#73 - Make your family more engaging than the algorithm with Erin Loechner

June 11, 2024
Erin Loechner

Episode Summary

This week on The Aro Podcast, Joey sits down with Erin Loechner, founder of the global tech-free movement The Opt-Out Family. Erin shares her personal journey from being a social media influencer to embracing a low-tech lifestyle, which inspired her new book, The Opt-Out Family. They discuss the Loechner family's motto, "be more engaging than the algorithm," and what it means to be an opt-out family—a household that intentionally minimizes technology use based on evidence of its developmental harms. Erin offers practical advice for parents on discussing the opt-out lifestyle with other families and stresses the importance of doing it together. She and Joey explore what we can provide our kids that technology can't, the impact of algorithms on our behavior, and the five critical areas where technology is most detrimental. They clarify that opting out isn’t about being anti-tech, but about being pro-living. The episode wraps up with Erin's tips on how to simplify and depersonalize your smartphone, along with a message for those considering the opt-out lifestyle.

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Episode Transcript

Erin Loechner (00:00):

An opt-out family at every point of connection with technology. They pause and they look up, they look around, they assess and they say, is this where we want to be going? The whole reason why it's sort of termed opt-out family is because Zuckerberg, I think it's a famous motto now, his motto is Move fast and break things right. And it's lovely from the sort of seat of an entrepreneur who might want to battle fear of failure and fear of risk and all of that, but for parents who are leading a family, we don't want to move fast and break things. We want to move slow and mend to things. And the beauty of an opt-out family is that at any time, we can always course correct. And there is so much hope in thinking deeply about where we want to go next. Just like you said, where do I go now? That's what an opt-out family will ask.

Joey Odom (00:55):

Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. Hey, it's your good friend, Joey Odom, Co-Founder of Aro. And hey, today we have a repeat guest and she's one of my favorites. This is Erin Loechner. You may remember Erin from several months ago. She wrote a book called Chasing Slow, and we teased out the book that she is launching today, June 11th. We teased out that book at the time. It's called the Opt-Out Family. And if you're listening to this podcast, I bet you are one of these people who feel this tension around phones and just thinking like, is this the way it has to be? Erin proposes, I believe what may have sounded like a very radical idea 10 years ago, five years ago, but for today, I think it's a breath of fresh air that says, okay, we can opt out. We can do things a little bit differently than everybody around us.

And we talk about this in the show. What we will find as we take these courageous steps to do that is that we're going to give courage to other peoples. We're going to encourage by giving courage to others that they can do it as well. We talk about Jonathan, he's book The Anxious Generation and how this is a collective action problem that requires collective action, in other words, for us to do it together. And Erin talks about how we can do that, how we can ban together. She talks about the algorithm. This is not an anti-tech book, this is a pro living book, but how the algorithm is impacting the way we live and just the fact that we can take a step back, we can opt out, we can make changes. And one thing I love that she says, this is not an all or nothing.

This is something that you can be, wherever you are on the continuum, you can begin to make these changes. I'd love for you to take a moment to buy this book. It's extremely well researched, it's perfectly timed after the anxious generation has come out, and it's one of those that you're going to walk away with, okay? I think our family can look a little bit like this. So I'm very, very grateful to Erin for her work. You're going to love the conversation with her. She has just such a calming presence in a way that she's able to deliver some very hard truth in a way that is very approachable just because she has such a great presence about her. So for sit back, relax, enjoy my conversation with Erin Loechner, author of the Opt-out Family

Gang. Today I want you to opt in to letting our guest help you opt out. She's a warrior who has picked a big battle against the algorithm and my money is on her. Her favorite screen is a screened in porch and she prefers real valleys over Silicon Valleys. She likes goat cheese and pickles, but her true food love is mushroom Alfredo Pasta with her husband Ken. She's a beekeeper, a scout leader, and she likes to skip to her. Lou, please join me in welcoming back to The Aro Podcast, your Sherpa, to an opt-out life. Erin Loechner. Erin, it's so good to see you.

Erin Loechner (03:41):

That is my favorite part is your intros. Oh my gosh, Joey, they must take hours. Hours, so good.

Joey Odom (03:47):

Well, thank you. Yours is easy to write. Just again, I use some of you, you've been with us before. I used a little bit of that. I put a little tweak on it, version 2.0. But Erin, I have been so excited for this conversation. You have given a real gift, I believe to the world here with your new book coming out today. Those listening, it's June 11th coming out today, which what a great day. You've written the Opt-Out family. The subtitle is How to Give Your Kids What Technology. I want to go into all of what it means and how we do it and all that. But will you just start with what was the genesis of, okay, I want to Go and Chasing Slow. You kind of talked a little bit of the buildup and that felt like maybe The Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings here. You've really gone into the meat, but will you give us kind that story of how this book came to be and maybe the years proceeding that led up to it?

Erin Loechner (04:45):

Yeah, of course. I wish there was a really tidy before and after just this moment where it's like everything comes crashing down, but it's a slow burn. I think with the first book Chasing So Much, we already talked about, I think honestly that was sort of a deconstructing the idea of this American dream sort of rat race. This book is really deconstructing the idea of social media rat race. Do we even need it? Do our kids need it? Is it benefiting us in any way? Can we do life better without it entirely? And I think that's sort of what was on my head when I really, probably when I had my first child, because I knew bringing her home into this, at the time we were filming the hgtv.com show, we were bringing her into this home that was also kind of a showroom we were expected to be on at all times.

I do remember this moment where, well, my cousin's son, so we would just call him my nephew I guess, but he was just an infant and they came over to see the latest installation in the show and in the bedroom, and he threw up on the bedspread. And the first thought I had in my head, this is terrible. It was, oh shoot, we haven't filmed that yet. We're going to have to figure out how to fix that, how to edit it out rather than, oh my gosh, what do you need? Can I get you something? Honestly, it was such a split reaction that those ones that totally reveal your heart and I thought,

This isn't where I want to be. This isn't what I want to go. And so kind of moving away from that, having my own child, I thought, I know I'm going to be parenting with a phone in my hand more than I want to if I keep this pace, if I keep the involvement in social media, if I keep this 1.6 million following that I'm speaking to on the regular, if I keep that kind of those inhumane interactions going, my heart is going to skip straight to that more often than not. And so I didn't want it. So my husband and I, he's very familiar with the algorithm as well. He worked in Apple's ad agency when we lived in LA and he was in Silicon Valley in and out. And honestly, he knew the algorithm is no place for the kids. We were both very aligned in that. And so our family motto became, be more engaging than the algorithm, and we decided it's not enough to say no to devices. We're going to say yes to something better and our house, we're just going to do it differently and we have. So this was the lived message that finally I wrote down.

Joey Odom (07:19):

Well, and if you would've written this book certainly 10 years ago, maybe five years ago, maybe even two years ago, I think people would've looked at you like you had three eyes, right? I mean, you would've looked absolutely crazy, but it seems so perfectly timed for this book to come out right now in a way that is so people just kind of assume. Yeah, I get it. Will you talk about that kind of cultural shift and why this book now makes, which just as a side note, this is a relatively extreme approach you're recommending, but in my mind, this is the approach. I mean, this is the way, but I feel like people are so ready for it and ready for clarity. So I would love to hear your take on that cultural shift on why it doesn't look like you have three eyes now and people why they really think this makes some sense.

Erin Loechner (08:11):

And I am so grateful to the work of Jonathan Hy from the Anxious Generation, his co-founder of Let Grow was one of my greatest sources, Leno Skin. She's lovely. Oh wow. So we have sort of been hand in hand in this message for a bit, and I will just say it was so funny when I started writing this book, the narrative was very much digital wellness, digital wellbeing, sort of how do we have a relationship with tech? How do we navigate tech? All of these things that aren't wrong, they're great messages to consider and to reconsider. And yet I wanted to know, where's the book for people that just aren't willing to deal with this with their kids, they're just not willing to figure out how to navigate it. They just don't want it at all. Where that book and where is the book for the parents that are saying, yes, technology might be the future, but is this the future we want for our kids and can we maybe pop in and start some sort of chain reaction now so that it's maybe something they don't ever have to deal with to the extreme that we have had to.

And so I'm grateful the research is there. We already talked about how the question is no longer, why would you do this? How do you do it? And I didn't know that when I wrote the book. I honestly thought these interviews would be the hardest things to do. I would have to still convince people I'm not a convincer. I'm just very much like this is what works for me. And I thought it would be a lot more difficult, but I am so grateful for so many people who are just really offering a new way and coming together because you have to do it together and saying, Hey, let's think about this a little bit deeper.

Joey Odom (09:49):

It's so true. And I think that people really are now to your point, they are. They feel it so deeply. They know something has to happen. And the thing that is missing is something like this that gives a little bit more of a prescription on, Hey, here's exactly how you do it. We had John Delony on our show not long ago, and I asked on his Colin show, what's the common thread of people? What are they asking? He said, they're asking two things. One, do you see me and two, what do I do now? And so this whole, what do I do now? This is the answer. And even if you look back on Jesus, he saved the woman from getting stoned and then he identified with her, he related to her, and then he said, now go send no more. Now here's what you do. Now you give a direct path to it. So I would love to hear for everybody listening and just one of many plugs, you have to go buy this book, you have to buy this book. It's so good. If you're one of those people who have said, I know there's got to be a better way, what do I do? This is it. So that's the begin. So will you define for us what is an opt-out family?

Erin Loechner (10:53):

I love that question and thank you. I feel like it is a very provocative term, and so I would never ever say that it's an all or nothing thing. One of my most important messages that I want to get across is you can opt out at any time. An opt-out family is not someone that has been just sort of untethered to technology for their entire lives. Look at me. I'm on a podcast with you today.

It is simply someone that does what big tech does not do. It is someone that, so the algorithm is sort of this conveyor belt that we're putting ourselves and our children on, and it's just sort of guiding us down this path and we don't know where it ends. We could never know where it ends because it's not for our best interest. It's not our goal. It's Silicon Valley's goal. And so an opt out family just at every point of connection with technology, they pause and they look up, they look around, they assess and they say, is this where we want to be going? An opt-out family is somebody that think before signing the waiver for facial recognition at summer camp, they might think before signing up for the band app that their child's extracurricular activity communicates through. It's just a way to just pause and say, Hey, is there another way that we could do this?

And the whole reason why it's sort of termed opt out family is because Zuckerberg, I think it's a famous motto now, his motto is Move fast and break things right. And it's lovely from the sort of seat of an entrepreneur who might want to battle fear of failure and fear of risk and all of that, but for parents who are leading a family, we don't want to move fast and break things. We want to move slow and mend to things. And the beauty of an opt-out family is that at any time we can always course correct and there is so much hope and thinking deeply about where we want to go next. Just like you said, where do I go now? That's what an opt-out family will ask

Joey Odom (12:53):

For the people who, when you think about that, and Jonathan Hyde talks so much about collective action and how people doing it together, it makes it so much better where the individual detriment is high if you're the only one, but the collective good is great when you do it together. So what about for the person that says, oh, but oh, I don't want them to be left alone. I don't want them to be the only one. What do you say to when people, because that is the big thing. I don't want to be the last person. So what do you say to the person who if they want to adopt this, but then they also don't want to necessarily isolate their kids?

Erin Loechner (13:27):

Yeah, a hundred percent. We have some scripts on our website. It's opt fail.com, but we have scripts that you can sort of just honestly plug and play. You just copy and paste them and send it out to people in your social circle to talk about this issue, give them the research, talk about why you're choosing that whatever age your kid is, maybe you're still hosting play dates. So hey, we're doing screen-free play dates, here's why. Or if it's a high school club activity, that kind of thing. One thing that I've noticed, they sort of, the message kind of snowballs into each other. And once you go first, other parents are like, thank goodness you said something. I'm not happy with where this is going and I don't know what to do about it. And honestly, we're also flooded that it takes a lot to be the one to speak up first. We have a lot going on. It's a lot easier to just say like, all right, whatever this one time, it's fine. And there are times and seasons in which that is the approach. And I think we've sort of reached that tipping point where we recognize we're not the only crazy people anymore and no one is having fun. Yes,

Joey Odom (14:31):


Erin Loechner (14:32):

I was talking to a mom yesterday and she had emailed her theater group because they were communicating through, I think it was the band app also on rehearsals and costuming and all of this. And she said, Hey, I'd like to meet with a director. What should I say about why? And I gave her a script or whatever, and I just said, okay, listen, there are families out there that just rely on a desktop computer and an email address, and your only job is to say that you're one of them. Say like, Hey, I have provided my kid with an email address and a desktop computer. Is there any way that we can sort of move this communication a little bit old school and then raise your hand, I will sign up and do it all for you. Because we're recognizing these coaches are flooded too.

The leaders, the teachers, the administrators, this is just what they've done because they have found it to be easier and it's more efficient, and they're in the rhythm now. So raise your hand to be the one to say, okay, if you give me everybody's email addresses, I'll set up the email list and I will send out the weekly updates or whatever you need. And inevitably what happens is that coach or that director or that theater person would say, thank you for doing that, because another family asked this same thing and I didn't have anything to tell them. And now another family who cares just as much as you do. So it really does one thing leads into another, and once you start having the conversation and talking about it raising your hand, other people do come alongside you. They really, really do. And we're in it together.

Joey Odom (16:03):

I'd love that you said that. The last part, especially about the administrators and the teachers, they want it too. I really do believe that they're on the front lines, they see the detriment, and I think what you are doing in this, and when you take an act like that, basically that requires courage of you, but it gives courage to others. It gives courage to the administrator to say, oh, yeah, I can do this. I was talking and I'll actually give him a shout out by name, the head of the school where my kids go, Dr. Ansel Sanders in Knoxville at the web school, who was just such a terrific leader. And he is moving towards like, okay, we got to do something about this. We were talking about the book, the Anxious Generation. And I think one reason why is because he has heard from other parents who have said, no, we want to do this.

Now, there are some on the other side who Julie Jargon in the Wall Street Journal wrote an article I believe that were saying that parents are the ones getting in the way of this. We all know that it would be good for there to be no phones, but some parents are getting in the way of it. But if we can shift the cultural tide, cultural is just the taken for granted assumptions of the way an organization operates. And so if you can get other people around you, so right, Erin, other people want that and they just need some courage to do it. So especially when you can remove those excuses and you can say, no, I'll be the one that manages it. So I love that. And what I love too about the script that you're talking about, that's really just what we need. We just need, again, it's all about clarity and we have, this book is so great, putting into words some of the tensions and it's the tactical one.

Another thing I'll say about it, it would be easy to look at this book and this ethos as anti-tech, and I actually don't read this as anti-tech. You talk about the algorithm and obviously you have to name some things with truth, but I actually think this is just living, I think the way that you, to me, there's an important distinction there. And again, it's even the subtitle of the book, how to Give Your Kids What Technology. So I'd love that you've made that distinction. So will you talk about, you've alluded to it, what are some of those things that we can give to our kids that just technology is incapable of giving?

Erin Loechner (18:11):

Yeah. Yeah. And thank you for that distinction because you're right, we live in a world where technology does exist and I just don't want to play nice as much as I want to play fair. And so I would say, honestly, one of the reasons I wrote this book is I wanted to sort of recognize the idea that all technology isn't bad. If it were, we wouldn't be using it. We wouldn't want it. It wouldn't have a hold or a grip on us. It does make a lot of things easier. Not that easier, it's better, but it does make a lot of things and it does some things very well. So what I did with sort of the premise of the book is I wanted to sort of look at the algorithm very, very closely, do a ton of research and figure out why does it grab us?

Why does it captivate us? People of all ages, what is it about these engineers that have made this experience so alluring to us that we are using it to escape from our families and our jobs and whatever we're doing at the moment? And so I broke it down on every level. I talked to programmers and venture capitalists and people in and out of Silicon Valley, parents, teachers, all of them. And I wanted to know, okay, from a video game designer, how do we challenge our kids without the challenge being so much that they're now demotivated? It turns out there's a formula for that. So it's in the book. I wanted to know from a venture capitalist, how do you prioritize first order thinking, second order thinking when you're figuring out sort of a new tech startup to fund, how do you find the exit strategy when it's not working anymore so that we can play that out in our own homes if we've given them a phone and it's not working, where's the exit strategy?

So I wanted to break down those formulas. I wanted to know from an influencer, how do you build trust so we can use that in our home? I wanted to know from an engineer, how do you plan with the end in sight so we can use that in our home? So I wanted to really bring all of these concepts together that the smartphone and Silicon Valley does really, really well, and just co-opt them, steal them, use them for our playbook instead of, so we're meeting our goals instead of meeting their goals. And that was the whole premise, and I hope I did it

Joey Odom (20:28):

Well. Will you tell us some of those things? The end, the book goes into such good detail on it. Will you tell us a little bit about those things that maybe will shock us about the algorithm, how we actually are being manipulated, our activities and how we view the world? All these things actually are being manipulated. Will you talk about some of those, we'll call 'em tips and tricks on how they are engaging with us, how the algorithm is actually changing, how we behave and how we think?

Erin Loechner (20:52):

Yes, yes. One of the really interesting points of research is on biometrics. Are you familiar with biometrics? A little bit. Okay. It's just the idea that the capacity is built in Now at this point, technology has sort of gone above and beyond, and so it exists, but biometrics are just using our body, our face, all of those little tells. We have to read us as people. So deep fakes exist now because we have enough information on what our face looks like at any given moment from any given angle that you can create a video that looks exactly, talks exactly like someone else, and all of that technology is there. And so when I was really researching biometrics specifically with TikTok, one thing that their algorithm does better than any other algorithm is creating an experience of A lot of people when they talk about TikTok, they will say things like, it knows what I like before, I know what I like, or it recommends things that I never knew I wanted.

And TikTok has the ability to use biometrics probably better than any other app because the information is there. They do a lot of eye challenges, a lot of people challenges, a lot of things like that. So anyway, biometrics, it's a whole field that if you want to really ruin your Saturday afternoon, you should research. And yet we have the capability to do that so much better in our own home because if we will just look in our kids' eyes, there's so much information in there, way more information than TikTok will ever know or want to know or get. They have tells, right? We know our kids best and we know when something's a little bit off. We know when they're sort of processing something other than what they're telling us or they're feeling heavier than usual. We know all that. We have biometrics at our disposal to use for good in our own homes. And so even all of that really alarming knowledge that comes with the research, if we just think about it a little differently, if we just shift the approach from like, oh, tech is out to get us to, Hey, yeah, that's a great strategy and we can do it even better. That's where I want us to be because I don't want us to be afraid of where we've been or where we're heading. I want us to feel hopeful for where we can go. And that's what this is about.

Joey Odom (23:22):

That's so right. It really is so easy to get kind of bogged down into it without looking at the hope around us. Because what we don't want to do, and this is what you're proposing, the premise of this book is just not resigning to this, to what we're seeing around us or what our experience has been up to this point. We don't have to resign to it. It is not inevitable. Felicia Wang, I interviewed her a few months back and she said the exact same thing, this is not inevitable. It does not have to be inevitable. And yet we go along, oh, this is just going to be how it is. But if we can begin with ourselves, that's such a powerful thing.

Aro Member (23:55):

I'd say for me, the biggest thing too was I didn't feel like I was able to be present. Being on my phone documenting all the time, it still always is a struggle. And so I think that's why I really appreciate Aro of having something that encourages you to have boundaries in physical boundaries, not just boundaries that you set yourself. They're great, but just having that extra layer accountability is super, super helpful.

Joey Odom (24:22):

We love hearing stories from the Aro community. The one you just heard actually comes from our Voices of Aro episodes where I sit down with Aro members and they share about their stories and their lives with Aro. Make sure to check out the voices of Aro episodes, and if you're a member who would like to share your own story with Aro, please email us at stories@goaro.com.

When you talk about, and again, I just said let's not focus on the muck and Meyer, but I'm going to take us into the muck and Meyer here. You talk about five areas where the algorithm is affecting us in brain and body development, mental health, reality, distortion, physical safety and addiction. We pick on maybe one of those and how this algorithm is, it's one thing to say that all these things are happening, it's another thing on why it shouldn't be happening. Will you tell us a little bit about some of the detrimental effects that we're seeing as a result of the algorithm?

Erin Loechner (25:14):

Yeah, I mean, pick one. It's universally changed how we are and interact with each other in such a short amount of time, and I am grateful that we're at the point where we do have really hard research and really hard numbers on what this is doing, and particularly to young girls. I will say, I think there's the research points too with young children, boys, it's gaming and with girls, it's social media is kind of that sticking point. Honestly, one of the statistics I found that was the most interesting to me because I was coming at this from a place of hope, was that 71% of parents believe that smartphones do more harm than good. And when I read that was way higher than what I thought it would be. These are parents that have already given their kids technology. These are some parents that maybe haven't yet, but we are overwhelmingly the majority of parents that want to do this differently. And yet it is such an uphill battle and we just don't know how or don't have the tools. And so I am very hopeful. I am very hopeful that there is a lot of muck and mier, but it's not anything that we can't trudge through together.

Joey Odom (26:20):

Yeah, I totally agree with that. Why don't these, I'm going to stay a little negative for a second, I promise, and I won't be too long. But why knowing the effect, let's just take, not to call out too many, but knowing the effect, the Instagram, the Facebook files, knowing the effect it's having on teenage girls, for example, why don't these companies, why are they not changing? Why are they not doing the right thing? Again, I know I'm casting a broad net, but why is they have such a potential to do good in knowing these detrimental effects? So why aren't they changing and doing the right things?

Erin Loechner (26:54):

Yeah, Joey, the people that I talk to that work for Facebook or Meta or X or a lot of people I spoke with sort of had the job of, it was kind of catcher of thery stuff. It was like, you find this one really terrible content and then there's thousands more, right? It is a big job. I do think that they have outgrown their own pants over here, and I think would not ever, I would argue that the system is set up for them to win. They're a business. They want time on device. They want our attention, they want our lives. It's very interesting. A lot of the programmers I spoke with talked about two waves of the algorithm. The first wave really wanted to capture our attention, and the second wave really wants to capture our intimacy. And that really hit home because we're seeing that now.

We're seeing this idea of, I just read toward the end of the book when I was writing the conclusion, I just got a pitch from replica, which is an AI model that will replicate who you want your best friend to be. So you just plug in all of these traits and these good habits and good hobbies that you want your best friend to have, that your best friend doesn't have because no human is perfect, and yet you put them out and they plug out this sort of perfect companion for you to seek advice from and to encourage you. And that crushed my soul on so many levels because it's playing. We are now playing the job of God for fun. We're creating people that won't fall short, which they will in many ways. And yet still, even with all of that knowledge and all of that research, I didn't meet anyone where I thought, you're out to get us the plan. And these are humans too. I think for a lot of them, it did get, I wouldn't say this for everyone, but it did get out of hand. I think some people joined Silicon Valley to do something better. I think they knew, they saw the problems and they wanted to fix it from the inside. I think other people I spoke with didn't realize until things got really bad and then their job was to make it not seem as bad as it was.

And I think that's sort of human nature. We sort of try to justify our actions to make things feel better than what they do. And I would say now the people that I still keep in touch with, they get it. Some have left, many have left recognizing this is a bigger beast than we're willing to sort of, we don't want to go down the ship at all. So I don't know why it's happening. I mean, I know why it's happening on a grand scale, but I think individually it is very easy to sort of criticize all these people that have built these tools without recognizing that these were college kids and dorm rooms and did they even know what they were doing? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. I won't be the judge of that, but someone will.

Joey Odom (30:07):

Well, I like your perspective there that we're, again, I just hold it. I know you hold this too. We just so desperately crave real connection. And even when we just talked about the replicate, what was it called? The replica? Yeah, replica. Even that is a cry for connection. And it's just like anything, it's fool's gold. It's not real. May look like gold, but it's not. But it just means that we want it. We want that connection so badly. So I tend to agree with you here that these are individuals, these are humans who have wants and needs and want to experience intimacy, but they don't maybe not know how to, but it's just because they're so starved of it that that's why we're creating these replicas for it, no pun and no pun intended there. So I would love to go through what are some things, some proposals of yours, what are some ways that we can begin to become an opt-out family, whether it's through your rhythms and education, and then you talk about studying your kids, and then I'll follow up with one of my favorite parts of the book, which was talking about Chad GPT, which has a different spin than most people want, but we'll get to that in a second.

But what are some ways that we can begin to become opt-out families in these rhythms in our homes?

Erin Loechner (31:22):

Yeah, honestly, what shifted our home the most was when you start with us, you start with the parents. And so one thing I tell a lot of parents is that parental controls are not just for kids. You can turn parental controls on yourself. And so one thing that I did with my phone, and this made all the difference in the world, is I did switch to a flip phone that I switched back to a flip phone. It was a whole thing anyway, thing. So I now have, it is a smartphone and everything is turned off, all the parental controls are off, so it just has text, phone, and I kept on maps. I know I go back and forth all the time, but I took out the camera, I took off the, obviously I quit social media, I'm not on there anymore. So it's been about three years off there.

And I think for me, making that shift along with one other big shift that I think a lot of us tend to overlook is making, I made my phone wallpaper and my phone sort of lock screen, just black. It's straight black. There's no beach scene photo, there's no family, cute family photos of my kids or whatever. Just the whole experience. We have a video on our site on how to do this. If anybody is like, how do you do that? I don't get it, but you depersonalize your phone because then it becomes a phone, not your phone. And Joey, that made such a big difference in just the way that I thought about it. When it's your phone, it's something you need, you grab it. When you get your keys phone wallet, you grab it when you leave, no matter where you're going. And when it was just a phone, I could stop and say like, Hey, I'm just going to the park with my kids.

We're just walking. Do I even need my phone? Or we're just going the library. It's right there. Do I need my phone? There's a landline. If there's an emergency, I'll call. It just changed everything. And so depersonalizing your own device is a big thing that we can do as parents. The other thing is then you can teach your kid all of those things you want to teach them about how do you make a phone call, how do you send a text message, all of those things that I think we sort of make excuses for giving our kids their own smartphone a little earlier, digital literacy, all that. You can do some of that on your own sort of dumb down phone if you are comfortable offering it to say your 12, 13, 14-year-old or whatever to make a call. Now it's the family phone. So that's one thing that we did that worked really well.

The other thing is making your tools single use only. So I think one of the things that we get into with the smartphone, with kids in particular, it's a Swiss Army knife of activities and entertainment, and it's your social life and it's just all of these things all in one, so many burdens that we can't even begin to carry, certainly our children. And so making everything single use, if you did already give your child a device or if you're kind of on the fence, which I would encourage everyone to read, I think it's chapter three, you'd know better than I would actually, but just kind of deconstructing all those reasons why we do give our kids a phone and then giving some other ideas on that before you even make that decision. But if you're already there and you've already made that decision, just think about how you want your child to use that device.

Do you want your child to use the device the same way that you do? If not, then there's some areas to grow. And if so, then great. You're going to be an awesome role model for them. And so thinking through making everything single use, I get the example in the book iPads. We have a very old iPad and gosh, it only has, it does have a piano playing app on it. That's the only thing that we could get to run, which is a blessing because what happened was we had plugged it into the piano player, it's plugged in, it doesn't move along the house. The kids are not attracted to it by any stretch because it just does scales. And what happened that I didn't expect to happen was as my toddler grew up, so my kids are 12, eight and four, the 12-year-old and the 8-year-old have both played piano using this app.

So again, you talk about an op family, it's different for everybody. My 4-year-old now will seek kids out in a restaurant with their iPad out, and she automatically assumes they're playing keyboards, they're playing the piano. They think it's like this portable piano, and it's kind of a beautiful thing because it just puts the child in the driver's seat of do I want to use this or not? Do I want to play? Do I want to bypass boredom? Do I want to be entertained? But do I want to play the piano? Yes. Then let's sit down at the piano and let's play the piano. And it's just sort of using technology to support those habits and rhythms that we want in our house.

Joey Odom (36:20):

I'd love that. You said something in there that I really like when you talk about the concept of depersonalizing your phone, and I couldn't help but think of the parallel between the way our phones are dehumanizing us. And so it's almost like you flipped it, right? They're dehumanizing us. Everybody talks about that. Andy Crash talks about that a bunch. They're dehumanizing us, and so what if instead we depersonalize them so that we could become more human? So I love that idea. I'm going to go switch to black on my background right after this, and I like that. The A phone versus my phone. Yeah,

Erin Loechner (36:53):

I like that.

Joey Odom (36:54):

Shockingly, this is going to shock a lot of people. You are very pro chat GPT, right? But not the chat GPT that we all think of. Will you talk to us about the chat GPT that you love?

Erin Loechner (37:06):

I do. Well, so in my research of chap GPT, yes, I'm not going to get into the mire there, but that was a very enlightening experience. A lot of that is in the book as well. But what I really tried to do is just give us some sort of sticking points to consider to have top of mind when we're thinking about why is the algorithm not the path we want to go? And it's strictly because it's bypassing our own goals. And so I thought chat GPT is goals, principles, truth. So chat through as a family, what are your goals, what are your principles and what is your truth and goals? Meaning the surface things, right? I want to learn how to make sourdough or whatever. As a family, the principle is the thing behind that. So it is why do I want to learn how to make sourdough?

Okay, well, maybe it's because I would like to be more self-sufficient, or I would like to figure out how to get around this food restriction or allergy, or maybe I want to give away sourdough to all of my neighbors as Christmas gifts or whatever kind of the thing behind the thing. And then the truth is just something you can put always too. So if your goal and your principle is we'll just keep going with the sourdough strategy, maybe the truth is just we will always make things with our hands. We will always do things a slower way or we will always make for hospitality some of those just overarching umbrella of ideas that keep you in line, moving toward sort of your vision for what your family could be. And the reason that kind of laying it out that way is because things always get sticky, right? Priorities always rub against other priorities. So maybe one of your, and that's what I found with technology, that it was so easy to fall into the easier priority. So if your family values open communication, but it's easier to send a text, you're going to send a text unless you have really gone through some of these goals and principles together as, Hey, we're just doing this a different way and let's practice together. Not that we're going to get it right a million percent, but let's start practicing now.

Joey Odom (39:27):

I think that my initial reaction I had as I was hearing that was the intentionality that it requires to do that. And almost in an answer that I almost laughed at myself and saying like, well, gosh, that would take a lot of time. You'd have to really slow down to do it. And then I thought, oh, well that's kind of the point with the frenetic pace we're all running at. That's not really practical. However, if we implement what you propose, then it is possible and we can slow down a little bit. We can slow down, we can mend things, we can really go slower, and then we're able to be more intentional. And then to again, all to your point where we're not all of a sudden realizing that we're bystanders to our own lives, to our own decisions, that we're the ones that are making those decisions. I'd love to hear, we've talked about the problem and where things are going wrong. You've talked about some of the rhythms of what to do very practically, and the book goes in depth on those. Will you talk to us about the life that's on the other side of those decisions? Will you talk to us about this beauty of the world around us and the beauty that you see when you begin to implement some of these things?

Erin Loechner (40:36):

Yeah, I mean, one of the really interesting things I noticed leaving social media was there was sort of a curiosity about people that I didn't have before. And this is why it's so important, I think, for kids and teens to be able to learn this step before they can engage in sort of social media conversations. Because there's a real risk of the ambiguity, uncertainty part of having a conversation with someone new. And what I found when I was on social media, I felt like I was so well versed in reading people and figuring out, oh, you listen to this podcast, you posted about this, you voted for this person. I probably feel like I know you and I feel like we should probably steer the conversation in this direction versus someone, I don't know what you posted yesterday. I don't know if you had a baby in the time that I saw you last.

I mean, I know nothing about your life because we are not in community together. And so it makes your world a little bit smaller, a little bit more. My definition of community is somebody that I can bring a casserole to, and that's a very limiting definition, but it's always served me well because when I think about it, I don't really need to know what the mom in Minnesota thinks about this particular child rearing practice or I don't really need to know things that are beyond my scope, not in a way to be ill-informed, but in a way to be unformed, to be unmanipulated or encumbered by other people's thoughts and opinions that I never would've come across a hundred years ago and maybe never should have. I think there is something that we do as people and age old Garden of Eden stuff where we just assume that knowledge is wisdom and that more information is going to cause the better result.

And yet I found that when I was kind of being led down the path of an algorithm, it really did replace being led by the spirit. For me, it did. It was sort of like I thought them one and the same, right? Oh, I kind of had this in my head and then I saw this thought and maybe I'm being led this direction. No, I wasn't. The algorithm was leading me that direction, but there was nothing spirit led about that. And now there is such a blank slate that when I do feel a tug in a certain direction, I know for a fact being a believer, I know it's the Holy Spirit and that clarity has been just a wildly beautiful way to live, and I could never really account for the opportunities lost from not being really involved in technology. But I can absolutely look to the fruits gained and it is an abundant life across the board on every level.

Joey Odom (43:46):

Wow. It makes perfect sense. I mean, it really does. As things kind of quiet down, you can attune yourself. I mean, the story in the Old Testament about just Elijah goes out to hear from God and there's an earthquake and it says, but God was not in the earthquake, and then there was thunder, but God was not in the thunder. And then it said, but then a still small voice, God was in the still small voice. And so you think about what are those still small voices that we just have to quiet ourselves down to be able to hear, to be able to decipher. One last question for people who hear this and say, I just don't think that's possible or practical for me, what would you say to somebody like that who hears this and really wants everything you're describing just says, I just don't think it's practical in my life. How would you address that?

Erin Loechner (44:41):

I think it depends on what area. I mean, I am not afraid to push back anymore. I think it's important to really get to the kernel of what practicality do you mean? Do you mean it is going to make life a little harder or a messier? I think there are certainly situations in which this is going to be a lot harder. I talked to a lot of people co-parenting who they're living in two different households and one spouse is very aligned with the messaging, and the other one is ProTech or Alltech and not even about tech or no tech, but they're on different pages with this. And that is a trickier thing. And to those situations where you really don't feel like you have a lot of control over your child's tech usage or your own or whatever, I would just recommend taking a queue from meta and opening a little suggestion box right next to your Aro box, actually.

But where honestly, meta has a really great reporting system. If you see something online that makes you uncomfortable or that shouldn't be there or that is disinformation or you can report it anonymously. And I always encourage parents to do the same. If your child is actively on social media, make space for them to talk to you about it. And a lot of times for kids, that's an anonymous, because there's so many layers to it. A kid might say, well, I saw the thing because I wasn't supposed to be on my phone or it was my friend's phone and I wasn't supposed to have it, and so I know I'm going to get in trouble, so I don't want to say anything. And that's when we get into a really rough spot with the kids. And so yeah, I would say just, yeah, next to your Aro box, have a suggestion box or just even I think of two-factor notification where if your account is hacked, you have to go through two systems of sort of proving your identity.

Well, we could do that kind of thing in our relationships as well, where if your child has a smartphone, make sure they have two people that they can go to in case of anything that is happening that is not okay in that experience. So maybe it's not you, and that's going to be a hard sort of realization, but maybe they have a phone mentor. One of the moms I talked to said before, I gave my child a phone, I said, you can have a phone, but you are now having weekly meetings with Aunt Cindy and this is what you're going to be doing. And they said, okay. And so Aunt Cindy was sort of the phone mentor, and I think one thing that we do is we assume that all of those reasons why we give our child technology, we forget to kind of play them out.

So it does sound like in the case of Aunt Cindy and a suggestion box and doing all these things, it sounds like, well, that does sound more work than it's worth. Right now we're having weekly meetings, or now I'm sort of checking all their socials, or I'm checking their text messages, or we're navigating this thing together to do it, right? Yeah, you have to navigate it together or you can decide, I want to use that time to meet my family's goals, so we're going to not do it, and it's going to be hard. That doesn't mean it's wrong, but we're going to just try it differently and see if it works. And then if there is an overwhelming reason why it's not working well, then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, and that's okay too.

Joey Odom (48:10):

I love that you're unapologetic about saying even the premise of the question. Is it even practical? I hear your maybe internal monologue saying, yeah, dumb dumb. Of course, Joey, of course. What are you thinking? Why would you go through as a bystander to this algorithm that's not practical either for the success of your child? That's not practical here for your family. So I love that you're unapologetic with this, and I love you giving clarity to it. And there's a line at the end of the book that I want to read that I just think it's so beautiful and I'd love you to expound on it, or we could even just let it be because it's just such a beautiful line. You say, may we never again scroll through someone else's life without attending to ours, and here we are just scrolling through other people's lives, and then we line, we say a bunch, is that if we don't do anything, this will be the first generation of kids who will die with more of other people's memories than memories they create on their own. And what a devastating thought. So I really just maybe with that, want to thank you for being unapologetic and for being direct and for giving all of us the courage to attend to our lives versus scrolling through others. It is just a gift that you've given us in this book, and I'm so excited for everybody to read it.

Erin Loechner (49:34):

Thank you, Joey. Thank you so much. I am holding hands with you guys over here. You're doing great things, and I'm grateful for people that are gaming the system on the other end. So thank you. Thank you.

Joey Odom (49:45):

So everybody needs to go to optoutfamily.com, is that right? optoutfamily.com. Need to buy the book today. Need to follow Erin on Instagram. Just kidding, she's not. optoutfamily.com, everybody. It is June 11th. Please get a copy of this book right now. We'll link everything in the show notes. Go to Amazon, go wherever you can buy books. But Erin, thank you for this book and thank you so much for joining us today.

Erin Loechner (50:10):

Thank you, Joey. Thanks for having me.

Joey Odom (50:14):

We've talked a lot about this intimacy crisis. I believe we're in our relationships and hearing Erin talk about it, it made me realize that this may be more by design than we may think. We talk about the wave two of the algorithm is for the algorithm to capture our intimacy. And what if this is going to sound crazy? What if we redirected our intimacy back to the relationships in our lives? What if we directed it to our friends and our partners and our kids? What if we redirected that intimacy back and really broke this intimacy crisis that we had by redirecting our intimacy? Please, today for your good, please go get the opt-out family, get a copy by Erin Loechner. Please go visit optoutfamily.com. She referenced some of the tools and resources that are there. It's a fantastic resource. Go get a copy of the book, the opt-out Family. Many, many thanks to Erin Loechner for joining us. Hope you have a great day. We can't wait to see you again next week. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support, and to our executive producer, Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.