signs of diminishing. Indications are that children are preferring to argue with one another by text and to “live” in a virtual world where they are fearful of becoming the object of cyber-bullying. However, “when children are sent on holiday to gadget free camps, empathy and conversation return after a few days”. (3)
The attraction of face to face conversation is rooted in who and what we are; creatures of deep emotional and complex relationships, understanding and taking care of each other. As mediators engaged in the energising experience of face to face conflict resolution we need to be wary of our increasing tendency to outsource our internal worlds to Artificial Intelligence, where so much is promised.
It takes time to sort the wheat from the chaff. Once we have understood the advantages and disadvantages of progress, history teaches us that we do adapt and move forward together  … after some healthy face to face conversation.
1.  Bruce A. Edwards, Mediator and Trainer.
2.  Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times Book Review, Oct. 2015
3.  Reclaiming Conversation, The Power of Talk In A Digital Age, Sherry Turkle, Penguin Press, 2015.
Richard Watkins
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