Join us for a conversation with Max Stossel, named by Forbes as one of the best storytellers of the year, as we explore how to build a humanity-centric digital world.
Join us for a conversation with Max Stossel, named by Forbes as one of the best storytellers of the year, as we explore how to build a humanity-centric digital world. Drawing on years of experience working with educators, parents, and students, he provides a fresh perspective on how we can create a more humane and balanced digital world. Don't miss this enlightening discussion on the importance of creating a digital world that puts humanity first.
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Srini: I love
Max Stossel: The Disney movies growing up as a kid and there was there's this one at Disney World where you put on a VR headset, and for those who don't know, virtual reality, very immersive. You're looking around inside these experiences. You got these headphones on, so you're totally audio-immersed, and they have this moment where you dive into the Little Mermaid and they also drop water from the ceiling. And I felt like I saw the future at Disney World and it wasn't real or not like I know real, not like we've defined real, but I dove into the virtual sea and I felt the water splash across my face. I heard the ocean in my ears. I saw a mermaid singing right in front of me. And I could touch right through her. Look at this stuff. Isn't it neat? And I can't be the only one to see the irony that he wants to be where the people are. She wants to see them dancing, but as a representative sample of supposed-to-be dancers, we're fine.
Thank you. Content here in our minds. Thank you. Let's turn reality to Channel 259. Thank you. Walking around on them. What are they called again?
Srini: I am Srinivas Rao, and this is the
Max Stossel: Unmistakeable Creative podcast, where you
Srini: Get a window into the stories and insights of the most innovative and creative minds who have started movements, built thriving businesses, written best-selling books, and created insanely interesting art. For more, check out our 500-episode archive at UnmistakableCreative.com.
Max, welcome to Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Thank you!
Max Stossel: Thank you for having me.
Srini: It is my pleasure to have you here. So I found out about your work through your publicist and I heard all the accolades - Forbes calls you one of the greatest storytellers of all time, and as somebody who absolutely loves stories, I knew it was a no-brainer to have you as a guest.
But before we get into all of that, I wanted to start by asking: What did your parents do for work and how did that end up shaping the choices that you have made with your own life and career?
Max Stossel: So my mother is a therapist and my father is a journalist. My dad was actually a very, very well-known journalist. He was the co-anchor of 2020 with Barbara Walters. Wow. And he's really was it's one of the main reasons that libertarianism is as popular as it is, it's his devotion. And my dad is a brilliant storyteller. He is brilliant at making things simple and cutting them down. I got to grow up watching him edit stories and watching him say to people, "watch, what does that really mean? What's going on? Huh? Come on. No, make it simpler. Make it dumber. Make people understand it." And he was very good at holding the integrity of a method and making it really just like common sense for people to understand. And I think I really value that and it has shaped some of my own desire for helping really wanting people to get it.
And my mother is the friend that all her friends call when they're going through something hard. And I really deeply value her emotional awareness and emotional intelligence. And they say that I got the best of both of them, which I think is the greatest compliment. Yeah. But it's
Srini: This is something I always ask people who are children of therapists. Are you immune to all the other issues that most of us go to therapy to get fixed when we grow up? Because you had a mother who was a therapist or did you basically go through all the same bullshit that everybody else does?
Max Stossel: Absolutely the same bullshit everybody else does. And one thing my mom says, which I think is really fun and accurate, is it does, like no matter what you do, you're going to mess up your kids. It's just a matter of how much. Therapists are not immune to that either. Yeah.
Srini: Yeah, I remember in the TV show Parenthood, as they get to the very end. You talk about great storytelling, that is probably one of my favorite shows of all time. And the very final episode, Craig Telson turns to his daughter and he was like, "You know what? Parents screw their kids up. That's just what we do. And it seems to be part of the deal."
Max Stossel: The job.
Srini: It just made me have such a greater level of empathy for the things that I thought my parents had done wrong. Yeah, I was growing up and my sister just had her first child. I'm realizing this is a tall order to raise a decent human being. That's not a small job we're asking them for.
Max Stossel: To do. Absolutely. And all in the spirit of what you shared about this podcast, I'll share a little bit deeper in that the ways that my parents messed me up most, I would say, My dad in watching him at the dinner table over and over again, showed how the thing that it felt was right. When you look at it really deeply, look how that thing didn't actually turn out to be true. Look how it felt often for him, that government should be the ones to solve this problem, but when they tried to do that, look what happened. And I internalized that as I can't trust my feelings. And that was very hard to overcome. And when I talked to him about that later, he was like, "What? I'm talking about like in government, trust your feelings in your life." But that was absolutely how I internalized it. And Mom, by being an anxious person and doing a lot of things for me, was too afraid to let me watch me fail, to let me make my own mistakes. And that was difficult too. But, so those are some of the ways that my parents messed me up. Thanks for having me.
Srini: Like your dad being a co-anchor with Barbara Walters, those are some big shoes to fill, it makes me think of Trevor Noah when he started at the Daily Show and I remember thinking, God, this guy has some seriously big shoes to fill. Like, how the hell is he gonna follow up with John Stewart? And then I was like, thanks to the Trump presidency, Trevor Noah made a career. But did you ever have this sense that you have these just gigantic shoes to fill with your dad being who he is?
Max Stossel: Yes, but I also, my attitude towards it has been like, I just don't even want to be in that field. And I guess I have been, I'm a storyteller in some capacity, my dad's won 19 Emmys and has been one of the most influential journalists, maybe of all time, and he doesn't feel successful. He's like, why doesn't everybody just get it? Why aren't their more people who understand the philosophies that I am preaching? And to watch someone have that level of success and not feel successful. It was also like, I don't even want to try to fill those shoes. I don't want to try to walk on that path. And I felt more driven to do my own thing.
Srini: I don't think that's abnormal in the world we live in. I remember we had this psychologist, Sasha Hines, and she was telling me that if you look at the Olympic podium and you watch the expression, she said the person who wins the gold is of course thrilled because they won the gold. The person who won the bronze is happy to just be up on the podium. And she said, if you look, the silver medalist is always the one who's the most disappointed because, in their mind, they didn't win a silver medal; they didn't win the gold. And she said it's just because of hedonic adaptation; like your goalpost keeps changing. And I wonder, in your own life, having already gotten to this point where you've gotten all these accolades, how do you find a balance between fulfillment and ambition?
Max Stossel: I have really shifted my own goalpost from any kind of idea of external success to really feeling deeply satisfied and fulfilled internally. I mean, I'm really seeing this special on Wednesday actually, and it won an award at this film festival and that award felt nice. It felt nice because I'm doing something so different that has been so, like, it's hard to even get a conversation with people in the traditional streaming services about what a poetry special, what the heck is that? But then to be recognized in a traditional way felt really good. It's like, oh look, even you film people even you think this is good.
Ha. It's like I had some satisfaction that way. Yeah. But for the most part, I find like a lot of the award systems just to be silly, and I think there's an endless treadmill of trying to chase what other people think is going to be good for us or what success means in others' eyes as opposed to a felt sense of this is what my heart wants at this moment, and I'm coming to value success as the latter. Yeah.
Srini: How do you make that shift? Because you've obviously done a lot of work around attention, which we'll talk about. We live in a world where everybody's accomplishments are on public display 24 hours a day. All you have to do is log into a social network and you can feel bad about yourself in a matter of seconds. It's like, I published a book. This guy just sold his startup for a hundred million. It's great. I'm a loser.
Yeah, I think honestly, the real truth is in falling very deeply in love with a friend's fiancé. OK. And her listening to me, and having that be seen so deeply as so wrong by those who I was surrounded by. And really trying with my own head to be like, yeah, of course. This is wrong. No, this is wrong.
And then at the very pit of that self-evaluation to be like, this is just here. This just is something that is real and alive in me. And if people can't see that or understand that, then they're not understanding me and they're not actually on my team. And that experience created a lot of social shedding and a lot of social shifts.
But in some ways, like I lost a whole lot of people who I thought were friends and a lot of people who I cared about at the time and still care for, but just really saw through this experience how much they didn't actually care about me and in following my heart at something that I knew to be true at a foundational level, even when others were very judgmental of it, gave me the sort of the shifting point.
Wow. At the end
Max Stossel: I don't have the answers for everyone on that one. Yeah, for me it was, it, yeah, it was tremendously painful to lose a friend. It was tremendously painful to not have this woman in my life. And how does one manage that day by day? But I was tremendously lucky to have this experience also illuminate those who really did care about me and showed me what true love and unconditional support and friendship look like—people who were really valuing my heart. And I got to see what love builds and where love grows. And I don't normally talk about this on podcasts, so I'll leave it at that for now.
Srini: I'd imagine that was probably incredibly disruptive to the friendship with the person whose fiance you fell in love with. Yes. How do you navigate the pain of a friendship that falls apart?
Srini: Fair enough. For you growing up, what was the narrative from your parents about making your way in the world, in terms of what you should do with your life, what you should do with your career? Was there anything that they pointed you towards?
Max Stossel: It was a culture of "you need to do well in school, you're gonna need to be successful at something by whatever definition that is". But not much direction of "you need to be a doctor or lawyer or anything like that". It was mostly just "whatever you do, you better do it well".
Srini: Yeah. So what's been the trajectory that has led you to become a spoken word artist? Because spoken word artist, like many of the people I interview, is not one of those things that you would go into your high school guidance counselor's office and tell her you to want to.
Max Stossel: Yeah, I had no poetry background.
I had no writing background. Really, other than this like communication, family, and communication history. I've always been a good communicator and I heard this poet named Inq perform, and he shared this poem, but falling in love at 85 and my arms were buzzing. And that hadn't happened to me this way before and I was trying to figure out why my arms were buzzing and I pulled out my phone notepad and started journaling, being like, what's going on here?
And the first two lines of what I wrote rhymed. And I was like, ah, maybe I can do this. And I finished up that poem and I saw him the next day I said, Hey, like I wrote a poem after you shared your poem. Do you want to hear it? And he's like a very kind of cool, calm, collective guy. He's yeah, okay, whatever.
And I shared the poem. He was like wow. He said you should consider pursuing this. And yeah, I started writing these poems and then I had some friends who had events and they asked me to share poems at
Srini: Yeah. You have this moment where you feel your arms buzzing and your instinct is to just start writing things down and I feel like I talk to so many people who have this sort of creative impulse, something inside of them. They deny it, they ignore it, and they don't do anything about it. And I see this even in the answers to the survey questions that I send out and people will send very vague goals. I remember thinking, I saw this response that said, "A purpose that's meaningful and monetized." And I'm like, that's ironic because that's a meaningless purpose. It doesn't mean anything. And it got me thinking about why people either are so vague or, in my mind, something that probably is making them afraid to say what they truly want. So I actually re-sent the survey yesterday saying, "Look, I want you to tell me what you actually want. Don't hold back here and I'm in no place to judge you. I don't care how batshit crazy I think it sounds. Tell me what you really want." So why do you think it is that people in those moments don't do anything?
Max Stossel: Like when they hear the creative call or when they hear that buzz, they ignore it. Yeah, exactly. I think in some ways, to truly express ourselves is the scariest thing. I don't think, if I had consciously known that's what the path was, I don't know that I would've jumped at it the same way. But there's a depth of vulnerability and when the expression is from the center and the expression is, it's just here's something that feels so true to me and matters to me so much. Will you hold it? Can you see this? And can you love me? And I think that's a really scary act. I was also so excited by it because I had a childlike wonder sense of, oh my God, look what's happening. Look at this. This voice that is flowing through me doesn't feel like me. Look at this thing. It's so beautiful. I wanna share it with you. And I have held on to the admiration just of the beauty. Wanting people to have this thing that doesn't feel like me, but feels so, it feels so beautiful. And I feel so connected to the universe through it. And so to me it just
Srini: What were you doing for work at the time?
Max Stossel: I was I think at that point I was working at a small social media company called Ocho. We were trying to be the Instagram for video. This is before Instagram had videos. And yeah, I was working for them at the time, designing notifications to take people out of their world to bring them into mine. This was how I got started, in the center for Humane Technology and then the social awakening side of the work that I do. But I was a new UX designer for an app.
Srini: I, there's a reason I ask that because, we're talking about this sort of inner voice that we have creatively, and I feel like so often it is drowned out by the noise of the world around us. And I wanted to get into some of the things that you talk about in your TED Talk. Advertising is destroying everything. And one of the things that you say is the problem is that we've gotten so good at it as we've carried around these devices in our pockets, and we've gotten so good at perfecting tactics to steal and hold as much of our time as possible that it's starting to be a threat to our new system. And I think what strikes me as so fascinating about this idea of fake news is people know it's a problem. And I only know this because my brother-in-law is working on a startup to combat fake news. And I, we, we keep having these conversations. I was like, it's not that any of us don't know that this is a problem, it's just that the pain of it and the consequences of it don't affect us directly day to day. So we don't feel the pain of it as much as say something like, oh, I
Max Stossel: So there are so many sections of it. One of them that I deal with most directly is just the mental health challenges, and we're seeing, especially among teenagers and especially among teenage girls, just skyrocketing depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. And the only explanation that really makes sense is social media. And so just like the self-comparison, the "why doesn't my body look like that? Why is everyone else's life better than mine? Why aren't my accomplishments good enough?" You couldn't design a better self-comparison machine than social media platforms. If you wanted to design a system to make people feel inadequate, could you build a better one than the social media platforms? I don't think so.
But then from a news perspective, Zaki is a misinformation researcher who articulates this really well. She talks about how in 2016, she would watch a couple of Donald Trump videos on YouTube, and then she would start to be recommended more and more extreme videos, and eventually, like Ku Klux Klan type of content. She'd watch some Bernie videos, she'd be pushed towards more and more extreme socialism, and then the conspiracy left of chemtrails and
Srini: There's one quote in particular that struck me in that talk, you said, by the time any sort of correction is issued, by the time people get any sort of right information, it's too late, even if it does reach them in the first place. And the reason that struck me so much is recently there's been a story spreading, and I don't know if you've seen it, chances are you have because it's spreading like wildfire about this Indian doctor who drove a Tesla off a cliff. And basically, you're saying, evidence shows that this had been an intentional act. I just was just Googling the other day 'cause I wanted to see what people were saying on Facebook, because in my mind I was like, this story doesn't add up. Nothing about this guy screams, "Hey, this is the kind of guy who's gonna drive his family off a cliff." The way that his neighbors have talked about him, the way that everybody has talked about him. And yet when I saw the comments on the links people had shared about this, every one of these is like, "Oh, send this guy to prison. I hope he burns in hell." And I'm thinking to myself, "Yeah
Max Stossel: Yeah, I'm not familiar with the story itself, but certainly the concept of the 24-hour news cycle, being so hungry for attention that it will take whatever the initial story or photo is and run with it. That's just not how actual factual information distribution works. It takes time to sort through what really happened or went on. That's definitely been an influence of my dad, who would go on these tours of “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?” Talking about how the media would pick on every single scary thing and how lighters were exploding in our pockets and killing eight people a year, while not considering how many people die in cars or just like the actual things that we actually ought to be afraid of, compared to the “scary jumpy headline”. A lot of these things have existed for generations beyond just social media, but social media has poured gas on all of the fires and on our gladiatorial instincts of “yeah, what a monster”. I wanna show how bad he is or just people using whatever did occur as evidence for whatever they already wanted to believe. If it was a Tesla, I'm sure there are people who are saying “Elon
Srini: How then do we solve this problem? Or is there a solution? Because you say, what if instead of maximizing the amount of time spent on these sites if we maximize things that really matter? What if we imagine a world that doesn't compete for our attention, but instead competes to help us thrive? How do you build that world and what role does storytelling and words that move actually play in it all?
Max Stossel: Yeah, I mean I think we first have to envision that future and storytelling is a key part of that painting. The picture of what could a beautiful world look like. And an example is like, how wonderful would it be if a social network was using all of its data that had tremendous amounts of data and had these tremendously powerful algorithms to help actually optimize our social lives? Have they helped you illuminate new opportunities or experiences you wouldn't have otherwise realized are possible and that you later rate as meaningful? Have they helped connect you with new people that you later said you're really happy are now in your life? If it's news and information, did it in a measurable way make you more educated about a subject or did it just do the thing that grabbed the most attention? In all of these instances, if we start to measure it in life's outcomes, if we turn the app store into the help center of what apps, activities, or things in the real world helped me most to thrive with creativity, with being bold in my life, with helping put food on the table for my family. If our digital world was sorted that way around, what are the things that actually help us thrive? That's the world I very much want to live
Srini: I think there's this whole idea of free, and I think this is better than anyone, right? If you're getting something free, you're not using a product, the product is the same, right? Now given that these tech giants, like the ones you've talked about, Twitter, Facebook, whatever, are massively profitable, how do you start to create a conversation around what you're talking about and the world that you're talking about?
Also, investors say, yeah, okay, you know what? This is not gonna be the 100x return, that basically returns the entire value of a funder. So, how do you create that both sustainably and...?
Max Stossel: profitably? I do. So I used to think that Apple is gonna come to the rescue because their money isn't made as much on advertising and they only make 10% or something on ads and the rest is on hardware they can establish these systems.
I've come to find there's so much inertia in these big companies that it's very hard to change the direction they're headed meaningfully. So I think it needs to be the next generation. And part of that and part of the role of storytelling and videos like the ones I've made, are, can we create new demands? Can we as consumers demand something that is actually caring about us and is that where we want to put our dollars and where we want to put our attention? Because it certainly starts with us, and I think we need help from all parties involved, but we can, as consumers say, yeah, I just, I don't want the thing that just, I'm keeping on upgrading every day for the new better camera or bigger screen or whatever it is.
New and upgraded technology is something that is actually considering my life and helping me live it meaningfully. That just feels like a better world, and it
Srini: It makes me think about media in general and monetizing media because, we have ads on the show and, we have an ad-free option, and one of the more difficult choices that I have made often is that I basically said I will compromise the editorial quality of what we do and the guests that we choose in service of metrics. And that comes at a cost. Sometimes it means, oh, I'm not gonna say yes to this wildly popular guest who might lead to a ton of downloads and more ad revenue. But I'll choose one that I think will share something of tremendous value who may not be the most popular person in the world or share us with a million followers.
And yet, we're also investor-funded. And that's one thing I've tried to emphasize is, okay, everything you listen to is free, but somebody is always subsidizing it. Somebody is always paying for this, and in this case, it's okay, fine. You don't wanna support a podcast by subscribing and listening to it ad-free. Then, you know what, the advertisers basically subsidize your ability to consume this thing for free. And I don't think people quite get that, even when we read different
Max Stossel: those lines. Yeah, I think it's wonderful that you approach it that way as well. Does it take that type of integrity that's very necessary for this ecosystem of what do I actually care about? What do I actually wanna put out in the world? Because also, it's never been easier to fall into the, ooh, this is the shiny object who will get me the more likes or clicks or listens or downloads or shares or whatever.
Like us, this is the new version of selling out in a way. And it takes people actually reminding me. It's like reminding ourselves why am I doing what I'm doing? What do I actually wanna do? Is this actually a person that I wanna talk to? Is actually a message that I wanna put out into the world?
And let that be our compass. It's, teaching this to kids is really tough because imagine being in high school and middle school where you know how important it feels to be popular. And then having every action, every word you say, be exposed to these same forces.
It's just a really tricky time to make sure that you're actually living your own life and not being driven by these external reward systems that
Srini: You saying that about high school reminds me of the TV show, 13 Reasons Why. They, I remember at the end of the show did an outtake with all the cast members and they were talking about cyberbullying because I don't know how old you are. I'm 45. I'm gonna be 45. And so I didn't grow up with all this stuff, but the thing that struck me most was I said, one of the things that people don't realize, particularly like people in an older generation who think, oh, these kids are just being wimps when it comes to cyberbullying, is that when you're that young for the developing brain, something like just being trolled on Facebook has a sense of permanence to it that you don't quite understand when you're that age.
I guess, in my mind, it's like, how do you go about fixing that? And really, it's not just education. 'Cause I don't think any one of us listening to this is unaware of a lot of the things that you're saying. Yet somehow, despite the fact that we're all aware of this, how many of us after listening to this might just go on Instagram and
Max Stossel: Sure. And for kids, I think one of the big things that we can do is just create more environments where that is not the norm. Like in a lot of schools right now, cell phones are just allowed in schools. I think giving more of the opportunity where there is an eight-hour period where kids can learn focus, patience, how to be without their devices, the social skills of like just how to deal with boredom, how to walk up to somebody and start a conversation like these are, it's never been easier to run away from ours.
And so I think one of the best things we can do is create more life that doesn't revolve around this thing for kids to experience. So they at least have a comparison point. I also think you're being generous with, saying, the adults who don't understand what that feels like because also it's the adults who are acting like children on these platforms.
Yeah. As soon as they see one negative comment, they can't get it out of their head. There's that meme of "Can't sleep, honey. There's someone on the internet who's wrong". And it's just, it's, yeah. Adults are acting
Srini: Yeah, I dunno if you saw it. The New York Times had an article about teenage Luddites recently that Cal Newport referenced on his blog. And I remember the girl basically criticized her parents and said they're addicted to their phones, which really struck me. I was like, "Whoa!" Cal Newport said this is a very good sign that teenagers are actually starting to think like this. I hope...
Max Stossel: We're starting to see a shift. I gave a talk once where a parent told a story of how they have the 'no phones at the table' policy, and when their Grandma came over, she took out her phone and their six-year-old was like, 'Grandma, there are no phones at our table.' Nice. And the kids, do recognize that when everybody is off of these things, there is just a different social feeling.
Srini: Yeah. It's funny 'cause my sister just had a baby and I like it, I take pictures of him and I've noticed something really fascinating about my interactions with him. If you are behind a camera, that kid will not smile. And so we just, we put a tripod in the background and we're like, all right. The key to getting great pictures of this kid is not to actually make him aware of the camera, but to basically engage him. And it's really fascinating to watch where, when he sees the camera, he stops engaging completely, but if he sees our faces, he turns into a completely different kid. And I'm like, wow, this is a three-month-old who's aware of this.
Max Stossel: We can learn from the kids too.
Srini: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Let's talk about this idea of words that move because one thing I was thinking about when you were talking about your dad talking about simplifying things and making them digestible is the book Smart Brevity which was written by the founders of Axios.
And I remember talking to my brother-in-law about this, and he actually had a really interesting counter-argument about spark brevity. He said, in a lot of ways it's basically saying, yeah, we've given up our attention span too short for anything. He's it's basically just admitting we have no capacity for depth, and that's the way that media is created in order to basically cater to our short attention spans.
Rather than saying, "Hey, maybe we should work on improving our attention spans so we can consume something of depth," and given that your domain name is words that Move, I wanna tell you about, like, how do we one, use words, keep things simple, but also maintain that capacity for depth? Because I feel like long-form content is one of those things where it's really difficult to get people to consume something long-form.
Max Stossel: And yeah, I don't think it's black and white, but I do love the Abraham Lincoln quote, "I'm sorry I wrote such a long speech; I didn't have time to write a shorter one."
There is beauty in brevity and simplicity. If we can take a concept and make it simple, and understandable to a child, then we have mastery. Most of our media ecosystem isn't operating that way; it's just churning out a million things. There is beauty in taking a complex idea and making it simple and when done well, it feels special. Of course, if we dive in more depth, there is always more to learn. Words are my vehicle; they happen to be my tool to deliver a sense of soul. People will have different vehicles and this is mine. What works for me?
Srini: Yeah. Let's just take something for example, like writing, 'cause we were talking about that. And if you were to talk about this tactically, like how do you get to the point of simplifying complex ideas in a way that they become digestible? Cause I remember I was talking to Dan Pink about this and I said, my favorite thing about Dan Pink's books is that they're so easy to read. I was like, you take concepts that are incredibly deep, incredibly rich. And he said he was so happy to hear that. Cause he said the amount of time he puts into that is really such a big part of his writing process. He said he might do two months of research and read 10 different white papers. And he said, "That might lead to two sentences and I don't think I should subject my readers to that hell, just because I put in that time." I was like, "That sounds really nice and it sounds really hard to do."
Max Stossel: I think there's a skill in when you're in, like when you have your own editor's cap on, like when you're, whether it's when you're creating or when you're ideating or when you're reviewing. To be able to look over it and just as a bored person, just kinda reading your own work quickly, being like, "Did I get this? Huh? Did I just have a reaction to my writing? Huh, what does that mean? What's going on?" But just like put on the uninterested person's hat as you're looking at your own work or thinking about what you're actually creating. To have the humility to also say, "Of all of the things that are being put out in the world, are people gonna care about this?"
Is this what I wanna put forward? Is this something I expect another person to actually want to receive or wanna spend their time on? And I think if we're having that level of skepticism of ourselves, and of course, it's also a balance with self-expression. It doesn't mean stop creating, but I think that dance of reading our own work with, "Is anyone gonna care what's going on here? Am I
Srini: Process. Yeah. I like the way that Dan Pink summarized it. He said basically every word on the page has to fight for its life to be there.
Max Stossel: He's good. That damp pink. Yeah.
Srini: He really is. I want to get back to the idea of creating a more humane tech ecosystem. And you say that we can get that off the table as the metrics that matter most. We can start basing things on humanity. We can change from time spent to time well spent, architects of our digital world.
You have more data, information, and control over your attention. The tools to tweak our emotions will return your experience. The question then is, can we get the tech companies to do this? Obviously, it's not in their best interest because it's not profitable individually.
What are the things that people could be doing in order to actually take control of their lives? Particularly when it comes to either just being addicted to or imprisoned by so many of these digital tools that go beyond the standard: block distractions, leave your phone in the room, and all the stuff that we know.
Max Stossel: So yeah, there are of course the little things like turning off any notification that's not from a human being trying to reach you, like happy holidays from Tinder. This person does like your photo, all of those things. One thing people really like is also just buying a physical alarm clock. So the first thoughts of your day are actually your own. You're not waking up and then immediately in all these truncated little pieces of messages or notifications and feeling behind. But I think the deeper question, the deeper act really becomes about like, how are we designing our lives? A combination of self-awareness and therapy-type practices of getting to know ourselves.
Because the better we get to know ourselves, the more resistant we can be to all of these outside manipulators and persuasions. But learning our own practices of mindfulness, and self-awareness, and then designing our lives. If we are not being intentional about how we're spending our time, how we're crafting our social lives, and what type of information we want to take in, then these algorithms are gonna do it for us and they're not gonna do it in a way that anybody will be happy with.
So of course there's
Srini: Are we past the point of no return in terms of fixing these things? Or is there hope, given that we're seeing Facebook seemingly having a mass exodus and, for the first time in years, they saw a drop in user minutes? Meta seems to be in utter chaos right now. It's almost like the consequences of their actions are finally catching up to them. And then again, I think that if you're Mark Zuckerberg in a dorm room while in college, you probably never thought the thing he was building would disrupt elections someday.
Max Stossel: And I think something like what we see today is going to keep existing; social media's not going anywhere. We need to change the way that we're relating to it. I do think in some ways we're in an era of unchecked addiction and people aren't as aware of the damages and haven't taken steps to mitigate them. But it's more complicated than just a simple vice, right? Cause it's one thing if I love ice cream, it's another thing if I carry around ice cream 24 hours a day, seven days a week if I actually have to go inside a tub of ice cream to talk to my friends and to do my work, and if ice cream is being updated every day, it'd be pretty tough to just put down the ice cream. And so I think it's this deeply ingrained in our lives thing that is also quite addictive and challenging and, what does it look like to navigate that differently? I think will be an ongoing challenge that we're dealing with for years and years to come. I don't think what exists now is going anywhere, but I do hope there will be new iterations that are significantly better, and I imagine we probably will start to see regulations and all sorts of stuff coming in
Srini: That was literally my next question: what are the responsibilities here of politicians to create regulations and deal with the regulatory environment of this, because from what I've gathered, just from many of the books I've read, is that it's the wild west when it comes to a regulatory environment about all this. Nobody seems to know what the hell they're doing.
Max Stossel: Yep. That seems to be the case. And I, yeah. Honestly, I'm not so knowledgeable on the legislative side of things. I also, in general, my theories of change are much less like we're gonna change one thing that's gonna fix everything and much more. I think it comes from awareness and it comes from education and people changing personal habits, and so my focus is much more there than on legislation, but hearing things like raising the age of what the legal limit should technically be on some of these apps or platforms makes sense to me, but I'm not an expert on the legislative side of things. Wow.
Srini: Wow. This has been really fascinating. I feel like we could talk for hours about all this stuff. But in the interest of time, I want to finish my final question. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?
Max Stossel: I think what makes somebody or something unmistakable is when they're deeply in touch and expressive of their core, just what is super real for them. To me, there's nothing more engaging and engrossing than people being fully and unapologetically themselves. And I think when people do that, it's just magnetic and it's beautiful and it's unmistakable. Amazing.
Srini: I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you, your work, and everything that you're up to?
Max Stossel: Yeah. WordsThatMove.com. I'm, yeah, in two days releasing this special, so go watch it. I love it. I worked so hard to bring it to you. It's free and I just want you to have it to feed your soul. Go watch that for sure. And then SocialAwakening.org is the organization I created to help kids deal with the chaos of social media in their lives, and I'm @MaxStossel on all the things.
Srini: Amazing. And for everyone listening, we will wrap up the show with that.
Max Stossel: At St. John's Health Center Foundation, we partner with physician leaders and researchers to bring you compassionate care and innovative treatments in a healing setting. From its inception, St. John's Cancer Institute has been at the leading edge of treating and curing cancer, using novel approaches like immunotherapy with life-saving results.
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Feeling lost? You're not alone! There are over 1000 episodes in our back catalog, so it can be hard to know where you should start. That's why we've put together this list of some favorite moments from the past few years - these ones really stood out among all others and made listeners want more when they were done listening.