Why pretend to care about others when we have professional therapists?

A friend criticized me for being unsympathetic regarding a concern of hers that I thought was irrational.  She believed that a friend ought to care simply because another human being is apprehensive, even if that apprehension is not justified.  During this exchange it occurred to me that there is actually no reason for the layperson to be sympathetic or empathetic in any modern situation.

Three hundred years ago everyone had to know how to make soap.  Today we can run down to the store and buy Ivory or Palmolive.

Three hundred years ago friends needed to empathize with one another.  Today anyone who wishes to get sympathy for his or her troubles can simply buy it from one of the hundreds of thousands of trained professionals in the therapy industry.

Friendship isn’t obsolete of course.  Psychotherapists aren’t very entertaining so we might still rely on friends for amusement.  But why bother pretending to care about another person’s troubles when there are so many psychotherapists out there who actually do care, truly, deeply, professionally?

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Outsourcing to India in Business Week and at MIT…

Not all of our students will see this cover story in Business Week on the migration of high-paying jobs to India.  But most attended a lecture in 6.171 by the folks who run MIT’s latest big IT effort:  OpenCourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu), which distributes syllabi, problem sets, and other materials from MIT classes (at least one semester after the class is actually given).  During the lecture the students learned that, although ocw.mit.edu is a purely static .html site, it is produced with a database-backed content management system.  In fact, of the $11 million donated by foundations to support the service, about $2 million was spent on technology and the salaries of folks at MIT who oversee the technology.

The more sophisticated portion of ocw.mit.edu is a 100 percent Microsoft show.  A student asks the speakers why they chose Microsoft Content Management Server, expecting to hear a story about careful in-house technical evaluation done by people sort of like them.  The answer:  “We read a Gartner Group report that said the Microsoft system was the simplest to use among the commercial vendors and that open-source toolkits weren’t worth considering.”

Students began to wake up.

A PowerPoint slide contained the magic word “Delhi”.  It turns out that most of the content editing and all of the programming work for OpenCourseWare was done in India, either by Sapient, MIT’s main contractor for the project, or by a handful of Microsoft India employees who helped set up the Content Management Server.

Thus did students who are within months of graduating with their $160,000 computer science degrees learn how modern information systems are actually built, even by institutions that earn much of their revenue from educating American software developers.

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