VODKA O’CLOCK 2020-02:


VOC logo

AMBER LOVE 27-MAR-2020 My work is supported by the generous backers at who appreciate my reviews and my stories; and they also get first access to what’s happening with my books and podcast.

Download this episode of Vodka O’Clock on iTunes, Stitcher, or listen here. Older shows have been archived and are available only on

Kaitlin Ugolik author photo black and white

The Future of Feeling – Building Empathy in a Tech-obsessed World:

Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips discussed the coincidence and irony of her book about empathy fitting — or not fitting — into a world where people are spending so much of their time in front of screens. Due to the current COVID-19 quarantine situation, there is a brand new influx to the population of people using technology like social media or online classrooms/meetups than just a few months ago.

How far out of our window of tolerance are people who are quarantined (or under directive to shelter in place)? Is there compassion fatigue? Kaitlin described this has the constant coverage of one subject while there are still traumatic things happening in everyday life which causes our brains to make the shift in and out of what’s on our minds. The more you consume that news, the more urgent it feels.

We talked about boundaries necessary to protect one’s own mental health which seems dehumanizing, but for people in certain jobs like first responders and policy-makers, it’s necessary to avoid burnout. I cited the show My Favorite Murder where they have to lighten the true crime subject matter through comedy. Kaitlin referred to Paul Bloom’s book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion which urges people to skip empathy and direct your energy to compassion because humans tend to only empathize with people like themselves. There’s certainly room for both empathy and compassion in our emotional range (for neurotypical brains). 

When both sides of an argument believe they are correct, no one is going to budge. You aren’t likely to change someone’s mind by engaging with them on social media. Our conversation takes on how helpless we can feel as individuals when mega corporations are behind what influences us, what we see. On an individual level, one person isn’t going to have the power to change these companies. It takes a movement like Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street or MeToo.

phubbing: ignoring people around you in favor of your phone

Being able to identify and humanize the person on the opposing side might reveal where people have things in common; that takes time, energy, and an emotional toll — things not everyone has or wants to invest in a conversation. There are appropriate times when using the mute/block features are all the action you need to take. No everyone needs to follow the decision of podcaster Dylan Marron who invited his trolls onto his show. Relating to the person across the aisle can have an effect that, Kaitlin describes as allowing a person to just not care about their opponent’s comments and actions anymore, while still seeing that individual as another human being.

We discuss the secular practice of metta bhavana (lovingkindness) and the stages in which it is traditionally done.

What’s the best use of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) in building empathy? Where is the line drawn is reminding people that they should have empathy regardless of whether or not that can virtually go through someone else’s lived experiences like being a different ethnicity, financial status, weight, etc.? People want to be believed when they explain that they have been harassed for being black or that their pain is unbearable. However, where could this be useful in the medical industry for doctors to know what’s going on inside their patients?

cognitive empathy: understanding others’ feelings

affective empathy: sharing others’ feelings, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes

Adding diverse developers to the technology development team (or creative team as in comics/TV/movies) will help represent our differences better.

“Clinical psychologist Lisa Flook and teacher Laura Pinger have studied the effects of a ‘kindness curriculum’ on preschool-aged kids and found that twelve weeks of mindfulness and lessons about social-emotional development led to marked improvements compared to a control group, whose members were more selfish over time.” — Kaitlin Ugolik Philllips, The Future of Feeling

Steps You Can Take:

  • Diversify who you follow on social media
  • Reading — research shows reading builds empathy
  • Pause and listen to someone to see if you can understand where they’re coming from; not responding at all may be your action.
  • Take time offline


  • Twitter @kaitlinugolik

book cover


Subscribe to my newsletter

Avoid those algorithms! Get news delivered to your inbox. You'll also receive a free short story when you subscribe!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.