Episode 104 – Max Stossel, Humanizing Technology

Today we launch a brand-new series all about our digital health. During the pandemic, our need to be connected – even digitally – is at an all-time high, but at what cost? Are we using tech to escape? Is it making us more or less socially aware? Are our phones listening to us? To answer all of those questions, and more, Jessica spends time with Max Stossel. Max is the Head of Education for the Center for Humane Technology, an organization of former tech insiders and CEOs dedicated to realigning technology with humanity’s best interests. What Max reveals in this conversation may surprise you.


Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host, Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared. 

Welcome to our new series on digital health — just in time for the summer, right in the middle of COVID-19. Digital health is an area of constant growth for me. I’m constantly asking myself questions: When am I using technology for connection and for good? When am I using it to numb and to escape? What are healthy tech habits? And how do I teach those habits to my kids? 

These are the questions that led to this new four-part series launching today, and to start it all off, I wanted us to hear from a tech insider. Max Stossel is the head of education for the Center for Humane Technology. Okay, that is a kind of fancy term for an organization that I first learned about the founder of for the Center for Humane Technology when I watched a 60 Minutes episode a couple of years ago. It was founded by Tristan Harris when he was a design ethicist at Google, and he observed the large-scale negative impacts of attention-grabbing business models. 

As a tech insider, both Max and Tristan witness how apps are created to be addictive. These insiders even describe the places where these social apps are created as “dopamine labs.” They say that the companies that created social media and mobile tech have been benefitted our lives enormously, but even with the best intentions, they are under intense pressure to compete for attention, and they’ve created invisible harms for all of us. Some of the harms they described are digital addiction, mental health, constantly facing a battle for attention, social comparison and bullying, a breakdown of truth that it’s become harder than ever to separate fact from fiction. Polarization, that now more than ever there’s stronger ideological rifts, which makes compromise and cooperation more difficult. Political manipulation, creating discord through cyber warfare is far more cost effective than military action. And finally, superficiality. They’ve created a social system built on likes and shares, which has prioritized shallowness over depth. 

I interviewed Max during the first week of shelter-in-place, where my digital addiction was at an all-time high. And as I began to describe to him my addictive behavior, he began to tell me what was going on behind the scenes. And that actually, addition is the intended outcome of these app builders. 

So, today is going to be a very enlightening conversation for you. You’re going to understand why you will say something out loud about a shoe company and then that show company shows up in your Instagram feed. He is going to let you know what’s really going on behind all of those little icons on our phones. Give this conversation a listen, and then come back next week to learn more on what we can do to have healthy digital habits going into our summer. 


Max Stossel: Award-Winning Poet, Filmmaker and Speaker

Jessica: You worked for a social media company. And as you yourself say, you designed some of the same notification structures to distract people that you now criticize. So, I know we’re not going to name names, but just tell us a little bit more about what you did and how overt the mandate was to addict the user to technology.

Max: Sure. So, I was working for a startup. This was around 2014, 2015, maybe 2013. I’m bad with time. And I was pretty much told by… we’re trying to raise our Series A at a high valuation, that’s an investment round. And we were told, "Hey, if you can hold people’s attention for two minutes or longer, then you have a valuable company." And that’s two minutes or longer a day and things have changed now, for sure. And the big social media companies are holding much more attention than that, but that was sort of a symbol that we could raise investment at a high valuation because we were going to be able to sell ad dollars. And so, at the time, we certainly weren’t thinking about it, "Hey, how can we addict you, hahaha." Or even, I’m trying to manipulate behind the screen. It just sort of became a game of, "Oh, okay. Which notifications should I send you that are better at keeping you? What language should be used that will make people come back more? Oh, if we autoplay videos inside of our experience, we can hold your attention for about 10% longer."

And what I found doing that was there were some things that just worked at grabbing and holding attention, and that wasn’t odd. It was an odd realization because, like, nobody that I was designing a product for was waking up and thinking, "I want to spend more time on this today." That was my goal and not their goal. And so, I became aware of this disconnect and this strange power that we have as tech designers, that we can sort of turn these knobs or dials. And then all of a sudden, we’re getting more time, which wasn’t actually a human choice. And so, that was when I kind of woke up to, "Wow, there’s an unprecedented responsibility here."

And I teamed up with Tristan Harris at the time it was called "Time Well Spent." And now it’s the "Center for Humane Technology." And we got all these messages from parents and teachers and students saying, "What the heck do we do about this new digital world?" And so, I’ve been speaking with those groups for about three years now, trying to learn as much as I can and share my insights on how some of this stuff is designed with a very specific agenda that can be very hard to live in and go our own way. And we, as you were saying, we are definitely in an unprecedented time now where obviously we want to use this stuff for the positives and the social connection that they can bring. And I’ll be curious to hear your experience and other people’s experiences of being so reliant on these digital environments that ultimately are not about just communication.

They want something from us. They want our time and they’re doing sort of specific tactics and tricks to get it. They aren’t really thinking about us as people, but are thinking about us as human beings with 24 hours in our day, and “I need more of your attention this year than I got last year to keep my shareholders happy.” So, in some ways, these environments are designed to farm us for our attention. And so, what does it look like to spend more and more and more time and to rely more and more and more heavily on these environments in the great quarantine fest of 2020?

“They want something from us. They want our time and they’re doing sort of specific tactics and tricks to get it … So, in some ways, these environments are designed to farm us for our attention.” Max Stossel

Jessica: Oh my gosh. Oh gosh, this is going to be a fresh conversation. But before we get into kind of current, how we’re holding these tensions now, I’m curious what changed in you? What was your ‘aha’ moment? You said you started realizing that you had responsibility, but you know, you now, you used to create it and now you’re changing it. Was there a moment? Was it a conviction? Was it coming from this moral place? Tell me more about that journey.

Max: It was conversations for me with Tristan Harris who was Google’s design ethicist at the time. And he was in the room when Google decided, they were like, "Hey, should Gmail notify you when you get an email?" And he kind of felt like their way of making that decision was, "Yeah, that sounds good. We should do that." And he had this moment of like, "Whoa, that’s two billion people’s attention that we just decided is going to be steered in a certain direction. Are we looking at that responsibly enough?" And hearing him talk about it, it opened my eyes to the understanding that there are really just some decisions that we look back on and cherish, and some that we look back on with regret, and we have this new unprecedented power to steer so many people’s attention with this device that we rely on so heavily and carry around 24/7 in our pockets.

And you know, what we were doing at a social media company, we weren’t that good at it, to be honest. We weren’t that great at steering attention, but it was in doing so that I noticed, "Whoa, wow, the entire industry is based on this game. Who can play this game best at grabbing and holding attention"? And by being in the weeds of it, where I think most of big tech doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong, they’re just thinking like, "Okay, if I’m getting you to use my product, you’ll like using my product." But it was talking with Tristan that I think opened my eyes to the amount of power and control that can be had in by designing the rooms that we play in.


Humane Technology: Enhancing Human Brilliance  

Jessica: And I know you’re now the Head of Education for the Center for Humane Technology. What is humane technology?

Max: So, what we believe is that humane technology is technology that enhances human brilliance. So, it recognizes and notices the places that we are so naturally good at supporting each other in person as creative people. And how do we help enhance those skills and those aspects of ourselves? And also, how do we protect humanity from our vulnerabilities? Tristan often talks about how he grew up as a magician, and you notice as a magician, all you need to know to trick somebody is not like their greatest strengths, just like a point of attentional weakness. And how do we protect humans at those points of attentional weakness? Weak like, "Wow, we do tend to really care what other people think about us." So, if we see a notification that says, "Somebody has tagged a photo of you," we’re probably going to care about that in a pretty serious way. Can we understand that notifications like that are not necessarily neutral and that we don’t have such a giant free choice at, "Well, I can either click that or not click that." But understand the impact it’s going to have on our emotions and on our physiology, and plan and protect accordingly. And so, enhancing the places that we’re naturally brilliant as humans and protecting us in the places that we’re vulnerable to feeling certain ways or being manipulated.

“So, what we believe is that humane technology is technology that enhances human brilliance … enhancing the places that we’re naturally brilliant as humans and protecting us in the places that we’re vulnerable to feeling certain ways or being manipulated.” Max Stossel

Jessica: So let’s talk about our physiology, our current physiology, which is in very high gear right now, I think for many of us. You kind of said you wanted to flip the script just to let you know, I have an accessories brand and we are a social networking company, and we are built on this idea of in-person connection. So, we have 2,000 social impact entrepreneurs around the country, and these entrepreneurs are creating a marketplace for vulnerable communities. And these entrepreneurs are selling handmade goods created by people that are often living outside of the marketplace, don’t have access to a traditional marketplace. So, we’re this fair trade social impact company and all of our social entrepreneurs across America have in-home social gatherings with their neighbors, with their coworkers, with their friends, and they invite women into their homes. And it’s usually from 10 to 30 people, and they do a popup shop, and they then become sort of the store owner for that marketplace business.

So, as you can imagine, that has shut down. So, we have quickly pivoted, you know, thankfully we don’t have physical stores. Our stores are our people. So, now, we’ve pivoted to virtual gatherings, which to be honest with you, a lot of people in this space of direct sales have pivoted a long time ago. They kind of pride themselves on being very digitally-based companies. I know that our brains are wired for in-person connection. And so, and we’re storytellers, we’re stylists. It’s … really my company, one of our big propositions is about connection. So, we’ve quickly pivoted to virtual gatherings where an ambassador can use, you know, Zoom, Facebook, even texting in order to still gather people in her community virtually to have a style and storytelling time. Now, we’re doing a give-back to anyone that is impacted by COVID in any way. So, that is one side of how now, suddenly, I am like, "Wow, thank God for technology. Thank you for the ability to gather virtually as a human…"

Max: How is it going?

Jessica: It’s going well, actually. I mean, of course, it’s not going to be like what it, you know, I mean, in-person gathering is a much more effective way to connect with people. Also, there’s just the buying habits of people are very up in the air right now. But we already have 150 of these virtual gatherings booked in the last three days. And so, in that respect, people are pivoting quickly. And, you know, as a creative, I do believe constraint breeds creativity. So, you know, some of our Noonday Collection Ambassadors, is what we call them and have never done an online gathering before. Some of them, this is the only way they ran their business. So, in that respect, everyone’s going to grow through this. I’m also a mom now with three kids at home and my husband is working and it’s like, "Okay, all right." The conversation I was going to have with you about a little bit Pollyanna… no, it wasn’t Pollyanna. It was more like, you know, I really care about people spending less time on technology and suddenly I, myself am on it now. I’ve spent my entire day sitting in a chair on Zoom calls. Not to mention, I am now fully addicted. I don’t have notifications turned on, but I, for sure I’ve been really checking how many COVID cases are in Austin now. Like I’m refreshing that button way too much. So, yeah. What are your thoughts? What do we do?

Max: How does it feel? So, like when you hit the refresh and you see that there’s a new case, how often would you say you’re doing that?

Jessica: Up until me realizing that I’ve been doing it and it’s not helpful? Well, right now it’s felt a little relieving just because there aren’t, but on the other hand, I’m really good friends with the founder of a COVID-19 in-home test. And she’s like, "Guess what? There’s only 140,000 people around the world who have even taken tests and there are no swabs available. There’s only three companies that produce these swabs." So, there’s also this reality that like, it doesn’t even matter. The numbers don’t matter because people aren’t being tested. So, but, you know, I think right now we’re all trying to… we’re grabbing for information because it gives us a sense of control. But then actually…


Recognizing Technology Addiction

Max: This is the piece that I find, I think is a perfect example of a human vulnerability of it feels like we need to know right now. And with the 24-hour news cycle even, it feels like, “There’s information. I just need the most up-to-date information. If I have the most updated information, then I can take the best actions or I can keep my family safe, or I have a sense of control. I need to know. I need to know the thing.” When I think in reality, whether, like, at this point, especially, there’s a period where learning is really helpful, but at this point we’re at now, I see, you know, you’re in quarantine, you’re staying home with your family. Does your life change by knowing the difference in how many cases there are?

Jessica: And it really doesn’t.

Max: It really doesn’t, right? But there is something in you that like, kind of like pulling that lever that just feels the need to know. It’s like it becomes this addiction. And I think this is like one of the challenges in the news cycle with people and in our world today. And one of the places where the technology companies have the most trouble, because the moment something happens, everybody rushes to the internet or rushes to Google, rushes to Twitter, rushes to whatever it might be to find out what is it? What’s going on? When the difference between learning that right away and learning that the next day, very little difference in impact on your life. And you’re probably getting more accurate information the next day. And I think it’s an important time for all of us to really think about our news diets and be thinking about like, "How many times do I actually need to be checking or knowing what’s going on to make my life, like, that actually enhances or serves me and my family?" Is it once a day? Is it twice a day? Is it once a week?

“And I think it’s an important time for all of us to really think about our news diets and be thinking about like, ‘How many times do I actually need to be checking or knowing what’s going on to make my life … that actually enhances or serves me and my family?’” Max Stossel

I deleted Twitter from my phone, and have felt significantly less stressed. And I think probably more or only slightly less informed from that decision. And I think it’s… we have this urge to know. We need to know right now. And I think that’s exactly one of the places that we could use some technological help from these products in saying like, "Okay, let’s really be thinking about a person like a compassionate friend would, and think how much, or how often do we really need to know this? And can we help steer our decisions towards those types of outcomes?

Jessica: Well, and what’s crazy is I, like, I wasn’t really much of a consumer of news before all of this. I listened to about 10 minutes of NPR on my very short commute home from work. And I would consider myself being probably more technologically conservative. I mean, my daughter didn’t get a phone until the seventh grade. My other kids don’t even have phones. So, it’s just weird for me now. Like once I opened that box, I just, "Oh, wow." It’s like this whole new world. And so, now I’m just sucked into this. Well, I didn’t really get into the news cycle. So, what would you say is a good tech diet for the news specifically for all of us right now?

Max: Right now I would, I mean, it totally depends on your situation. Right? And I would think about, “What do I need the news for? Like, why do I need to know?” And then if your answer is, "I need to know." Let’s think a layer deeper on that one and think, "I need to know so that what?" And really think about what role is it serving in your life and in your family’s life. And can you plan and schedule according to that? Because I guarantee you, it’s certainly adding a lot of stress and anxiety, because having all this information without actual agency to do anything is a stressful circumstance. So, can we look at what is the role that this is serving in my life? Is this helping, how is this feeding me as a human, or as a family, or as a community? And I think when the answer…

“Having all this information without actual agency to do anything is a stressful circumstance.” Max Stossel

Jessica: What about as a business owner? Because I feel like a lot of…

Max: Sure.

Jessica: …the lot of the reason I’m really consuming is because we’re, you know, I mean, it’s very challenging to figure out how to forecast a business in an unprecedented pandemic. Okay?

Max: Right. So then, I would invite you to think about, "Okay. What sort of information would you learn that would really change the outcome of your planning, or of your learning, and how often do you need that information? Would having a 10-second advantage in that information make a significant difference?" I would think about it like that. I’d be like, "Like, what am I looking for?" Because I think it’s a really challenging situation to be in just the constant fire hose of information of, I need to know, I need to know because something in here might actually just help them be the right piece of information that I need that’ll make everything clear and concise and better. I don’t think that thing is happening or coming, you know? So, I think really thinking from a human and planning standpoint of what am I looking for? What’s really going to help me that I found here? When might I find that? How often do I need to check to see if that’s there? And I think questions like that, that take us out of just being in it mindlessly are very helpful in a time like this, for me.


A Look Behind the Scenes

Jessica: So, tell us some of the things as someone who’s been an insider, what is happening behind the scenes that we don’t know about? You know, how are these new… I downloaded Medium, and I’m suddenly on XM radio, what’s happening behind the scenes that’s actually trying to get me hooked.

Max: So, I would say probably one of the best analogies to think about it is that like every click that you’ve made, every amount of time that you’ve hovered over one story versus another, like, every share button, every not necessarily text message, but certainly message over Messenger or on apps like that is being tracked and coded. And so, you can think about it like there’s a voodoo doll of you, and every one of those click gives, like, a little bit more fingernails and hair clipping to make it look a little bit more realistically like you, and predicting a better and better and better model of what’s the perfect next piece of content that will make you feel something, or click, or like, or share. And sometimes, the goal is to have you click or like, or share, but also the goal is to have you sending it to someone else who might be likely to come back into the system and spend more time in it there because ultimately it’s about how do we get as much advertising revenue as possible?

So, there’s just so much data. There’s just such a deep understanding of us, and our behaviors, and our likes. I feel like one good example of this is you probably heard or talked to people who are like, "The phone is listening to me. It’s listening to me. My phone’s microphone is listening. I was having a conversation and they knew, they knew. And like now I saw an ad for diapers or something because I was talking about diapers." And I think is a perfect example because the truth is actually creepier. The truth is that in most instances, they’re not listening to you. They just have such a good data profile and a good understanding and know where you are physically and what phones you’ve been close to. And other people who are like you and what they’re buying. And so, they kind of know what you’re like…

Jessica: Whoa, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know they were listening to my friends’ phones.

Max: So, they’re not listening on the microphone to any of it, but they’re tracking…

Jessica: They’re tracking.

Max: …on all of these phones. And then, so because your friends behave often similarly to you, or it knows that your phones were in close proximity from the geolocation, it might be likely if they clicked on something, or a website to show you that thing. And so, there’s just such a rich data profile and such a high likelihood of knowing what type of thing we might do next because ultimately, that’s the design of these whole systems. The goal is, "How do we get people to buy something, or to change people’s behavior just a little bit, or to have them click more ads or spend more time on this stuff?" And there’s more data than you could possibly imagine to do that. And so, most of the manipulations are subtle, but there are things within design, and within coordination of lots of different people, and understanding not just what you do, but what people like you do that allow them to give really highly precise, targeted content that is the most likely to make you feel something.

“There’s just such a rich data profile and such a high likelihood of knowing what type of thing we might do next because ultimately, that’s the design of these whole systems.” Max Stossel

And it doesn’t care what that content is, but like, and we see results of this in the YouTube world as well. And we’re starting to see this with kids is that you start to click on one YouTube rabbit hole and all of a sudden it’s pushing you towards the more extreme versions of your thoughts and stuff, because that they figured out. The YouTube algorithm has figured out that those more extreme videos are more likely to get you watching and clicking. So, it doesn’t care. YouTube doesn’t care what videos it shows you. It’s just going to push you towards sort of more crazy or outrageous things because those seem to get more watch-time and more clicks. And so, all of that happening to two billion people at scale with intense precision, I’d say is the biggest and most significant manipulation.

Jessica: So, how are you getting your news? Because what I’m thinking then is “How am I even going to read anything that doesn’t have the intent of clickbait?”

Max: Right. And so, I mean, it starts to be for me about finding people that I can trust, who have an understanding of how the system works and are recognizing that there’s so much bias and so much tilt in it and working to combat it. It’s not perfect. But I have started to understand who are people who are thinking that way and trust them more, the internet tends to tilt towards panic. In this particular instance with Coronavirus, I think it’s one of the first times in my lifetime where the panic has actually been warranted, for the most part, it’s still there’s over panic on it as well. But most of the time when there’s a scare, it’s usually not a big deal. This one happens to be different. But to watch for who are the people who are being kind of slow and careful in their decisions and vetting sources, it’s really hard. It’s not easy to have good trustworthy news sources in today’s world.

And what I would argue is that less is more for most people. We just don’t need to be reading everything. I mean, unless your job or for some reason you really do, but I just would invite you to think about, why? Like, what is your why? And that’s the answer with, I think, so much of technology right now. Is it good? Is it bad? It’s not about that. What is your why? What are we using this for? How is this enhancing your life? How is this contributing to your life, to your relationships, to your business, to your community, to your family? And if the answer to that is clear, then great. Keep using that technology and do that thing. And if it’s not clear, then we might be caught in one of these loops that are being designed to keep us there and click things and sell ads.

Jessica: How have you kept from becoming cynical in all of this? I don’t think of artists as cynics or poets, especially.

Max: I mean, I think… I think we’re on a path towards figuring it out, and we sort of, we have to be, I am nervous. I’m nervous that if we don’t change these systems that it leads us to a bad place and it’s very hard to undo the damage that’s been done. One example that I like to use is when Kyrie Irving who’s a famous basketball player, he went on TV and said the earth was flat. And then he apologized for it being like, "Sorry, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole. And I started believing that. I apologize to the science teachers whose lives have been more difficult." And then after he said that apology, the people who believe the earth was flat were saying, "You know what? The Round Earthers got him. That’s what happened. The Round Earthers got to him, and they made him say that."

And it’s very hard once we believe some of this stuff, to undo the damage that’s been done. So, I am nervous and I think it’s an urgent problem, but I think we’re figuring it out. I would love to see social networks that are actually about how do we enhance each other’s social lives? How do I help people spend more time with people they care about? People they haven’t met, but they would love. And I can use my data to figure that out, illuminating new experiences and opportunities in-person, onscreen, and off, that really people later feel incredibly satisfied about using. I would love and would happily pay for products like that. And I hope we move in directions that are deeply human and intention focused. I think we’re just not there yet.


Taking Steps in the Right Direction

Jessica: What ways are we stepping backwards right now because of Corona, COVID, whatever? And what places do you think we are stepping forward?

Max: Why are we stepping backwards, and why are we stepping forward? I mean, I hope that we’re being sort of rushed into this situation where we have to figure out how to have healthy relationships with this stuff because it’s so all-encompassing. But I don’t know. It’s early. What do you think? You’re experiencing it as a family. Where are you feeling like you’re ahead and where are you feeling like you’re behind?

Jessica: Well, I’m thankful right now for… I’m thankful for Zoom. I wish I would have invested stock in Zoom. Oh, man that would’ve been great, but you know, I mean, one of my soapboxes is about in-person connection. I wrote a book called Imperfect Courage. It’s one of the primary tenants, is about human connection in-person, eyes, you know, we have to look each other in the eyes. So, I do feel very isolated right now. It’s brutal to just look at my friends on Zoom. You know, it’s just not the same. So, on one hand, you know, it’s sad, but on the other hand, I’m so grateful. So, I’m grateful to get to have these motives. I’m so grateful that my company can pivot because we have obviously a direct impact on vulnerable communities. And then a lot of our Noonday Collection Ambassadors around the country right now are depending on this job that they have to bring in some income for their family, where they’ve had big losses.

And I’m very thankful for technology. I think my fear is that I still believe in in-person connection, and I don’t know how this is going to impact the long-term culture of my company, you know, in the fall, are we all going to be just still scared to even get together? You know, what are sort of the behavioral changes that are going to happen that I don’t think are healthy? So, are people going to, you know, already there was this sense that people are lonelier than ever, people are more isolated than ever. And are we only going to lean in more to that narrative, or is there going to be a sense of, like, "Now, I really do appreciate in-person gathering and I want to, you know, I want to go to a Noonday Collection Trunk Show more than ever because I get to get together with my friends?"

I’m also concerned about kind of insular thinking. And this idea, you know, Americans have been… I work with vulnerable communities all of the time, and I don’t know. I guess I walk around with this sense of our own vulnerability that I try not to have that ‘me versus them’ thinking. And so, I know though that right now, a lot of Americans were like, "How could this happen to America? Like it’s America."

Max: True.

Jessica: And so, I’m also concerned about compassion fatigue, and are people going to be able to still hold space for what’s happening across the globe? Or is it going to be this insular thinking? So, I’m thinking about that. And then yeah, for my kids, that’s probably my biggest concern about how we’re going to step backward. I mean, we just, I mean, the tech boundaries that we’ve had as a family are just… They’re just not going to be as intense as they have been. Although I will say we, as a family, the things that we’re doing off technology right now and the conversations we’re having, that’s where the real joy is. I mean, we’re having really deep conversations. Even my daughter just came in to me earlier and said, "Mom, how are you doing?" You know, she’s 13, and I just was like, "Wow, she’s seeing me." And we’re seeing each other right now in ways. So, I’m really thankful for that.

Max: That’s what I’m very curious about right now is, and I hope we… One of my frustrations with technology is that I feel like sometimes we pretend it’s the same as real life. And great, if it can be a tool to enhance it, how wonderful, but it’s so not, it is so different to have these gatherings online, as it is to in-person. They’re just such different features, we don’t get the oxytocin from touch, and we don’t get the same sort of magic that we’re designed as humans to be together. But I am curious in a time like this, of what sort of structures or activities around a household are working really well for families, you know, and are creating that kind of on or off-screen joy or togetherness. And it sounds like you’ve had some really powerful moments.

Jessica: Yeah. I would say our family is not my primary concern just because of habits that we already had previously to this. And it is really kind of societal behavioral changes overall that could impact my business. Like if people suddenly, you know, start choosing virtual connection over in-person connection, I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think there’s going to be this pent up demand for people to want to get together after this? Or do you think there’s going to be this like paranoia? We better not get together?


Stepping Back to Move Forward

Max: Probably a little of both, but I mean, I definitely think we will get through this and this will pass. And I’m a big believer in in-person and I hope it’ll be all right. Things that could work online and were made more efficient or better by being online, great. Let’s move those, and let’s have those practices, and let’s use this as a time to recognize the places that fall short, and what we’re lacking and how do we double down on the real-life human elements that we’re not getting from tech? Because there are plenty. It’s a big lens over reality and it’s missing so much. But I think this will pass in terms of your business and things might be different and there might be some people, for awhile, who are really afraid of going out. But I also think there’ll be people who have a newfound joy for connection.

“Let’s use this as a time to recognize the places that fall short, and what we’re lacking, and how do we double down on the real-life human elements that we’re not getting from tech? Because there are plenty.” Max Stossel

Jessica: I think the more of us that are consuming less news right now, those are the people that are going to be ready to get together in homes.

Max: You’re right. I bet those things are related.

Jessica: I think there’s a correlation, and I appreciate our conversation today, and I’m definitely going to watch my consumption, you know, what you pay attention to becomes important. And the more we pay attention to fear, the more fearful we’ll become, but the more we can use this time to connect in other ways and do good, the more important that will become.

We like to wrap up our podcast by asking how you’re going scared right now. This is an appropriate question perhaps. I speak a lot about fear and like to encourage people that even if you’re afraid, you can just go for it anyway. And can you think of anything right now in your life where you’re going scared?

Max: Well, it’s a scary time. What comes to mind for me is that we’re, you know, just doing, being, and this time, right now, it can feel like going scared, but we’re not in charge of what happens. We are in charge of how we react to what happens and what an opportunity to care for each other, to check in on each other, to tell that person you’ve been wanting to tell something to. That you can give your parents or your kids a call that maybe if you’ve been waiting on calling for awhile. But I think just taking steps in our daily lives right now can feel like going scared. And it’s a scary time. I’m scared for my parents’ health. I’m scared for a lot of people who are having real trouble with this right now, but I’m also excited for the change and transformation that will come.

“We’re not in charge of what happens. We are in charge of how we react to what happens and what an opportunity to care for each other, to check in on each other, to tell that person you’ve been wanting to tell something to.” Max Stossel

Jessica: So, yes. Google really is listening to us. I know that, right now, after shelter-in-place, it’s beginning to lift, but oh my goodness. I thought I had these tidy little digital health habits, until suddenly, I was counting on my phone 24/7, and so were my kids. It’s been a little bit of a hot mess around here.

So, I’m really excited because these conversations that are coming at you over the next couple of weeks are really here to serve you, to not make you feel overwhelmed or guilty, but to really give you a path and to be a guide on how we can have healthy relationships with our phones. So, I’m really, really excited about this series and would love for you to share it because, honestly, it’s helped me a ton, so I know it will help you too. Because you and I, we’re similar. 

Thanks so much for listening to today’s episode. Our music is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. Today’s podcast was produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.