Max Stossel is an award-winning poet, filmmaker, and speaker. He is also the Head of Education & Content for the Center for Humane Technology, an organization of former tech insiders and CEOs dedicated to realigning technology with humanity’s best interests. If the Center is unfamiliar to you, one of their products probably is not – the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, an exploration of the hazards of online life for the flourishing and well-being of our kids.
Max’s work has brought him to the front lines of public discourse about the impact of screens on our culture, and on the many ways tech companies are profiting off of our attention at the expense of our own well-being.
On this episode of the podcast, Max joins START co-founder Krista Boan to talk about how he began this work, the ways we need to reframe how we think about our tech vocabulary words like “attention” and “algorithm,” and how online engagement drives people to extremism.
Screen Sanity is Executive Produced by Krista Boan and START.
It is produced and edited by Mike Cosper for Cosper Productions.
Max Stossel Final
Krista Boan: [00:00:00] Hey everyone, welcome to the Screen Sanity Podcast. I’m your host Krista Boan, co-founder of START where we help families raise happy and healthy kids in a world that is increasingly digital. We’ve had hundreds of conversations with parents everywhere who share that the number one battleground in their homes is screen time. And while we’ve learned that there is no easy button when it comes to parenting today’s kids, there’s also an unbelievable movement of parents who are stepping into the arena and fighting for their kids’ hearts. Each episode our guest will help us dive into some of the tensions families are facing and walk us through some of the conversations you’ll wanna have to prepare your kids for the road ahead. Welcome to Screen Sanity.
[00:00:47] Hey friends, thanks so much for being here today. Before I introduce today’s guest, I just wanna give you a little background on why I am just so tickled to have the opportunity to pick his brain. So, some of you might know that before the pandemic forced us all to go digital with our programs, that START was very much a boots on the ground organization. So, we would host these like events where we would gather parents together, and we would have these face-to-face conversations about the challenges they were facing, um, in regards to screen time in their homes. And one of the very first things that we always did with parents was share with them a TED talk from Tristan Harris who is at an organization known as Center for Humane Technology which is this amazing organization raising awareness about the ways that we’re being manipulated by tech companies to spend as much as time as possible glued to our screens. So, you may or may not be familiar with this organization, but you’ll likely recognize one of their products, a Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma.
[00:01:54] Today’s guest Max Stossel has been on the front lines of this organization doing this work, so he gives talks, sharing resources, developing films so that our young people can begin to have the critical thinking that they need to take back their time and attention from tech companies and pursue a healthier relationship with their screens. So, Max, we are so grateful for the work that you are doing and so delighted to talk with you today. Welcome to the Screen Sanity podcast.
[00:02:25]Max Stossel: [00:02:25] Thanks for having me, and always a pleasure to collaborate. Appreciate what you’re doing over at START.
[00:02:30]Krista Boan: [00:02:30] Yeah, thank you. Well, you have an outstanding resume of projects that you’ve helped kinda breathe life into. You’re an outstanding poet and a storyteller. But for many of us, I think the quickest way for us to kind of get to the topic that you’re passionate about is to point to The Social Dilemma. So, Max, I don’t know what your experience was like but for us, at START, the week [laughs] that documentary was released we were just like slammed with people reaching out whose eyes had been opened to this problem our society has been facing that you’ve been actually working on for several years now. Can you walk us through your background and share with us what caused you to be concerned about tech companies exploiting our attention?
[00:03:18]Max Stossel: [00:03:18] Sure. Um, so when I was, uh, a couple of years out of college, I was working in the social media world. And I fell in love with startup world. And I had a friend who was starting a social media company, and I thought, “Okay, maybe I can help.” And then we were told by our investors that if we could hold your attention for two minutes or longer then we had a valuable company. So, so much thought started to go into, “How do we grab and hold that attention? How many notifications can we send you a day without you turning them off? Oh, if we auto-play videos inside of your experience, that works a little bit better. Let’s do that.” And I started to recognize that the decisions that I was making, and we were a small startup, we weren’t doing it that well even, but these decisions about how do we grab and hold your attention, they were the game.
[00:03:55] And all of this industry was really about what works best at grabbing and holding attention. And it was around that time that I met Tristan and was helping however I could. And this was probably around like 2014, uh, at then, that time it was time well spent that involved into the Center for Humane Technology. And, yeah, it’s been really beautiful to see The Social Dilemma reaching so many people for this topic that we’ve been, we’ve been shouting about for a while. And it seems like this artifact, this movie, um, has really, has really gotten the point into a wide variety of people’s eyes and brains. And that’s a beautiful thing for this movement.
[00:04:29]Krista Boan: [00:04:29] Yeah, we were, we were thrilled for the success of that as well, and for the conversations that happened, um, following up, so it’s been a treat to watch it kind of come to life. And I know that there are so much more that I’m still, yeah [laughs], it’s just the tip of the iceberg. And I think one of the things that was really helpful about even the documentary was that it kinda put it exactly, like you said, in the hands of people who needed something a little bit more solid to grapple with. And, and one of the metaphors that we kind of use at START to kind of help parents and families, um, understand kind of the unhealthy of the system today is a smorgasbord. So, you know, like the tech smorgasbord that we’re facing today is like a never ending buffet of all buffets. It’s like, you know, like the golden corral, right [laughs]? And it’s filled with-
[00:05:22]Max Stossel: [00:05:22] Yeah.
[00:05:22]Krista Boan: [00:05:22] … laptops and desktops and tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, virtual reality. I mean, you name it and it’s there, but here’s the thing about buffets. They really aren’t designed for people who care about what they eat [laughs]. There are no nutritional labels, there are no allergy warnings. So if you’re trying to keep an eye on the quality of screen time that you’re consuming good luck. And it’s similar to the good old days when a Big Mac was, you know, just a Big Mac and we knew something was up, but we couldn’t really put our finger on what that secret sauce was. And eventually, you know, society pushed back, um, on the fast food industry to disclose what was going on in the kitchen.
[00:06:02] And it feels a little similar to where we are headed today with our technology consumption. Um, I think, you know, as a culture, we know we aren’t healthy. We know we want something better, both for ourselves and especially for our kids, but we don’t know exactly how to help our kids understand, um, the addictive ingredients that tech companies are designing into every, you know, app or platform that’s created. So I have picked out some words that are not really a common part of like anybody I know is parenting vocabulary, but maybe they should be, and I would love your help breaking them down. Would you be up for that?
[00:06:44]Max Stossel: [00:06:44] Absolutely.
[00:06:46]Krista Boan: [00:06:46] Yeah. Awesome. So the first, the first kind of vocab word [laughs] that I’m gonna throw out there for parents is the word attention economy. Why is it so freaking hard to resist the devices in our pockets? What’s going on?
[00:07:00]Max Stossel: [00:07:00] So yeah, a couple of things. ‘Cause so the attention economy is pretty much in which your time and your kids’ time is these tech companies money, right? Because they run on advertising models. So in that case, attention is the revenue. If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product, you’re not the customer, you are the product. You don’t pay for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat but Coca Cola does pay to run ads. And so the, your attention is the thing being sold. Your eyeballs are the thing being sold.
[00:07:28] And I’m not saying that the people working at these companies are evil and trying to, trying to steal all of your time, but the system that they are locked in does result in that. Because they can’t look at you and their kids as people with hopes and dreams and relationships and things that they want to build and do in their lives. Its, these are 14 to 18 year old males and females. And I need more of their attention this year than I got last year to keep my shareholders happy.
[00:07:52] And even when they do take steps to help people get off a little bit, um, when push comes to shove, if it turns out that what’s actually healthy is for people spending 80% less time on these platforms, that is just absolutely counter to the business model. So it is a very difficult, um, sort of tension and a war between these companies and us, because we don’t wake up in the morning and say, how much time can I spend on TikToK or Snapchat or Instagram today. But that is where the bottom line is for these companies. So the attention economy is a, an economy that is based on attention on time spent looking at screens. And of course that is not aligned with how we look at our lives and how we wanna plan them.
[00:08:31]Krista Boan: [00:08:31] And so in order to get our attention, in order to hold our attention, the people who are designing these apps have built in these, these mechanisms that are built on just like the study of human behavior and psychology, they build them into, um, the programs that we use. And I’ve heard you describe it before a little bit like ice cream. Do you know the analogy I’m talking about [laughing]?
[00:08:59]Max Stossel: [00:08:59] Yes. Um, so that’s one thing that’s actually relates to what you were describing with the buffets is because like, if it were something that we just sort of get up and go to at meal time, that’s one thing. And like, I love ice cream, but if I w- were carrying ice cream around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if I had to go inside of a pint of ice cream to talk to my friends and to do my work. And if there were 1,000 engineers updating the ice cream every day to make it more personally delicious for me, based on what times and how I was eating it in the past, I would probably have an ice cream problem. Um-
[00:09:31]Krista Boan: [00:09:31] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:09:31]Max Stossel: [00:09:31] … and so it’s, it’s different from other sort of technologies or other temptations in that way. I, I you know, we often get, well, then they say this about every tec- every new technology, didn’t they say this about Elvis shaking his hips?
[00:09:43]Krista Boan: [00:09:43] Yeah.
[00:09:43]Max Stossel: [00:09:43] Um, I think what’s really the most different is the 24/7 nature, more so than the innovation and technology. Um, but this is on us all of the time and that it really contains so much of our real world. Of course, there are wonderful things that exist inside of even social networks and definitely on our phones, but they’re all put into the slot machine like environment. Um, so slot machines are one of those tactics, the variable rewards where I push a button or I pull a lever.
[00:10:09] And sometimes I win and get some kind of reward and sometimes I don’t, um, in animal studies, if monkeys can predict kind of when they’re gonna win, then they’ll push the button sometimes and go about their lives. But if it’s on a variable reward schedule, they’ll just keep pushing and pushing that button.Um, and so much of our phones are designed like slot machines. Every time we’re pulling lever, we’re seeing one of those red icons, how many likes am I gonna get? Um, did the one person I really want to like my photo?
[00:10:31] Did they like my photo? With every scroll that is gonna make me laugh is gonna make me excited. Is this really gonna inspire me and change my life? And just like every once in a while, maybe it will. But it’s just all of these things that we actually love are put into the slot machine type environment and we are gambling our time and lives away. Um, and so that’s like it’s, it’s taking a lot of very real human elements and introducing this gambling type feature in a device that literally contains so much of our world and we’re carrying around 24/7.
[00:11:01]Krista Boan: [00:11:01] So actually you introduced like a second vocabulary word that I would say that I challenge families to consider start using as part of their vocabulary, which is variable rewards. So variable rewards mean that you don’t get the reward every single time, right? It’s not like every single time you open up Facebook, you get to see, um, the thing that you most want to see every single time. But instead that companies have, am I, am I describing this right? Max? Like the companies have figured it out like exactly when to show you the thing that you most want to see and they don’t show it to you until they’ve been able to get the most [laughs] amount of your time and attention, and then they show it to you. Okay. Am I close?
[00:11:50]Max Stossel: [00:11:50] Yes you definitely close [laughs]. I would say the only thing that feels different is that there are sometimes when that is happening, when like literally they’re delaying the good stuff to be on the perfect schedule to keep you clicking and scrolling. But often a lot of it just naturally operates like a slot machine where sometimes they’re like, sometimes you get that feeling that you can maybe be like a feeling. Sometimes it feels really good and exciting for some people that’s getting two likes, for some people it’s getting 100 likes, for some people that’s seeing a video that really makes you laugh. And it’s just, yeah, not everything will give you that in the same way, you don’t win every time, but it’s just, it was very even a little motion in your thumb, very little motion in your hands. So just keep playing and playing and playing and sometimes getting that feel good thing. And sometimes not. And that is a variable-
[00:12:35]Krista Boan: [00:12:35] Hmm.
[00:12:35]Max Stossel: [00:12:35] … reward schedule. It’s a variable of you don’t always get it variable rewards. Um-
[00:12:41]Krista Boan: [00:12:41] Yeah.
[00:12:41]Max Stossel: [00:12:41] … and sometimes those are rewards are dopamine hits of like, sometimes they’re like emotional of something feel good inside, inside of this platform.
[00:12:48]Krista Boan: [00:12:48] Yeah. And I think for, um, a lot of our families, one of the biggest places that they’ll show up is in gaming is that right? Like, how-
[00:12:57]Max Stossel: [00:12:57] Yeah.
[00:12:57]Krista Boan: [00:12:57] … are today’s games different than the games that you and I grew up on?
[00:13:02]Max Stossel: [00:13:02] Um, so one of the things that, uh, is really just the most blatantly variable rewards that any game that has loot crates, um, loot crates are literally just slot machines for kids. Um, you’re literally pulling a button there or pulling a lever, hitting a button.
[00:13:15]Krista Boan: [00:13:15] Uh-huh [affirmative]
[00:13:15]Max Stossel: [00:13:15] Then sometimes you get the thing you want and sometimes you don’t. Um, so any game with loot crate would just be like, just, that’s kinda a red flag. Um, there’s this video of one of the developers of Fortnite talking about how those are used in the Llamas and Fortnite. Um, those are variable rewards. And also how, just the nature of a lot of shooting games has a variable rewards element where sometimes you get the critical hit and sometimes you don’t, critical hit being like a kill shot.
[00:13:41] And so they’re just natural variable rewards elements in these games, but the gaming companies are, you know, they’re gamification. They create these tactics. They’re better than anybody at it. And I was a gamer growing up. Like I loved gaming. I think one really helpful tool for parents is just asking, not just like, do you like Fortnite? But how does Fortnite make you feel?
[00:14:00]Krista Boan: [00:14:00] Hmm.
[00:14:00]Max Stossel: [00:14:00] Uh, if you’d to ask me if I liked Halo, I’d be like, yeah, I love Halo. Halo is all I wanna play.
[00:14:05]Krista Boan: [00:14:05] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:14:05]Max Stossel: [00:14:05] If you’d to ask how does Halo make me feel. I think one, if I were aware of what my feelings are, which is another challenge, especially for boys.
[00:14:12]Krista Boan: [00:14:12] Hmm.
[00:14:12]Max Stossel: [00:14:12] But I wouldn’t be able to know, okay, the first hour is maybe exciting and the next 17, I’m just in a fit of rage trying to get to the next level. And so it really just because there are so many tactics and, um, and methods you use to keep us going that make the game so addictive and so easy to start the next one. And so like kinda emotionally manipulative, it’s helpful to, to check in on that and not just do you like this, but how does it make you feel?
[00:14:37]Krista Boan: [00:14:37] Gosh, I love that because I think, um, the temptation for us as parents is to just shame them for their love of the game. And I think if we can understand why it is that they [laughs], and if we can help them understand why it is that they are continuing to want and crave more and more gaming, that it can help us as parents begin better conversations and leaning into their, um, emotions is certainly super helpful suggestion. Well, one of the other things that we often hear from parents comparing, you know, um, today’s technology to when we grew up is how parents today tend to see things like social media. So for example, Snapchat, they tend to see it, you know, as the same as when we used to talk for a long time on the phone, is that accurate? Or are there techniques built in to Snapchat that also make it different than us just talking on the phone with our friends when we were younger?
[00:15:41]Max Stossel: [00:15:41] So yeah, there are these gamified elements inside of things like Snapchat. A lot of my advice to teenagers when I speak at schools is like, I’m not, when I say delete Snapchat I, they will react as though I’m saying stop messaging with your friends and freak out completely, which is understandable. And I really reiterate, I’m not saying stop talking to your friends, please don’t stop talking to your friends.
[00:16:01]Krista Boan: [00:16:01] Right.
[00:16:02]Max Stossel: [00:16:02] Um, but I think it’s really helpful to move environments closer to things that are like the phone and just even regular text messaging. So there’s something in Snapchat called streaks, which is I, uh, which is I send you a message and you send me one back, uh, within 24 hours and then like a little gamified number starts to come up and that streak builds and builds and builds. Um, and that sounds so simple and just like, kind of like a fun little game within messaging, but something strange starts to happen with teenagers where it starts to feel like the strength is, the streak is the measure of the friendship.
[00:16:33] If I don’t have a long streak going with this person, are we really friends or if I don’t have enough streaks or streaks with the right people, am I popular in school? And so there’s this moment I think, I can send you a video clip to share out, but I, in every talk that I give to kids, I say, raise your hand. If you use Snapchat, every hand in the room, goes up, keep your hand high. If you have any kinda streak going, every hand is pretty much still up. And then I say, keep your hand high, if you like streaks. And then just about all their hands go down. It’s like a couple of exceptions or looking around confused. Um, but so it’s really powerful for them to all see together.
[00:17:03] I was like, “Oh yeah, Hey, we’re doing this thing that we don’t actually like doing.” It starts to feel like a chore. They’re taking pictures of like just a wall or something ridiculous because they really wanna keep the streak going. They’re just nervous and anxious about ending the streak, but it’s not actually enjoyable. And so their tactics like these, um, in Snapchat, another thing is Snapchat is like the default notifications for Snapchat are when someone is typing, you gotta push notification. Um, so that means like, I will see just like I’m minding my business. And then I see Krista is typing.
[00:17:33]Krista Boan: [00:17:33] Wow.
[00:17:33]Max Stossel: [00:17:33] So like imagine what your life would look like. And if all the text messages you got that you were not just getting messages, but you were seeing when people are typing and how would that influence your own behavior of, Oh, wait, if I’m typing then they’re gonna see I’m typing. I want to know they read, that I read their message. Did they read my message? Why were they online but haven’t read it. It’s just an environment that has a lot of extra stress and anxiety in it.
[00:17:52]Krista Boan: [00:17:52] Yeah.
[00:17:52]Max Stossel: [00:17:52] And so like, I think it’s, you know, phones are especially right now during, COVID such a connection point for teenagers to socialize. And we [laughs] obviously don’t want to take that away.
[00:18:00]Krista Boan: [00:18:00] Right.
[00:18:00]Max Stossel: [00:18:00] And I think a helpful place to focus, and this is very hard to do alone, much easier to do in groups of friends, but it’s, can we move some of these conversations away from social media and onto just like messaging apps that are actually built for messages and are not just like built to make money off of your time, because the implications of when it’s done the ladder way of like Snapchat is like Instagram can be like TikTok can be. Is just that they’re just like mental health consequences and anxiety that comes from communications, but it is not really about communications for the app. It’s about stealing your time. And there are some apps like messaging and even WhatsApp, um, that is really just about messaging. And that allows us to be more in control.
[00:18:39]Krista Boan: [00:18:39] Right. I love those suggestion. Um, GroupMe, GroupMe doesn’t have advertising. Right? Or am I wrong?
[00:18:46]Max Stossel: [00:18:46] Yeah, GroupMe, no GroupMe I think is another [laughs], is another direct messaging one.
[00:18:50]Krista Boan: [00:18:50] Okay. Okay. Yeah. Okay [laughs]. I’m like, I’m like checking them off here. Okay.
[00:18:54]Max Stossel: [00:18:54] [laughs]
[00:18:54]Krista Boan: [00:18:54] So parents, I would just add the word streaks. I mean, I think that, um, t- to our vocab list, because I think, um, one of the things that as we talk with parents we get so much, um, w- I always, I was just sharing with a friend just like yesterday that, you know, the thing that gets butts in the seats at our programming is when something really critical happens, like something, you know, traumatic happens on Snapchat. And so we, we get a lot of unfortunate traffic, um, to our site because their kid has experienced trauma through Snapchat.
[00:19:26] So there’s this other layer of awareness that we need to have when we talk with our kids about Snapchat. It, it’s not just about safety. It’s not just about, you know, not sending something that you don’t want to be on the internet permanently, but it’s also about being aware that there’s a double bind and being aware that the tech companies are using something that should be kind of sacred to you to, to keep you hooked as much as, as much as they can. So-
[00:19:57]Max Stossel: [00:19:57] Yeah. Your relationships really become like the fuel to, to get you using and, and keep you using these apps. And so it’s like, it’s just some misalignment of incentives, um, but there’s relationships obviously very much matter to us, but that’s not like the, the overall goal of these companies. And they’re all, you know, those other concerns I think are, are absolutely valid as well within, within Snapchat. And we’re definitely seeing like, you know, people sending you pictures that are private and then those get leaked around school and that causing a lot of mental health issues and-
[00:20:27]Krista Boan: [00:20:27] Right.
[00:20:27]Max Stossel: [00:20:27] … Um, if in case it can be helpful. Uh, the thing that I say to kids is that those messages are not really, like, they don’t really disappear. They’re stored on a server in Los Angeles for 30 days.
[00:20:37]Krista Boan: [00:20:37] [laughs]
[00:20:37]Max Stossel: [00:20:37] Um, and like governments can subpoena them. So-
[00:20:41]Krista Boan: [00:20:41] Hey, max?
[00:20:42]Max Stossel: [00:20:42] … if you don’t- yep.
[00:20:43]Krista Boan: [00:20:43] Are you just saying that to like make me like, have something to, or is that true?
[00:20:48]Max Stossel: [00:20:48] It’s true [laughs]. It’s true. Governments can, can subpoena those, those, those photos up for up to 30 days. And so it can just be, if you don’t wanna send the photos someone’s pressuring you to send, feel free to say, “Hey, I’d rather not have a creepy government dude looking at my photo. Thank you very much.”
[00:21:03]Krista Boan: [00:21:03] Oh my gosh. Okay, good. We’ve been trying to get parents language for, [laughing] it’s not just like telling our kids not to send nudes, but what to say when somebody asks you for one. So that’s a good, we’ll take that suggestion.
[00:21:15]Max Stossel: [00:21:15] That’s one angle [laughing].
[00:21:18]Krista Boan: [00:21:18] Yeah. One.
[00:21:18]Max Stossel: [00:21:18] You can also just say, no, I don’t want to [laughing] because I think that you can learn how to do but that’s [laughing] it can be harder.
[00:21:25]Krista Boan: [00:21:25] Yeah. Yeah, totally. Now we’re gonna go into territory that I don’t understand quite as much. All right. But the word is algorithms. All right. So I have a vague sense of understanding algorithms, but can you break them down? Like what, what would be a good way for parents to explain algorithms to their kids and why they’re important to understand?
[00:21:48]Max Stossel: [00:21:48] Um, so the, it, this is a tough one for younger kids, ’cause it’s a little bit complicated, but so pretty much it’s like you could think about it as, how does any of these platforms, how does TikTok? How does Instagram decide what the next piece of content to show you is, right? So there’s everybody like literally billions of pieces of content, millions of people, billions of posts that are inside of the machine that are these social networks.
[00:22:14] And then, so some, an algorithm is pretty much what decides what the next piece of content to show you in your feed is. And it can take in a huge number of data points. So like everything you’ve ever clicked on what you hovered over and for how long you hovered over it, how long you spent stocking your crushes profile, um, like all of that data. And then not just that data, but so like, I guess what’s, it would explain it to kids. It would be like, imagine, imagine there’s a person with like the greatest memory of all the time.
[00:22:44] Like, imagine that you could remember everything that you’re like, that your friends and parents ever said to you, everything they’ve ever said, everything they’d ever touched, everything they’d ever done, everything they’ve ever looked at, let’s say that you just have to remember absolutely everything. And that you’re really, really, really smart. And you can connect that and sort of guess based on, uh, based on what your friends have looked at and said, and like, and touched like what they might like to look at next, and not only do you know what all of your friends have done, but you also know what, like millions of other people around the world who kinda act like your friends and what they’ve liked.
[00:23:20] And you just have this brilliant computer in your brain that can just crunch all those numbers. And based on the millions and millions and millions of different preferences and clicks and time spent stocking profiles, um, what might be the next best thing to show you? So, pretty much all of that is to say, it’s like, there’s just a lot of, uh, there’s a lot of thought. And just like someone who’s brilliant, it’s artificial intelligence.
[00:23:43] It’s like robots from the future kinda brilliant machines that are deciding what’s the perfect next piece of content to show you. So like on YouTube, when you click to watch one video and then you wake up two hours later, the algorithm is p- is a big part of that reason, why? Because they have so much data. Tristan talks about this as like, imagine as soon as you open, you hit that YouTube icon. It’s like, there’s a million lab, rats in a, um, in a study and they immediately start simulating.
[00:24:11] What would a million of these other lab rats like to watch next? I might crunch all those numbers, all that data to try to find the perfect next one for you. And it’s very tough to beat YouTube because even when you sign off, even when you say, you know what I’m done, I’m not gonna watch this. It learns what made you sign off. And then next time it’s using that data too. So it’s just, it’s a machine that is calculating everything you’ve ever touched on a screen and using that information to try to figure out what next video can I show you? That will keep you here longer.
[00:24:39]Krista Boan: [00:24:39] Hey, Max for-
[00:24:41]Max Stossel: [00:24:41] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:24:41]Krista Boan: [00:24:41] … a kid, for a kid, I’m thinking-
[00:24:44]Max Stossel: [00:24:44] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:24:44]Krista Boan: [00:24:44] … that sounds pretty awesome. I’m thinking that person, whoever that person is out there, who’s really smart. Who can predict everything about me. I’m thinking they love me. Like they know me. Right?
[00:24:55]Max Stossel: [00:24:55] Right? And so, and they do know you, um, but they don’t love you [laughs].
[00:25:00]Krista Boan: [00:25:00] Oh [laughing] okay.
[00:25:01]Max Stossel: [00:25:01] They do know you-
[00:25:02]Krista Boan: [00:25:02] Okay.
[00:25:02]Max Stossel: [00:25:02] … but they don’t love you. They want you, they like their goal is not for you to be happy.
[00:25:07]Krista Boan: [00:25:07] Hmm.
[00:25:07]Max Stossel: [00:25:07] Their goal is for you to watch more YouTube.
[00:25:10]Krista Boan: [00:25:10] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:25:11]Max Stossel: [00:25:11] Um, and so like, they don’t really care how it makes you feel. They don’t really care how, like what the consequence of that is in your life. They don’t care if you’re starting to believe that the earth is flat and not round.
[00:25:22]Krista Boan: [00:25:22] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:25:22]Max Stossel: [00:25:22] Um, they just want you to watch more. And so it’s, it would be it’s like, and that’s the promise of the future of technology is it would be amazing if that thing really did love us. If like, it was really trying to think about what do you want in your life? How do you wanna live in your life?
[00:25:35]Krista Boan: [00:25:35] Hmm.
[00:25:35]Max Stossel: [00:25:35] And how can I help you do that?
[00:25:36]Krista Boan: [00:25:36] Hmm.
[00:25:36]Max Stossel: [00:25:36] Um, but that’s not the way it’s designed right now. And hopefully the next generation can be built to actually care. Um, these ones don’t care. And then the places they do care, it’s minimal caring because most of the intention is to grab our time.
[00:25:52]Krista Boan: [00:25:52] I’m trying to think about this, this amazing person who has this awesome memory and shows us whatever we want.
[00:25:59]Max Stossel: [00:25:59] And then, and there’s one point and we do this all the time of, like he said, “To show us what we want.” And I think it’s important distinction between what we want and what we’ll watch.
[00:26:08]Krista Boan: [00:26:08] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:26:08]Max Stossel: [00:26:08] And like, like I, because it’s, that is what, what the algorithms are playing at is what we will watch things that like, if you put in front of me, I will watch them.
[00:26:18]Krista Boan: [00:26:18] Wow.
[00:26:18]Max Stossel: [00:26:18] So, do you see a car, when you see a car wreck, like on the street, you turn and look at it. That doesn’t mean that I want to look at car wrecks. Um, and so that’s, it’s just a good, a good language thing to keep in mind.
[00:26:30]Krista Boan: [00:26:30] Oh gosh. Yeah. So yeah, I really appreciate that distinction. So let me try it again. So I’m trying to think about this amazing person who has this incredible memory and shows us not whatever we want, but whatever we will watch. And I wanna know how that played in to what happened. And, you know, in 2020, as our nation became more and more fractured, um, it was an incredible challenge for parents and teachers to try to explain to our kids like how in the world has our country gotten to this point. And we know that there are so many deep historical moments of voices that we can point to is kind of a slow match to the current polarization, but certainly one of the most important challenges or ’cause we know about is how algorithms played into what we were even shown in the news, so.
[00:27:25]Max Stossel: [00:27:25] Sure. So, uh, there’s this researcher named Zainab who talks about how, when she was researching in 2014, 2015, um, some politics stuff, she would go to, uh, a Trump rally and then she watch some videos on the Trump rally. And then she would be quickly pushed towards white supremacy videos. Those are not the same thing. Um, but you would be pushed towards that. Once you started watching Trump videos-
[00:27:48]Krista Boan: [00:27:48] Uh-huh [affirmative]
[00:27:48]Max Stossel: [00:27:48] … then she would go to a Bernie rally and she would be pushed towards conspiracy left chemtrail videos, and other things like that.
[00:27:54]Krista Boan: [00:27:54] Right.
[00:27:54]Max Stossel: [00:27:54] And what that is, what YouTube is doing when a lot of these algorithms are doing like is what ideas are you already likely to believe? And then in that process of this machine that knows so much about us, it is figuring out what is a more and more extreme version of the ideas that you’re likely to believe. That’s not like. And so with our analogy of the smart person, um, it’s like a, sort of like a person wouldn’t do this. Um, but the machine would-
[00:28:22]Krista Boan: [00:28:22] Right.
[00:28:22]Max Stossel: [00:28:22] … where it’s like, Oh, like more people are watching it. Like you’re interested in, um, in this type of video, you like, look, this here’s an even crazier version of that. Here’s an even crazier version of that. And it’s not just politics. If you watch videos about vegetarianism, the algorithm will push you towards veganism-
[00:28:37]Krista Boan: [00:28:37] Right.
[00:28:37]Max Stossel: [00:28:37] … and that’ll put you towards, you shouldn’t have any honey products because honey is, are from bees. So it’s just, it’s not about politics, really. Just any idea that is in your brain, what the algorithms tend to do over time is push us towards more extreme versions of those views. And so I think we are seeing right now, the consequence of that in our country is that everybody is absolutely certain, um, of what they were already likely to believe and are believing in a more and more extreme ways with less and less tolerance or belief for how could anybody not get it or how could anybody not see my side?
[00:29:11]Krista Boan: [00:29:11] Right.
[00:29:11]Max Stossel: [00:29:11] Um, and that’s, I think that’s where we are no more and, uh, a place where there’s really not much listening in conversation and where there are frankly, a lot of people who have gone so far down these rabbit holes that are believing some dangerous and violent things.
[00:29:25]Krista Boan: [00:29:25] Right.
[00:29:26]Max Stossel: [00:29:26] Um, and, uh, and yeah, and I think we’re, I think we’re, we’re seeing that as a result in our country right now. And is it just the algorithms that are responsible for that? No, I don’t think so, but I think they absolutely pouring gas on these fires that are already within us.
[00:29:41]Krista Boan: [00:29:41] Yeah. Definitely. So I’m trying to think about, um, this next generation being part of the solution. And I’m trying to think about what, what can I teach my kids in terms of being critical consumers of media? Um-
[00:29:58]Max Stossel: [00:29:58] And I mean, I sai- like there’s no, I mean, this is really tough because also like show me some adults right now who have a good-
[00:30:04]Krista Boan: [00:30:04] Right.
[00:30:05]Max Stossel: [00:30:05] … understanding of the media landscape. Um, but it’s, I think one of the most important things, it’s just also that the things that we see on social media and on TV, like tend to also be the most extreme and out their views. It’s like most people who are Black Lives Matter supporters are not, are not violent, like in our peacefully protesting. And that’s not what you see on the news.
[00:30:27]Krista Boan: [00:30:27] Right.
[00:30:28]Max Stossel: [00:30:28] Most people who like, most people who like Trump are not out storming the Capitol, but that’s not what you see on the news.
[00:30:33]Krista Boan: [00:30:33] Right.
[00:30:33]Max Stossel: [00:30:33] And so like we see the most extreme versions of all sides in all things, but like actually most people are like trying to live their lives. And there’s one study that shows like we’re op- more open to alternative political views if we hear them in conversation-
[00:30:47]Krista Boan: [00:30:47] Uh-huh [affirmative]
[00:30:48]Max Stossel: [00:30:48] … as opposed to read them. And obviously all we’re doing is reading them constantly now.
[00:30:52]Krista Boan: [00:30:52] Right.
[00:30:53]Max Stossel: [00:30:53] Um, but yeah, I think it’s a helpful thing to instill is that like most people are good and not extreme.
[00:30:59]Krista Boan: [00:30:59] Right.
[00:30:59]Max Stossel: [00:30:59] And we are in a time where social media is pushing more and more people to extremes and starts to become real. But like what we see on these screens is not a very good reflection-
[00:31:09]Krista Boan: [00:31:09] Yeah.
[00:31:09]Max Stossel: [00:31:09] … of reality and like, you know, turning off the news for even a week at a time is probably a reasonable way to be even more informed. I don’t think checking the news every, every day, um, makes you more informed. There’s just not significant things that happen every day that impact your life.
[00:31:27]Krista Boan: [00:31:27] Right. Right. I love that. So, so kinda the takeaway there for coming back to my like vocabulary [laughs], vocabulary words for families to use is just that narration, um, of when something, when they do see something, um, and that there needs to be a conversation that needs to be had, I think, narrating that, “Hey, just so you know, um, the industry is showing you the most extreme thing that you will watch.” Right. Is that right?
[00:31:57]Max Stossel: [00:31:57] Sure.
[00:31:57]Krista Boan: [00:31:57] That they’re, Okay.
[00:31:58]Max Stossel: [00:31:58] Absolutely. And, and that influences TV news too. Right? Because all the people working at the TV newses are on social media all the time. And, um, and so it, it spans everywhere, but like, I think just instilling that people are generally good and generally caring and most people think they’re the good guy, like well-
[00:32:14]Krista Boan: [00:32:14] Yeah.
[00:32:14]Max Stossel: [00:32:14] … there are exceptions of course, but like the vast majority of people are not like evil or ill intentions. It’s very rare that people are really just like trying to, um, to, yeah to pull one over on, on somebody else.
[00:32:28]Krista Boan: [00:32:28] Yeah.
[00:32:28]Max Stossel: [00:32:28] Um.
[00:32:29]Krista Boan: [00:32:29] I love that. And I love that the antidote is to go have a conversation to go, listen, I love that. That’s such a practical antidote, I think, um, to the thing is to humanize each other and believe in each other, so.
[00:32:44]Max Stossel: [00:32:44] It’s something.
[00:32:45]Krista Boan: [00:32:45] Yeah. It’s not easy. Well, thank you. That, that is awesome. Um, all right. So for our last segment here, I kinda wanna shift out of the, helping our kids think critically about how we are consuming media to really casting a vision for really what they might actually be able to contribute or create, um, to help be part of the solution. So, you know, when I think of people who have inspired me to use their influence in social media as a force for positive social change, our friend Collin Kartchner comes to mind.
[00:33:18]Max Stossel: [00:33:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative]
[00:33:19]Krista Boan: [00:33:19] So-
[00:33:19]Max Stossel: [00:33:19] Yeah.
[00:33:19]Krista Boan: [00:33:19] … not only was he inspiring kids through live face-to-face presentations at middle and high schools with Save The Kids, but before he passed in October, he was, you know, heading a nationwide movement on his Instagram feed as well. So he was, you know, kind of fighting Instagram with Instagram, helping kids rise above the negative parts of social media. What stands out to you about Collin as an example of courageous influence and what does it look like to inspire kids to have courageous influence in the online world?
[00:33:52]Max Stossel: [00:33:52] I mean, yeah, he really did just like find a way to use it for good to use it to help people inside that medium. Um, I think his profile is one of the best resources in this space, just to start conversations of looking at all the stories that he’s collected from teenagers, uh, social media has influenced them and just the consistency with what she was sharing that just really made it feel as alive as it is that there are so many people who are struggling with this and that was, and that was really powerful.
[00:34:18] Yeah. It’s a big, a big loss for the world that he passed. And as, um, that in itself is an important gap that needs to be filled in this space of just, that is one very clear, I think, way to be, to be doing good on social media right now. Um, the challenge anyway, I think Humans of New York is absolutely brilliant. Uh, and I think is just like in sharing stories and helping us see each other as humans, I’m always, um, I’m always amazed at, at that account.
[00:34:44]Krista Boan: [00:34:44] I don’t know, Humans of New York, is it an Instagram account?
[00:34:47]Max Stossel: [00:34:47] Oh yeah, it’s everywhere. Um-
[00:34:49]Krista Boan: [00:34:49] Okay.
[00:34:49]Max Stossel: [00:34:49] … and it just like, he, it, it was someone who just take, would go out and taking pictures of people and interviewing them and then-
[00:34:55]Krista Boan: [00:34:55] Right.
[00:34:55]Max Stossel: [00:34:55] … writing up these stories. And you’re just like get to know people and he’s like in case he’s a great writer and these just sort of like heartbreaking or heart opening stories of people that you would have passed on the street and, and never known how much was going on with them.
[00:35:08]Krista Boan: [00:35:08] Hmm.
[00:35:08]Max Stossel: [00:35:08] And that’s definitely one of my favorite things on social media. What I noticed in talking to friends about this is that like, of course everybody wants to be putting out good and do good things on social media. Um, it’s ju- so quickly turns into the numbers. So turns, quickly turns into well, is this popular?
[00:35:26]Krista Boan: [00:35:26] Right.
[00:35:27]Max Stossel: [00:35:27] Well, did this get the likes when in reality right it’s getting one message from somebody saying like, uh, like this, but like this just moved me so much. Like this was so important to me, like thank you so much for saying this.
[00:35:38]Krista Boan: [00:35:38] Right.
[00:35:38]Max Stossel: [00:35:38] Like, doesn’t that matter so much more than the likes. And so what’s really challenging is I’ve been a lot of these conversations and just about all of them very quickly devolve into wait that isn’t popular, that doesn’t work, that doesn’t get the views, that doesn’t get the likes. And like we’re also hungry for this attention. And so I think the ch- like the biggest challenge is like, can we actually not care? Like, and this is much easier said than done, but helpful in groups like Keep it kinda accountable to, can we try to like actually not care at all? Like if this was popular or not, like, which are really share, we believe adds value on a human level.
[00:36:12]Krista Boan: [00:36:12] Mmh.
[00:36:13]Max Stossel: [00:36:13] Like, is this going to help somebody?
[00:36:15]Krista Boan: [00:36:15] Uh-huh [affirmative]
[00:36:15]Max Stossel: [00:36:15] Um, and you’re like, and sometimes helping somebody is just like, “Look, here’s what I’m going through, and you-
[00:36:19]Krista Boan: [00:36:19] Right.
[00:36:19]Max Stossel: [00:36:19] … might be going through this too.” It shows up in all different forms.
[00:36:22]Krista Boan: [00:36:22] Right.
[00:36:22]Max Stossel: [00:36:22] Um, but just like the challenge with doing it on social media really is it’s just really tough to have healthy relationships with this stuff. It’s really tough to not fall into the traps of, who’ll give me approval, give me approval, give me approval, give me the attention.
[00:36:34]Krista Boan: [00:36:34] Right.
[00:36:35]Max Stossel: [00:36:35] Um, and so like, you know, people can find their own versions and own ways. Like, I don’t feel like I have a particularly fantastic [laughs] relationship with it. What I try to do is like to provide extra context and extra layers on here’s what’s really going on behind the screens, but compared to what you see, um, and like behind the scene for me although I’m projecting this one thing, but here’s ways that like things that you wouldn’t see and everybody’s kinda doing this-
[00:36:58]Krista Boan: [00:36:58] Uh-huh [affirmative]
[00:36:58]Max Stossel: [00:36:58] … but, you know, it’s like going in and out of feeling like it’s helpful. I also still fall into the traps. Like it’s, I’m not just sort of what I’ve been trying to find for me. Um, it’s really hard. It’s like really hard to find what is the way that, that feels good and right for you. And if you find it great, I think the principle that is most helpful to instill is can you measure your success? Not in like so views-
[00:37:20]Krista Boan: [00:37:20] Right.
[00:37:21]Max Stossel: [00:37:21] … um, or comments, but like, am I adding value to people’s lives? Like, am I really giving in a human way? Not just like, because people, that’s not measured in likes, that’s measured in a human result.
[00:37:33]Krista Boan: [00:37:33] Yeah. I love that. And I think, um, there’s something, I dunno, something I’ve been thinking about lately is just, there’s some kinda relationship about the number of people, the number of people who we even like allow to, to be a part of our social media spheres. And I think if we can put boundaries in place, you know, from the very beginning of designing, whatever a social media account is to, to not say I’m out for, you know, the, the biggest crowd to follow me, that that’s not my goal, that I’m going to enter into this with purpose.
[00:38:05] And the purpose is going to be, to have relationships where I can heal and support and connect with people. Then probably we’re gonna go into it and design it as like, okay, I’m gonna, I’m gonna cap at it, you know, 20 people. I’m gonna cap at it 100 people, whatever it is. And that way it relieves some of the pressure I think, to, um, to measure, to measure yourself [laughs].
[00:38:25]Max Stossel: [00:38:25] Hmm.
[00:38:25]Krista Boan: [00:38:25] And-
[00:38:28]Max Stossel: [00:38:28] Yeah. It’s interesting.
[00:38:28]Krista Boan: [00:38:28] … I dunno, it’s not perfect either, but yeah, I think there’s some-
[00:38:31]Max Stossel: [00:38:31] Yeah. That’s same thing for me-
[00:38:31]Krista Boan: [00:38:31] … kinda relationship.
[00:38:31]Max Stossel: [00:38:31] … it’s, it’s just also like having, like, you know, um, an artist, I put out my art and social media too.
[00:38:44]Krista Boan: [00:38:44] Yeah.
[00:38:44]Max Stossel: [00:38:44] But like of having met a lot of like influencer social media “influencers”.
[00:38:45]Krista Boan: [00:38:45] Right.
[00:38:46]Max Stossel: [00:38:46] Um, it’s like also, it’s not like if you get 10 likes, you want 50, if you get 50, you want a 100. If you get 5,000-
[00:38:50]Krista Boan: [00:38:50] Right.
[00:38:50]Max Stossel: [00:38:50] … you want 10,000, there are no end.
[00:38:54]Krista Boan: [00:38:54] Right.
[00:38:54]Max Stossel: [00:38:54] Like it’s the same process for people who are getting tons of giant audiences. And I’ve also, I’ve met very few people whose social media like is their life or, and, or livelihood who aren’t like really struggling mental health wise with it.
[00:39:08]Krista Boan: [00:39:08] Right.
[00:39:08]Max Stossel: [00:39:08] Um, it just like it does takeover.
[00:39:11]Krista Boan: [00:39:11] Yeah.
[00:39:12]Max Stossel: [00:39:12] And so it’s just, it’s worse. Like it might look glamorous, but it’s also like you have a lot of very sort of sad and not knowing how to make eye contact people, um-
[00:39:21]Krista Boan: [00:39:21] Yeah.
[00:39:22]Max Stossel: [00:39:22] … who are also doing that.
[00:39:24]Krista Boan: [00:39:24] Yeah. Uh, I heard a stat last week that said that 87% of our kids, if you ask them what they wanna be, they’ll say I wanna be an influencer and something that I think I’ve been-
[00:39:34]Max Stossel: [00:39:34] Wow.
[00:39:34]Krista Boan: [00:39:34] … thinking about as parents is how can we redefine influencer? I mean, like in, in, in a way it got redefined for us as a society [laughs], right? Like I think I was-
[00:39:47]Max Stossel: [00:39:47] Right.
[00:39:47]Krista Boan: [00:39:47] … like flowed to the, slow to the conversation and even realizing that influencer was an actual profession [laughs], but now I’m like, how do you take that back?
[00:39:56]Max Stossel: [00:39:56] And w- what are you influencing? Like, are you influencing people to believe that they should have some totally unrealistic beauty standard? Are you influencing like of like, “Oh look how awesome my life and cars and travel is,” when, um, that’s not the whole picture of your life, are you influencing, you know, are you influencing people to be something, something positive and you get to decide what positive means, but-
[00:40:19]Krista Boan: [00:40:19] I love it. Well, Max, thank you so much for gosh, tha- that’s a lot. We broke down a lot and, um, I think it’s really challenging for parents, especially with young kids. And I really believe that that’s where these conversations need to start is when they’re just young, tiny that we, if we can start using some of these words, that they won’t be a surprise to them after they’re already addicted to their phones [laughs], that they can kinda go into it with armed and ready to know this is what’s coming at me. In you and I know that, but we’re still power. I mean, I feel like I’m still powerless against it, even though I know it. And so [laughs], but at least education is the first step.
[00:40:55]Max Stossel: [00:40:55] As Collin would recommend too, like the Lang when those smartphones get introduced and using things like gab phone, um-
[00:41:01]Krista Boan: [00:41:01] Yeah.
[00:41:01]Max Stossel: [00:41:01] … and those intermediary media years before high school to try and they delay the amount of social media and porn that gets exposed at a young age.
[00:41:08]Krista Boan: [00:41:08] Yeah. Yeah. We have two gap phones at my house and we abso- I sleep well at night Max. I sleep well [laughing]. It’s nice.
[00:41:16]Max Stossel: [00:41:16] I’m glad to hear that.
[00:41:16]Krista Boan: [00:41:16] [laughs] Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Well, well can we finish up with a quick rapid-fire.
[00:41:20]Max Stossel: [00:41:20] Sure.
[00:41:20]Krista Boan: [00:41:20] Okay. Let’s go. The, your favorite piece of old school technology? So it’s maybe something you’ve heard about older generations talk about?
[00:41:28]Max Stossel: [00:41:28] Oh, like really old. Um, so I mean, the thing that came to mind is that I have like, like typing on a typewriter.
[00:41:34]Krista Boan: [00:41:34] Yes.
[00:41:34]Max Stossel: [00:41:34] Getting it like, clicks thing as you hit a button, uh, I enjoy that.
[00:41:39]Krista Boan: [00:41:39] Yes. We had my grandfather’s typewriter here at the house and it makes me so happy. It’s like music [laughing].
[00:41:45]Max Stossel: [00:41:45] Yeah. It’s a really fun, rhythmic thing.
[00:41:47]Krista Boan: [00:41:47] Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Fill in the blank. Being a teenager in 2021 is?
[00:41:54]Max Stossel: [00:41:54] Terrifying.
[00:41:54]Krista Boan: [00:41:54] Yeah, for sure. All right. Favorite app?
[00:41:58]Max Stossel: [00:41:58] My Notes app is where I write.
[00:42:01]Krista Boan: [00:42:01] Oh, really?
[00:42:03]Max Stossel: [00:42:03] Yeah [laughs] I like the rhythm of it in my thumbs.
[00:42:06]Krista Boan: [00:42:06] Okay. And favorite trick you use to keep your tech in check?
[00:42:10]Max Stossel: [00:42:10] Um, I think turning off the notifications that are from a human trying to reach me and sleeping with my phone far away from me and not using it as my alarm clock.
[00:42:18]Krista Boan: [00:42:18] Okay. I’m gonna have to [laughs], I’m gonna have to listen to that one again. Max had so many things to teach us and I think, you know, so many of these things, we are still learning as adults who are still trying to figure out the world of social media. So, um, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to share his voice with you, as you’re thinking about how to talk to your kids about the world, that’s, you know, ahead of them.
[00:42:48] But also as you’re evaluating your own relationship with, especially with social media and, um, the effect it’s having in your life. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we would love for you to subscribe on your favorite podcast app and maybe even leave a review of why you enjoyed it. And if you’re interested in learning more about START programs or would like to bring our resources to your community, visit our website, westartnow.org and you can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, to learn more information about upcoming events and opportunities, you know, until next time.