This weekend, I took my two daughters to the zoo in Los Angeles, where I live. As we stood looking over the tiger enclosure, my 11-year-old turned to me and explained that she was feeling conflicted. She was having fun, she said, but she recently wrote a paper for school about the problems that animals in zoos face, and learned that some people believe that zoos shouldn’t even exist.
That’s one way to look at it, I told her. But there’s also the case to be made that zoos are central to conservation efforts, and in raising awareness — for kids like her and her sister — about the importance of protecting wildlife. We ended up talking about how lots of things in life are like a zoo. There’s rarely anything that’s absolutely good or absolutely bad. Sometimes to make sense of the world you have to hold two conflicting ideas in your mind and see the truth in both of them at once.
It reminded me of the ethical debates I have struggled with while building technology.
In the last 20 years we’ve placed the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Wikipedia has logged nearly every notable person, place and thing in 329 different languages. Google maps’ street view has given us a snapshot of every street and intersection in the entire world. I can use Snapchat to get snippets of ordinary life down the street from me in L.A. or across the world in Turkmenistan. It is awe-inspiring.
But we’ve also allowed the last two decades of technology to stoke divisions and ethnic violence. It has systematically stolen our attention, strained our mental health and isolated us from our communities. It has exposed us to ransomware and cyber-warfare. When it comes to our superconnected, technology-centered world, there is no going back — the toothpaste is out of the tube. So now we must hold both of these things in our mind at the same time — the perils as well as the promise.
For the Empatico team, this concept takes shape with a conscious effort to create Technology for Good, with the mission to empower school-aged students around the globe to form meaningful connections that foster a more empathetic world. As it turns out, we’re working with the same toolbox that some companies use to keep people glued to their phones. But the Empatico platform is designed to drive people towards learning and connection — we do not need to make the most money, or dominate the attention of our users for 10 hours a day for the sake of advertisers. Empatico exists to build empathy, compassion, kindness, curiosity and a host of other skills that kids need, today more than ever.
Empatico was seeded by Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of KIND. His philanthropic efforts inspire us every day with his profound commitment to building bridges across lines of difference. His vision ensures that we’re putting positive social impact at the top of our success metrics, and that every decision being made while designing our programs and building out the technology is working towards making the world a better place.
This week we’re relaunching Empatico, strengthened and better suited for today’s classroom needs. I’m so thankful for the amazing team that is breathing life into this new experience. It took thousands of hours to rebuild it from the ground up. We’re unlike any other startup — we’re a collective of technologists, researchers, marketers, program managers and relationship builders all committed to creating a totally free product that will thrive and grow ethically.
If you’re reading this blog I might not be able to guess what country you’re living in, or what political party you follow, but it’s safe to assume you’re here for the same reasons we at Empatico are — to find connections with people near and far who might seem different from ourselves. To help the next generation gain the vital skills to thrive in a world that gets closer and more intertwined every day. Like my daughter and I, we believe that the world isn’t a binary of good and bad, that compromise is possible, and that with the right tools and support, our empathy and compassion can be limitless.
Empatico is a free tool that matches and connects K-8 classrooms across the world through live video exchanges and is supported by a robust content library with tools to build social, emotional and empathetic skill in students.
If you are an educator, sign up today!