Why tech titans need an empathy handbook

Thirty years ago, an anthropologist called Lucy Suchman set out to study a problem that bedevils a great deal of offices: Why do so many employees struggle with technology? Professor Suchman spent several months watching how workers interact "in the wild" (aka around the office) with devices such as photocopiers and computers - and then compared this with what the engineers and designers said was supposed to happen with those pesky machines.

The results were intriguing - and highly relevant to Silicon Valley today, as it reels from the current "tech-lash". For Prof Suchman realised that there were fundamental problems of epistemology, or frameworks of knowledge. And these problems are even more pertinent in today's workplaces, which are awash with computers, iPads, printers and other digital gadgetry.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2018, with the headline 'Why tech titans need an empathy handbook'. Print Edition | Subscribe