'Angry Uncle Bot' Will Make Your Thanksgiving Less Tense

November 20, 2018

By Max Godnick

In much of the country, this year's Thanksgiving turkey will be served with a piping side of political tension.

From the dramatic midterm elections to the partisan Supreme Court confirmation battle, 2018 has been one of the most divisive years in recent memory. And many Americans nationwide are bracing themselves for difficult dinner-table conversations with relatives from across the political spectrum.

"It's kind of like going into a big sporting event," Dr. Karin Tamerius, founder and managing director of SMART Politics, said Tuesday in an interview on Cheddar.

"Everyone's lined up on opposite sides and they're rooting for their team and they don't want to hear anything good about the other team."

Tamerius, a former psychiatrist whose expertise sits at the intersection of psychology and politics, is the mind behind Angry Uncle Bot, an interactive feature from The New York Times that simulates conversations with the titular disagreeable relative.

A "choose your own adventure" for the digital era, the tool lets users respond to provocative prompts with their choice of rebuttal. Tamerius' commentary then informs readers why their answer is, or is not, constructive to a bipartisan conversation.

"A lot of this is drawn from real conversations that I've had online," she said.

"After the 2016 election I decided I really didn't have enough contact with conservatives," Tamerius added, noting that her Berkeley, Calif., community was so liberal that she had to turn to the internet for different perspectives.

Conversations with Angry Uncle Bot will teach readers to avoid certain conversational tactics ー including anger and defensiveness. Tamerius warned that learning to effectively discuss politics with relatives is "not easy" and "takes practice" but is certainly possible.

"It's ok to want to change people's minds but you can't go into the conversation focused on that outcome," she said.

"The process is setting people at ease, building relationships, finding common ground, and then getting to a place where you can collaborate on how to make the world a better place."