Fighting Against Distraction in an Increasingly Distracting World (ft. Nir Eyal, behavioral design expert & author)

July 24, 2020 Jeremy Goldman Season 1 Episode 82
Fighting Against Distraction in an Increasingly Distracting World (ft. Nir Eyal, behavioral design expert & author)
Fighting Against Distraction in an Increasingly Distracting World (ft. Nir Eyal, behavioral design expert & author)
Jul 24, 2020 Season 1 Episode 82
Jeremy Goldman

It seems like everywhere these days, we are confronted with all sorts of distractions, and it’s becoming clear to me that one of the ways we can futureproof ourselves is by becoming as indistractable as possible. That’s why I was keen to speak to Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, which came out late last year and I highly recommend. You might have heard of Nir’s previous book, Hooked, a bestseller which covered how products influence our behavior.

Nir’s work covers the intersection of psychology, technology, and business, which he calls "behavioral design." The topic encompasses user experience, behavioral economics, and a dash of neuroscience. Previously, Nir taught as a Lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School, and he’s sold a few tech firms and been an investor in a few others - and I think you’ll find it fascinating how he dovetailed into his research of how individuals can become indistractable in an increasingly distracted world. So let’s jump right in!

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please make sure to subscribe, rate, and review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play

Show Notes Transcript

It seems like everywhere these days, we are confronted with all sorts of distractions, and it’s becoming clear to me that one of the ways we can futureproof ourselves is by becoming as indistractable as possible. That’s why I was keen to speak to Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, which came out late last year and I highly recommend. You might have heard of Nir’s previous book, Hooked, a bestseller which covered how products influence our behavior.

Nir’s work covers the intersection of psychology, technology, and business, which he calls "behavioral design." The topic encompasses user experience, behavioral economics, and a dash of neuroscience. Previously, Nir taught as a Lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School, and he’s sold a few tech firms and been an investor in a few others - and I think you’ll find it fascinating how he dovetailed into his research of how individuals can become indistractable in an increasingly distracted world. So let’s jump right in!

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please make sure to subscribe, rate, and review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play

Jeremy Goldman: [00:00:00] nir, welcome to FUTUREPROOF.

Nir Eyal: [00:00:02] Thank you so much. Great to be here.

Jeremy Goldman: [00:00:04] You know, one of the first things that I really was curious about, I wanted to ask you is who the heck are you and what  do you do on a day to day basis? How do you define your work? . 

Nir Eyal: [00:00:14] So I'm what you call a behavioral designer. So I help companies build the kind of products and services that people use because they want to not because they have to,  I build habit forming products to build good habits in people's lives. So, over the past, let's see, six years since I published my first book  hooked, I've helped companies like, Kahoot, the world's largest educational software, get kids hooked onto education products. I've helped companies like Fitbod, get people hooked to exercising in the gym. I felt companies like the New York times get people hooked to engaging with local news.

So the idea with my first book was to help companies design products that build habits to build healthy behaviors in people's lives.  so that was my first book. My second book that just came out late last year is all about how to break the bad habits that sometimes distract us because I spend so much time, in understanding how to build habit forming products.

I also understand the Achilles heel of habit, forming products. And so when I, in my own life found that I was getting distracted,  I wanted to figure out how to have the superpower that I think is going to be the skill of the century, the power to be indistractible. 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:01:26] you've talked a little bit about this, but it's really interesting to look at like the juxtaposition of, you know, your books and how they really intersect.

So we should definitely talk about that, but I want to ask you, because I, I found Indistractable to be a really interesting read and I was just curious, given the fact that, you know, all of these things. Right. Better than most people, you know, from one to 10, how indistractable would you say that you are, 

Nir Eyal: [00:01:51] which is, which is so very in is 10 and very distractable as one.

Jeremy Goldman: [00:01:57] Yeah, let's do it that way. 

Nir Eyal: [00:01:58] So I used to be, probably like a two. I never thought I had a lot of self control. I'd never had self-discipline. I actually used to be clinically obese, because I had such a tough time controlling what I put it in my mouth. and so I struggled with my weight for many, many years, clinically obese, not just overweight.

and, today I would say that, on the indestructibility scale and probably, a solid nine. because I use the tactics in the book every single day. And, I'm not a 10 because everybody gets a striped from time to time. But the definition, you know, it's a made up word. I, I made the word up, becoming indistractable.

It doesn't mean you never get distracted. It means that you're the kind of person who strives. To do what they say they're going to do because distractions happen from time to time. I get distracted from time to time. The difference between someone who is distractible and someone who is indistractable is that the distractible person keeps getting distracted by the same things again and again and again, Paulo Coelho has this wonderful quote.

He says that a mistake repeated more than once is a decision. So what I used to do, I would keep getting distracted by the same crap over and over again, my emails, my Slack notifications, whatever what's happening on Twitter. And Oh my God, the news, so many things happening and I kept getting distracted by the same crap again and again.

And so eventually I was making the decision to be distractible. Well now, no longer. That if something distracts me once I learned from it, because I understand what is distraction really, and I can take measures to make sure I don't keep getting distracted by the same thing again and again. 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:03:32] that makes a lot of sense and it seems that there's a natural connection between Hooked and Indistractable. and, what's interesting  to me, it's almost, you know, the fact that you. I am sure you've thought about this. Who are you? You help people get hooked on products and then you teach them in a way how to not get as distracted   on those products that you help hook them on in a weird way.

Nir Eyal: [00:03:56] Whaaat?!? Yeah, I thought of that. In fact, the books are made to look very similar for that reason. I want people to read it as a followup book, but remember that these are addressed at different products. So, you know, to build healthy habits is wonderful. Right. We want to get people hooked to using a fitness app, to getting kids excited about learning, through an educational product, getting people to take their medication.

You know, a medication adherence is a huge problem and it costs billions of dollars and millions of lives because people don't get into the habit of healthy behaviors. And so we can use. These technologies to help people form good habits, but we can also become aware about the bad habits as well. And the book Indistractable is a tech positive approach because there is so much stupid crap on the internet these days about how the internet is melting your brain.

And it's done for no other reason than to get you to click those headlines, because the way that these companies make money, whether it's the New York times or the Atlantic or the wall street journal or CNN or Fox news is the same way. Facebook makes money and they're in competition for your eyeballs.

So the more sensational stories and made up bull crap, they can tell you that technology is addicting you, that it's hijacking your brain, that it's going to, you know, manipulate your mind the more you'll click on it, ironically enough. And so I wanted to write the kind of book that people can actually use while keeping.

Their Facebook accounts, well, keeping engaged on Twitter or in, or Instagram or any thing that they want to do, because the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. So I'm not going to tell people that they should stop. Interacting on Facebook that if Facebook is addicting them, because when we tell people that kind of stupid argument, it leads to what's called learned helplessness because when people say, Oh, my kids are addicted to video game, or the algorithms are hijacking my brain.

Guess what they do. They stopped doing anything about problem. And so that blind of reasoning doesn't help people. One, it leads to learn helplessness, two, it's not practical. You know, I read so many books about, go on a digital detox or do a 30 day diet plan to get yourself off of these distracting technologies.

None of them work, you know, why. For the same reason fat diets don't work. I told you earlier how I used to be clinically obese. I'm constantly go on these stupid diets. No, 30 days, no fat 30 days, no sugar, 30 days, no, whatever. Guess what I did on day 31, like crazy. Right because I hadn't dealt with the real reason I was over it.

Wasn't over eating because the evil McDonald's was addicting. Meat of fast food. C'mon, that's an excuse. That's not reality. Reality is, you know, why we overeat, you know, why we over binge on technology because of feelings. Distraction and procrastination is not a character flaw.

It's not that there's something wrong with you. It's that we haven't learned how to deal with uncomfortable emotional states. That is the root cause of all distraction. Nobody wants to talk about this because it's super icky sticky about talking about our feelings. But the fact of the matter is that whether it's too much news, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook, all of these too much is we are doing to escape our own heads.

Because when your head is an uncomfortable place to be, you want to get somewhere else. And so if you're lonely check Facebook, if you're uncertain, Google it. If you're bored well, what's the solution for board and watch TV. Watch Netflix, go on Reddit, go on Pinterest, check news. Lots of things to help us take our mind off of these feelings.

So the way we have to deal with distraction. Of any sort is to understand what is the discomfort we are trying to escape it because if we don't deal with that fact, you know, Facebook didn't invent distraction for God's sakes, right? Plato talked about it 2,500 years ago. Plato, the Greek philosopher talked about in the Greek class yet the tendency to do things against our better interests.

So if he was complaining about people being distracted 2,500 years ago, It's not technology's fault. People it's that we don't have the skills, the habits to make sure that when we feel emotional discomfort, that we do things that help lead us to things that we want to do as opposed to getting distracted.

Jeremy Goldman: [00:08:24] So this is one thing that I'm really curious about, and I think you even anticipated a few of my questions that I don't even have to ask, so you make my life easier . but, yeah, I think one thing that I was really curious about is, is it a fait accompli where  each one of us wants to do a better job on an ongoing basis at not being as distracted.

But then you have these monolithic companies that I get, you know, like we're, we're not supposed to say like McDonald's or Facebook as the root of the problem. And we do have the ability to overcome these things. And there have always been things that we've been trying to fight against from a distraction standpoint, but yet I can't help, but think that these companies are going to figure out better and better in some ways to hook us on technology and that we in turn have to get better and better at figuring out how to be indistractable. 

Nir Eyal: [00:09:18] The answer is yes, the companies will get better and better at making products that, that, that turn your time and attention into money. That's what they do.

And nobody is Lily white, right? Everybody here has played the same exact game. I don't care where you get your news. All of the monetize, your attention. That's what they all do. Every media company does that. Whether you're reading a Harry Potter book or whether you're watching CNN or reading the New York times, they turn your time into money and you know what we want them to.

Products becoming more engaging. It's not a problem. It's progress. Do we really want to tell Facebook? Hey, Facebook, I like your product so much. I want to use it a lot. Hey, Netflix, your shows. There's so good. I want to watch them. Can you make more boring shows? So I won't want to watch them so much. Hey, Apple, the iPhone it's so user friendly.

Can you please make it harder to use? No, of course not. So we don't want technology products to become less. User-friendly less engaging. We want them to be engaged and that's what makes them good. What we have to do is to understand the difference between use and overuse and to do that, we have to understand the difference between traction and distraction.

What is distraction? If we really understand what distraction is, we have to understand where the word comes from that. If you look at the root of the word distraction, It has a common Latin root with the word traction that traction and distraction come from the same Latin root , which means to pull so traction by definition is any action.

You'll notice the word ends in a CTI when ends in action as does distraction, by the way. Right. They both end in the same word ACI when it spells action. So traction is any action by definition that pulls us towards something we want to do. Traction are actions that help us live out. Our values become the kind of person we want to be.

Do things with intent. The opposite of traction is dis. Traction any action that pulls us away from what we plan to do anything that is not done with intent, anything that pulls us away from our values and the person we want to become. So why is this so important? any action can be either a distraction or traction based on one word.

And that one word is forethought. Forethought. So if you are doing something you plan to do with your time, it is traction. If something is not that it's distraction. So if you plan to play a video game, do it. If you plan to go on Facebook, enjoy if you want to watch a show on Netflix, let yourself, but do it on your schedule.

Not the tech companies. 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:12:07] what's an example of a way that you yourself have tried to make yourself more indistractable, obviously that forethought, but like, are there any kind of practical tips that you've, you know, done in your own life that you think could be helpful for other people?

Nir Eyal: [00:12:22] Oh, totally. So this is, this is what the four key strategies to becoming  indistractable are all about. Step number one is mastering the internal triggers. So we talked a little bit about these feelings that prompt us to discomfort. This is the number one source of distraction. It's not the popups, it's not the notifications.

It's not the pings, dings rings and things. It is your feelings. That is the leading number one, cause of distraction of all kinds. You know, we tend to think of distraction now as tech distraction, you know, people get distracted with all kinds of stuff too much, you know, too much drinking, too much news, too much football, too much, whatever.

There's lots of distractions out there. the reason we procrastinate is always because of an internal trigger. So that's the first step. If you don't. deal first and foremost with the internal triggers, nothing will work. Okay. No popup, blockers, nothing, no other technique, no time management, guru magic technique.

None of that stuff works because you will find a way to escape discomfort. If you don't train yourself and I'm not talking about meditation and mindfulness, you've heard about that a million times. I'm talking about some very practical steps that you can take to build a new habit so that when you feel discomfort, when you feel boredom, loneliness, anxiety, fatigue, whatever it is, you're not instantly reaching for your phone.

You're using that discomfort to move you towards traction rather than distraction. So that's the most important step realizing that time management. Is pain management. Let me say that again. Time management is pain management. We have to figure out how to manage pain if we are going to manage our time.

Because again, the reason we procrastinate, the reason we get distracted is always to escape an uncomfortable sensation. So that's step number one, master the internal triggers. Step number two is to make time for traction. We talked about traction and distraction. The number one problem that I see out there after the inability to deal with distraction or deal with internal triggers in a, in a healthy way.

The number one problem I see is that people complain about distraction, but they don't plan their time. This is so obvious that it's painful. You cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. 

So we have no right to complain that we got distracted. If we have white space on our calendar, because what the hell do you get distracted from? Nothing was planned. Everything is a distraction. If you don't plan your day and guess what? These days, if you don't plan your day, somebody is going to plan it for you.

The news Twitter. Your kids, your spouse, your boss, somebody is going to take up your day. You know, there's a reason we call it paying attention. We pay attention. We pay attention the same way we would pay with money. Right. So do you stand on the corner and say, Hey, whoever wants my money here you go. Have some money, have some money.

No, you're deliberate. You think ahead of time, how you want to spend your money to make sure you're spending it the best way you can. But when it comes to our time, the one thing that every human being on the face of the earth, whether you're Jeff Bezos or, or, or bill Gates, you know, you could have billions of dollars, but you get the same 24 hours in a day.

Somehow, Hey, anybody, whatever, whoever wants my time, take it. Whatever you want. Some stupid show on TV, take it some sensational news, take it something crazy on Twitter, something on Slack email, take it. We have to plan our day or somebody's going to plan for it, us. And that means down to the minute.

Planning our days down to the minute. And I know what you're thinking. Cause it's the same thing I thought, Oh, I don't want to plan out every minute of my day. That's that's so rigid. I'm not a robot. I'm not, I can't do that. That's too, you know, I need to be spontaneous. I hear ya. I reacted the exact same way.

Here's the thing. It is a life changing practice. And it's not just me who says this thousands of peer reviewed studies have shown this technique to be among the most powerful and effective things you could possibly do. Simply planning our time now, how do we do that? Okay. That's what the book is about.

And it's based on our values. When you say, Oh, what are your values? What do you value? Oh, I value my health. Health is number one. Oh. I value my family, family. They're they're right up there.

you know, all these things that are our values, but then when you look at your calendar, Could I could, I know that, right? Like if you value your health, do you have time for exercise? If that's one of your values, do you have a bedtime, right. As parents, you know, for years, I would tell my daughter, you better go to bed on time, but going to sleep is very important for your health, but did I have a bedtime?

No, I was a stupid hypocrite. I wasn't, I wasn't living up to my own values that I was preaching to my daughter. I would stay up checking email past midnight. So that's the second step. Make time for traction. The third step. Is hack back the external triggers. So this is, this is relatively easy, and this is a short section of the book.

It's about, you know, removing the external triggers that don't serve you. So just like you turn off notifications good for you. You're in the one third of Americans who do this, believe it or not only one third of people with a smartphone, right. Ever turn off notifications. What can we really complain that phones are addicting us and hijacking our brains.

If we haven't taken five minutes to turn off the notifications that don't serve us, it's very easy to do, but that's kindergarten stuff. We go beyond that. What about meetings? Oh my God. How distracted do we get in meetings for God's sake, stupid meetings that don't need to be called emails. How much time do we spend responding to emails?

How big of a distraction is that? when it comes to. you know, our kids can be huge distractions, especially as now that so many of us are working from home and homeschooling, our kids can be a huge source of distraction. How do we remove those external triggers? So I'll tell you exactly how to do that.

Finally, the last step. Is to prevent distraction with pact. Pacts are what we call pre-commitment devices. It's when we make a promise to ourselves or to somebody else. So that as a last line of defense, as the firewall for distraction, we have a barrier between us and something we don't want to do. And we do that in advance.

So if you use these four strategies in concert and the reason I'm not telling you the nitty gritty tactics is because tactics are cheap. Right. Tactics are what you do. Strategy is why you do it. So I don't care if people don't read the book. If you can just remember, write down these four critical strategies, you can call yourself in distractible because now, you know what tactics are important.

The big strategies are number one, master internal triggers. Number two, make time for traction. Number three, hack back external triggers. Number four, prevent distraction with packs. The rest is detailed. 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:18:45] So it's interesting cause you covered a lot there. And I think that, you know, you mentioned, obviously you're a parent like me and a lot of us are homeschooling slash you know, just trying to wrangle them these days and you know, for my children to succeed.

And you know, obviously the name of the show is future proof. I I'm, I'm thinking like kind of, what should my goal be for them? Do I just need to be. Like enjoy. And I've literally thought about this in terms of if my kids fall backwards in school right now, if they fall behind 15%, but every other kid falls back 30%, then my kid has one.

And I don't know if that's like a cynical way of thinking about it. Do I just need to raise them to be slightly less distracted than everyone else's children. Cause it is at least my belief that we will generally become more distracted as time goes on, which is why I think your, you know, the work is so incredibly important, but I mean, do I just need to have that mindset?

Cause it's, it's difficult to teach these things to a kid at their level. So, I mean, how do you think about that? 

Nir Eyal: [00:19:49] Yeah. So, you know, I think our goal, as, as, as human beings, but specifically as parents is to help, each individual live up to their full potential. And so that's why I think that becoming indistractable is the skill of the century.

That if you think the world is distracting now, Just wait a few years, it's only going to become more distracting the world that our children inhabit is absolutely going to be more distracting than it is today, because we're going to have augmented reality and virtual reality. And who knows what other realities, you know, the, the world is only going to become more potentially distracting and there will be.

There already is a bifurcation between people who allow their time and attention to be controlled and manipulated by others. And people who say no, I decide how I will spend my time, my attention to my life. I am in distractible. And so that's really why I wrote this book. There's a whole section in the book about how to raise indestructable kids, which is exactly about this.

Very question about how do we give them this, this macro skill? Because if you think about it, There is no facet of your life that does not require the ability to sustain attention, whether it's an educational, a goal that you might have, of course, whether it's a physical health, whether it's relationships in order to sustain these things, to be good at any of these things, you have to know how to control your attention and therefore choose your life.

And so this is an incredibly important skill. And let me tell you. No, there's a whole 30 pages about exactly how to do this, how to raise indistractable kids. But one of the most important things you can do, probably the most important thing before you try and help your kids become indestructable is of course becoming in distractible yourself.

I hear from so many parents who tell me how my kid won't get off Facebook and he's playing Fortnite constantly. And the video games, this, and, you know, he won't, it's the video games doing it to him and this and that. And then I asked them, well, how often do you get distracted? You know, you can't tell your kids to stop playing fortnight while you're checking email.

It doesn't work that way. We have to become indistractable ourselves. We have to be role models. That's the first step. And then we need to teach them the very same four steps that we talked about earlier. Mastery internal triggers, making time for traction hacking back external triggers. And preventing distraction with packs.

Any child can learn this. We taught this to our daughter, when she was about seven years old. And actually we taught her some of the techniques even before that individually, but, but now she uses them. Right. And here's the interesting thing. She is super tech literate. You know, a lot of parents, they blame the technology and say it's all technology's fault, but they're really messing with their kids' heads because of course the jobs of the future.

If you want to future proof, your kid, your kid damn well better know how to use technology. The jobs of the future, the highly-paid jobs in the future, necessitate them being comfortable with using tech. So don't scare your kids and tell them that technology is melting their brain and it's bad for them.

That's rubbish. First of all, the data is not at all. it does not say that if it's used in moderation, and it, we don't want to scare them. We want to empower them because here's the thing. If you simply restrict the technology and don't teach them this skill set, What are they going to do? When they go to their friend's house, what are they going to do?

When they go off to college? You know what they're going to do? They're going to cheat. They're going to do whatever they want when you're not watching. So we want to give them the skillset, because remember we are not raising kids. Okay. The job of a parent is to not raise a child. The job of a parent is to raise an adult.

And so we have to empower them with the skillset so they can regulate their own time and attention. 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:23:28] Hmm. I like the way that you put that, because I think that you're right. I mean, if we're not perfect at it, which nobody is, I mean, how do you get your kid to at least be a little bit more perfect, but frankly, if you don't want them to be engaging in a behavior, you know, you try to work on it yourself and model it also.

So I think. 

Nir Eyal: [00:23:48] I just, sorry. I'm so sorry to interrupt you, but, and also model the struggle because we're not perfect and we shouldn't wait until we are perfect to teach our kids how to do this. Because part of in distractible, you asked me earlier, you know, one of your first questions was how indestructable am I?

I didn't say I was a 10 because I still struggle with distraction. And my daughter knows I struggle with distraction and that's what makes me human in her eyes. Right. As opposed to saying I'm an adult, I know everything I'm perfect, which makes it that's an unattainable standard. Instead we struggle with it together.

I tell her about some times when I struggle and things, and she keeps me on track. And sometimes, you know, just the other day she said, you know, daddy, you're really doing a good job, putting your phone away. And you know, like she's encouraging me. Cause she knows this is important to me. And she feels more valued now that I'm not checking my phone while I'm with her.

Right. That makes her feel special. And so it sets a good example for her as well, but the standard should not be perfect. We want to be vulnerable in our kids' eyes to tell them, yeah, this is something I'm struggling with 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:24:40] too. Yeah. No, absolutely. And I can't help, but notice, you know, one thing, you know, a lot of people like to blame social media companies for everything, kind of like they intend to do this, this and this to you.

but you know, social media, doesn't just hook us in ways that companies intended. This is, you know, my forte 10 of having written about social media for a years, but. You know, we also tend to distract ourselves. I think in some ways that companies might not have intended, you know, and one example that I was thinking about, you know, is toxicity, you know, toxic comments, you know, trolling people on social media being rewarded, a lot of virtue signaling, you know, filter bubbles.

And some of these things aren't, you know, quite modeled. I don't think Facebook had a presentation where they said, okay, here's how we're going to create some filter bubbles. You know, it's just unintended. Consequences and people I think are responsible as well. So, I mean, I'm wondering if you've noticed that and how does that fit in with your overall thesis?

You know, the topic of a coming in distractible, you know, us inventing new things to distract ourselves. 

Nir Eyal: [00:25:47] Yeah. So the, the philosopher Belleville really had a wonderful quote. He said that when you invent the ship, you invent the ship wreck and that's exactly what's happened that, you know, the, the internet is a ship and there's lots of shipwrecks.

But what happened with ships? Right? When was the last time you heard of a shipwreck? You can't. Nobody can re who remembers the last shipwreck, right? It almost never happens. Why did we stop sailing ships? No, we made ships better. And that's exactly what's happening today. So there are lots of problems out there with the internet, right?

There's a lots of dangerous things, lots of things that need to be improved. You know, this whole technology, you know, these companies, Facebook, Twitter, Google, these companies are teenagers, right? They're relatively new. And let me tell you, they, as much as anyone are working as quickly as possible, I, I think I know many people in these companies to fix their problems.

Why? Because if they don't. Those bastards that ticktock are gonna take their customers away. And that's exactly what happened and is happening because of a coup if a product makes you feel crappy, people leave people aren't idiots, they're not puppets on a string. And so when they were on tick tock and tick tock made them feel crummy because it wasn't designed well to take care of the trolls.

People started leaving. And now tick tock is a major competitive threat because it is a better social network to give people what they are looking for now, is it the end? All be all of course, by the way, when I call them bastards, I was saying from the point of view of Facebook, I don't, I have no problem with Tecton, but I'm showing you how, when a product doesn't give people what they look for, if it doesn't improve their lives, we are not addicted.

We are not. Puppets on a string. People vote with their feet. They go to a different product or they use a product differently. And so that's what I advocate for in my book. That's what hacking back is all about. So for example, one of the things that I hate about Facebook is the newsfeed. The newsfeed is an algorithmically curated list.

Of crap to incite you. That's how they track what to show you is. What's going to get you to click and scroll. I don't want to see it. It doesn't improve my life. What improves my life, life about Facebook is going to see my friend Jeremy's page and seeing, you know, pictures of his kids and what's up with him.

And that's, that feels good to me. Not seeing all the crap that's on the newsfeed, but here's the beauty of it. I don't have to see it, how I hack back. How do I do that? There's a wonderful free Chrome extension. One of many, the one I use is called Facebook newsfeed Eradicator. It's free. Anybody can use it.

It takes maybe five seconds to install. And when you install it, the next time you go to Facebook, you won't see the newsfeed. You'll see a nice, inspirational quote where the newsfeed was. And guess what? There is nothing that Zuckerberg can do about it. Just like he can't do anything about the fact that you turned off your notifications or you use it on a schedule.

Right. So we can do stuff about this as opposed to just complaining about it. That's why I wanted to empower people to say there's nothing wrong with using Facebook, but use it on your terms, not on the tech companies.

Jeremy Goldman: [00:29:06] I got, I got to share my favorite hack, you know, personally for Facebook, since we're on the topic, because it's built into the product, but, there are a lot of things built in, so that I think they can point to the fact that they exist. But they're not going to advertise these things. And friend lists, you know, are actually pretty great because what I'll do is I don't always want to, you know, every now and then I'm like, let me check in with a specific cohort, if you will, you know, the 10 year anniversary of leaving a particular company and I've got a list of those people, and then I click on it.

You know, and I go directly there because I'm choosing at the very least what group I want to engage with at that moment. And I feel a little bit better about that choice because it's a little bit more intentional. 

Nir Eyal: [00:29:50] I love it. I love it. That's the see, that's a great example of hacking back in the companies make these things available.

We just need to spend, if we spent a fraction of the time, we spend moaning and complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves. If we spend a fraction of that time, actually typing in right. How can I do this? Right? How can I curate a friends list? How can I eradicate the newsfeed? How can I hack back? You know, taking a few minutes to read a book like mine, you know, and figuring out these small, these small tactics that you can use.

my book is, is filled with hundreds of different tactics, just like the one you described, that, that can help us make sure that we control the technology as opposed to the technology controlling us. But, 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:30:29] you know, so speaking about things, controlling us, and I want to ask, I guess, two more questions and this has been really, I think it's going to be very helpful to people.

I was curious about like, How do you think about in terms of ethics, right? Like, are there ethical ways and unethical ways to attract customer engagement? Because I think about a lot about that. And I think, you know, ethics are just more or less what society deems ethical versus not. And it kind of gets me thinking, you know, there are certain things about products that I use.

Where most people are like, you know, thank God that they found that way to hook me. And then there are some things where people are like, I don't quite love that this particular feature exists, but I do recognize that at work. So how do you feel about that? 

Nir Eyal: [00:31:13] Yeah. Yeah. So in my first book hook, there is a whole section called the morality of manipulation.

And this is definitely a thought of something I thought of the first. Day. I started writing this, this line of research and work, is how do we use this stuff ethically? And, so there's a whole test that you, as an individual could use about how can I apply these techniques for good, but then there's also a, an ethical test that you can apply on a company level, which is what I called the regret.

Test that if, if a product is something that coerces people versus persuading people, there's a big difference between the two. Persuasion is helping people do things they want to do. And sometimes people want to be manipulated. How can that be? How I would someone want to be manipulated? We pay for the privilege of being manipulated.

How, let me give you an example. When you go to the movie theater. You are manipulated, your emotions are manipulated by flickering light on a screen. We know that's not real people. That's flickering lights and illusion to make us think that that's real people so that we feel real feelings. And even the people we see are actors they're faking it.

And we, we don't mind that lie. Why because it's persuasion. We want to feel those feelings. We want to laugh. We want to cry. When we go to a movie theater, that's what we're there for. It's entertainment. So that's persuasion. And to me, that's ethical. The opposite of persuasion is coercion. Coercion is getting people to do something they don't want to do as opposed to persuasion is helping people do things they want to do.

Persuasion is ethical. Coercion is not ethical. Not only is it not ethical. It's bad business that when people are coerced into doing something, you can trick them. But here's the thing. People very quickly figure out what you did. And then they don't want to do business with you anymore. In fact, there's a great website called dark patterns, dark patterns, dot org.

You can check it out. And it's a list of all of these tricky things that websites have done, right. putting things in people's, checkout baskets, without them knowing, making them click on ads that don't look like ads, all these shady tactics that companies have used in a course of manner. And every single one of them is publicly shamed.

And almost without exception has stopped using those tactics because when people don't like your product, not only will they stop using your product, they're going to tell all their friends to stop using your product as well using probably social media. So that's the big ethical line is what is persuasion, something the customer wants to do that improves their lives that helps them build healthy habits versus coercion, which has always unethical.

Jeremy Goldman: [00:33:51] And I think that makes a lot of sense. There are obviously kind of lags and, you know, companies addressing things that they should address and that their customers don't like, it's not like an immediate, the moment that they get that feedback, they turn off that feature. So, you know, there's always that kind of danger that regulation, you know, we'll jump in.

And do you think that there are ways in which you know where customers are tricked? I'm doing air quotes and somebody can see us right now. But tricked into engaging with products. That we, that, that, you know, like that might be policed in some fashion, in the future or regulated by governments. 

Nir Eyal: [00:34:28] Yeah. Yeah, no, I think there's lots of room for regulation.

Look, tricking people to do a, you know, to sign up for things and buy things that are not as advertising and not as advertised is a caveat. Emptor right. This is not a new concept by, or be aware. This is not new. and it happens all the time. You know, I just reminded, I used to subscribe to the wall street journal.

And here's a, here's a wonderful, here's a wonderful example of coercion from a company as reputable as the wall street journal. How could they use these tactics? Isn't it just shady internet companies that do it? No, the wall street journal does it. And I'm going to tell you, because I want people to know how they trick you.

I signed up for the wall street journal. It took me 30 seconds on the website. Couldn't be easier. You put in your credit card. Boom. You're subscribed. You don't even, I don't even know if you have to actually put in your credit card. I think you just put it in your. Home address and they mail it to you and then they'll send you a bill later.

So they make it incredibly easy to sign up, but then they use a technique called the Roach motel technique. The Roach motel is when customers come in, but customers can't go out. So you would think if it was easy to sign up. It would be easy to, to discontinue, right? So when I wanted to cancel my wall street journal subscription, could I go on their website and push one button?

That was just as easy as it was when I signed up. Oh, no, I have to call a one 800 number between 9:00 PM and 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM Eastern standard time. And then when someone picks up the phone, they have to sell me for 30 minutes until I can say the, for the hundredth time, cancel my subscription. They make it incredibly hard for you to cancel.

So that is unethical, right? That's an unethical business practice and they should be shamed. And if they don't change it, they should be regulated so that they don't keep doing that. So there is lots of room for regulation in the tech industry as well. I think we should investigate their monopoly status, data incursion, all kinds of things that we should make sure that these companies are held to account for.

But about this specific issue. Of is tech built in a way that is too engaging to habit forming, so that we are unable to control it. The answer is no, this is. We're talking about Facebook here. We're not in, you know, we're not freebasing Facebook, we're not injecting Instagram. We're not snorting Snapchat for God's sakes.

These are not drugs. They are behaviors. They are apps and nothing could be simpler than making sure that we can become in distractible. If we simply know how so there's lots of room for regulation. I'm not anti-tech regulation. I'm for the right kind of regulation, because if we do it wrong, it's just going to frustrate people and that lead to any, any substantial change.


Jeremy Goldman: [00:37:02] I think that's right. And I think, you know, being future proof ultimately is not about, you know, clutching to use a Yiddish word, about things that you're not going to change, and are more or less the way of the world. So unless you're dedicating yourself to let's say, taking down Facebook then except the fact that these things exist and figure out how to survive and thrive in a world that has these things.


Nir Eyal: [00:37:25] yeah. Absolutely. And I really do think we can get the best of these tools without letting them get the best of us. And that there's nothing wrong with these tools if we use them in the right way. 

Jeremy Goldman: [00:37:36] absolutely. I think that's a great last word. So NIR, thank you so much for making the time. This was a really fantastic, and I think a lot of people will get, you know, a good deal out of this conversation.

Nir Eyal: [00:37:46] I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on future proof as a pleasure.