A philosopher’s keynote speech on the subject of reading delivered at the annual meeting of the Writers’ Union of Canada in May and republished in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine contains startling figures that connect a rise in society-wide online activity with a drop in empathy and a rise in “narcissistic-personality disorder” in younger generations.
… the idea of a “psychological mode of introspection” that attends reading, an inwardness related to individualism. I will begin by asserting the following contradiction of late technocapitalism: we (a) are more networked than ever and yet (b) exhibit a growing deficit in that fellow-feeling usually labeled empathy. Researchers at the University of Michigan, in a 2010 study, found that American college students are 48 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with a sharper dip — 61 percent — having occurred in the past decade. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the prevalence of narcissistic-personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their twenties as for the generation that is now sixty-five or older. These trends strongly correlate to increasing online connectedness.