#8 - The science behind why we're "addicted" to our phones with Dr. Maxi Heitmayer
Watch the Conversation
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (00:04):
The way we are currently engaging with media, the way that media is currently directed at us, and the way we're handling devices, that's very complicated, and I don't see how this is good for creating community.
Joey Odom (00:24):
Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. It's your good friend Joey Odom. And I was really outmatched on this conversation. I spoke with Dr. Maxi Heitmayer from the London School of Economics, Dr. Heitmayer studies, how we use smartphones, and it's incredible. It's so insightful. You're gonna love hearing from him. He's got a great accent. Just stick around for the accent alone, but such a rich discussion and you're really gonna like it. It goes academic, it goes very, very practical and existential. So you're gonna enjoy it. So here is my discussion with Dr. Maxi Heitmayer.
You know, folks, sometimes I am so out of my league with a guest that it's not even worth my breath to explain why. So I'll just read my guest resume and you'll understand. Dr. Maxi Heitmayer is a social psychologist at the London School of Economics, working on the situated use of technologies and especially smartphones. He has a PhD in psychological and behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a Master's of Science and Social and Cultural Psychology from the London School of Economics and a Masters of Arts and International Relations from Jacob's University. Not to mention his undergrad degrees. On top of all that, he has a voice that will leave every listener swooning. Ladies and gentlemen, live from London. Dr. Maxi Heitmayer. Welcome to The Aro Podcast.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (01:48):
Thank you very much for having me, Joey. Uh, if you're just listening, you won't see that I have slightly blushed from that <laugh>. Thank so, uh, I'm, uh, very much looking forward to the conversation. Thank you again very much for, for having me and for all the, putting all these accolades out there. I guess I have to live up to that now.
Joey Odom (02:07):
I literally just read your resume. I didn't even, there was nothing on top of the voice, but on I just read your resume. That was it. Just, uh, the, the facts spoke for themselves there. Well, you're, your're blushing will match most of our listeners as they listen to your, uh, to your, uh, your great, your great accent there. So, Dr. Heitmayer you mentioned, or, or in your, in your resume, you, I'm wanna read it again. You are a social psychologist at the London School of Economics, and you're working on the situated use of technologies and especially smartphones. Will you explain for the layperson, like myself, what does that mean? I wanna get into how you got into it, but what is exactly, does that mean the situated use of technologies and especially smartphones?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (02:47):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Just before, if that's okay, Maxi is really just fine. You know, <laugh>, I'm glading enough, right? And for everyone listening in right Maxi is just fine. All these titles, you know, we have devised a couple years ago, but really it just meant that I spent too many summers in the library. What does it mean, I guess, I guess this, this research and this work comes from a curiosity, from a curiosity about what we do with our everyday lives and how we make decisions. And for anybody doing, having done research before or currently pursuing a PhD, uh, it also is always a bit of therapy as well. There's catharsis in there. You do it, uh, you do it because you have an issue, a problem that you need to fix yourself. So I always like to, uh, refer back to, to Habermas, who's one of the big sociologists who's written sort of the most discussed and currently used models on communication.
Um, and it is my understanding from, from Wikipedia, um, as I've been told this story anecdotally, that he had a cleft as a child. Uh, and so back in the day it was much more difficult to, to treat this. And so while he had re after he had treat, uh, received treatment in, you know, his early years, he wasn't able to speak to his comrades, to his classmates for a while. Uh, and so they were being very mean and nasty to him and just, you know, living life and he couldn't participate. And that guy then goes on to write the theory about communication. And so I think as a starting point from sort of my perspective, why I'm really in this is because I was one of the first generations when phones started to become smarter and internet access became more ubiquitous. Uh, and I found myself glued to these things in the middle of the nights, and it's very problematic. And so when you have a problem, you might want to try to fix it. And, uh, eventually someone was kind enough to give me a PhD for that <laugh>.
Joey Odom (04:41):
So that, so that's interesting. So you, so you did the, so in, in, um, in your undergrad degrees, they didn't, so it kind of grew as you grew with studies and it's almost, it's interesting to me to have the realization that, oh, I can make a vocation out of this, this can be my life's work. That's how did that, because I'm sure it be, it began with, like you said, a pain point and then grew to a curiosity. But what was that like when you said, Hey, there's, there's, this is such a rich field that I can pursue my doctor Dan, and I can, I can, you know, base my vocation on this. What was that process like?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (05:11):
Yeah, I think it's, it's, it depends on the field that you're in. I can only comment on the social sciences, not the real sciences, but it's, it's become very fluid recently. And there's a lot of argument also, uh, arguments being put forward for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work. Uh, also putting together social sciences and natural sciences and everything. I think we can probably all agree that this is a good idea. Um, but in that sense, sort of, I'm a, I'm a child of this development, um, and I entered the academy at a point in time where they still were disciplinary differences in the sense that disciplines so closely related, like sociology and psychology wouldn't speak to each other and would refer to basically the same ideas, but referring back to the same founding fathers, uh, who had just found different names for the same thing. Um, and so there was very little interaction and exchange, and I sort of joined when things became more interdisciplinary and people are very open to this now.
And so when you're in the social sciences, then you end up being very flexible where you go, I was like, most people, I suppose, um, not very motivated after school and also not very clear about what I wanted to do. And I had relatively good grades, or rather I had okay grades, but they were the same for everything really. So I also couldn't, couldn't say, I'm better at this or I'm worse at this. Um, and so I just decided that I didn't receive, or I didn't have an extensive political education in my, in my high school. And I thought, you know what, what better place to learn something about politics and sort of society than at university? And if, if you don't end up being, you know, if, if this doesn't end up being your pro your vocation afterwards, then at the very least, you know, you know a little bit more about how to be a, you know, a citizen of this society and how you can participate.
And so in this very fertile ground, we were then given a lot of different ideas, a lot of different thinkers. For me, the starting point that really when, when things started to, to click, or rather the gears started, started connecting was, and uh, I'm going to give you another German, old German guy now, and I guess you've mentioned the accent already, for those who haven't figured it out by, by now, we actually didn't read that much German stuff, to be honest, <laugh>. Um, but it's, um, uh, the, the, the guy's called Gazi, he's one of the founding fathers of sociology, and he wrote this essay in 1903 called The Metropolis in Mental Life. Uh, it's a very good read and in the sense it's only 10 pages, so I can recommend it to everyone, but it's 10 very dense pages. And at the time, working on politics, working on international relations, you know, that was the time when drones were new UAVs and everything was very techy.
And you're trying to kind of see what's going on currently. But then looking backwards, reading this paper, it's now now 120 years old, and he observed how people were moving to the, the big cities back in the day. And as you can imagine, big cities back in the day, <laugh> are nothing compared to what we're living on now. And he had this very banal observation that all of a sudden it's not enough anymore to be a baker because there's five bakers. And so it's not enough to say, Hey, I sell bread, which already is sort of a step up from, we look after ourselves. It's okay, I own me sell bread, and then I trade my, my stuff for other people's stuff. So we don't all have to, you know, produce all the stuff we need individually and we can focus on producing better stuff.
No, it's not enough that I'm the baker, I need to compete, so I need to bake bread. It has to be good. And I also need to communicate to other people around me that indeed my bread is the best bread. Uh, and the same applies to sausages and clothing and all the other things that, you know, mainly bread and sausages for Germans, right? But like <laugh>, you know, these, these things that people were peddling. And at the same time, on the, to the bakers from your exhausting sort of fors, uh, assembly line job, you were almost run over by the new development cars and there were traffic lights and neon lights and eds. And so there were two processes that you reserved. One is the constant overstimulation of the mind, a dulling down sort of say a blase outlook because it's just too much to deal with.
Uh, and the other thing was commodification of things, because I don't, I I don't know people around me. I, I cannot know anybody anymore. I cannot even know of them anymore. Because in the pre para society, you would at least hurt of someone who that is. So I cannot trust in, uh, self, uh, like social facilitation and knowing other people, I cannot trust in all of that anymore. So what I really have is, uh, money. And that was the common denominator that we, uh, went down to. So if you give me money for my service and I give you money, and we don't try to steal each other's money, and I also don't need to worry about how good or bad your services or your product, because I can immediately break it down to its monitor value, then things flow much more fluently in these larger glomeration and these sort of monkeys that we are, that live in anals at the end of the day.
But that also comes at, again, a very strict commodification of relations, of breaking down things. And together these two things of one, the overstimulation, the other thing of this simplification and very reductionist approach to social relationships, that made me think about my social media on how much as a little sort of late teenager or in my early twenties, I, how much I cared about getting the likes and the followers on Instagram, and how much I cared about sort of being connected and talking to people. And that's sort of when, when things started forming. And then if, if you have a eureka moment like this, then I'm, I'm sure there's this great opportunity to, to start developing a career and a vocation from this. And of course there's a bias because when you tell the story in hindsight, you know, then everything's clear and everything makes sense. But I'm absolutely sure that if you have a realization like this and anybody can, um, then there's great opportunity to try to turn this into something that's your passion. And that doesn't have to be academically
Joey Odom (11:11):
Is, is so, so this has been so, and that's such an, the overstimulation of the mind and the oversimplification of social relations, those two things working together. And this is a 1903 essay that that observed this. So is this, you know, we look as a society now, and I think a lot of people who listen, a lot of people who who, um, are members of Ro are families, it almost feels a little bit hopeless that, you know, what's happening with, with smartphones and the distraction and all of that, but it's not a new, it's, it's not a new phenomenon. So should that make us, I don't know if this question makes aen makes sense, but should that make us more hopeful that we've been through it before, or less hopeful that it always repeats itself? Do you know what I mean as a society? Is that, does that, should that inspire hope or hopelessness
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (11:57):
<laugh>? Yeah, it's a very hi question where we're going with this. Uh, to be honest, I don't, I don't know because there's different factors involved in this as well, right? There's, while we are staring into a phones, there are other things happening around us that perhaps are more profound, you know, than how much sleep we're losing. But they're very clearly, and I think it's a very astute observation. There's two things that we need to separate. One is the activity that's taking place in this media that we're engaging with, and then there's, there's the, the medium itself that we're dealing with. And I think the, the earlier discussion, because now talking about how much time we spend and how, you know, where we direct our attention, but move back maybe eight to 10 years, the main, the main discussion around social media was around body image. And it typically was the narrative of our poor little teenage girls are being exposed to too many Photoshop models. Right now, we're in the fortunate, uh, point that the same pressure is increasingly also put on young boys, right? Right. So we're creating equality, but in the wrong direction,
Joey Odom (13:03):
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (13:04):
But you could make the argument that teenage magazines in the nineties with the Spice girls or like, uh, or T L C or whoever you, you had on there, had the same, um, had the same effect. Uh, what's different is the immediacy. Now, I'm not a media scholar, an a media historian, but I also believe that, you know, paintings, oil pointings back in the day when they were accessible or Jane Austin novels or whatever, also had a similar effect in people occupied themselves with it. So in terms of the social element, there is a repeating element there, and I think it's very hard to get this out of society, but this is something that we probably can discuss, uh, and we can see where we want to go. The other question then is the, the question of the medium of the format, um, I dunno how it is where you are, but we have all these in London. So I live in London, and there are endless memes about the tube and how you're not allowed to make eye contact with the <laugh> public transport, right? We, we call it tube here. Sure. Cause it's on our get it haha,
Joey Odom (14:01):
Mind the gap. Sure.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (14:03):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That stuff, <laugh>. Uh, and so on the tube, you're not allowed to look into people's eyes and everybody says, oh God, with smartphones, oh, everybody's just on their smartphone, but there's beautiful black and white images from the sixties where everybody's just hiding behind newspapers, right? So the interesting question is, we don't want to engage with people around us, and we don't like people. At the same time, this is not how we got off the trees, right. By ignoring the monkeys around us. So this is, this is, this is sort of like the, the the larger level question. Sorry, I'm, um, going sort of, I'm derailing a little bit, but what I, what I wanted to get back to now is that, um, the, once the newspaper magazine is sold, people printing them and selling them to you don't have an interest in you looking at them anymore, right?
Perhaps the legacy or whatever. Uh, and the same with books before. But the problem now is that the medium itself wants us to continue to, uh, to engage and to participate. And it's not just an innocent object that lies there, but it's active and it's changing. Um, and it's focused on one device. And so I think then we could probably have another discussion in that direction to see whether indeed there is something that's different and new. I don't think this is necessarily bound to the content that we consume, but it's very much due to the, to the medium and the format in which we consume it.
Joey Odom (15:20):
And it's that, to your point on, on the first one, it, it's the, the immediacy and that immediacy creating the deluge, it's because of the immediacy that you there, it's nonstop, right? And to your point, it's ever-changing. And so that's where you get into stuff that you understand much better than I, but the, you know, neurotransmitters and dopamine and just always looking for something, always and constantly in the hunt of something new, right? I mean, is that, is that, I assume that's a factor of the fact that it's ever-evolving, then it's starting to hit different areas of our brain for that reason, right?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (15:49):
Yeah. I mean, I'm not a, I'm not a neuro uh, scientist. Sure. Um, but we all know, we all know the basic findings on slot machines and on gambling. We know that that's problematic. We also all know that all the smart people from the west coast, uh, have studied this and they've studied opera conditioning, um, and all the apps that we like to use Uber and, and food delivery and whatever, they're constantly ab testing, uh, life, uh, things. So I think this is, this is clear, and this is, yeah, this is, this is obvious.
Joey Odom (16:22):
And so with that, it, it, there's, there's no sign that it's going to slow down. There are no signs that the developers are gonna all of a sudden have an epiphany where they say, let's stop making it ever, you know, ever new and evergreen. And, and, and that's not even that, that's not even nefarious, right? The, this, this whole notion of, of bringing new things to you. That's, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, I think people in, you know, gosh, in the, you know, Sierra Club are trying to look for new ways to help, you know, help the environment, and that's not, that's not a bad thing, but then you do have the bad side of it. And so I want to get to your, your thesis. I mean, your PhD thesis, I think proposed a how do we, how do we begin to reduce our screen time? And so I think, so I want to, I want to address that. I don't wanna get too, too deep in worm wormhole here, but is the issue, would you say the issue is with all of that said, if it's not gonna slow down, so the issue is then is how do we relate to these smartphones? How do we relate to this technology? Is that the real issue? Is it, you know, you can't necessarily solve the content, but we can solve our, our own personal relationships. Is that an accurate depiction of your, of your thesis?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (17:30):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I should also preface that I don't recommend anybody look at this. And actually the, uh, the feedback that I got immediately when I sat down my first official session as a PhD, students, like, you know what my supervisor told me, calm down. Nobody's going to read this. You know, <laugh>, I am, I promise I will. And you know, if you're lucky, your examiners might, uh, but I know that Joey had actually sat down and, and looked into this, so thank you very much, <laugh>, thank you very much for that. But I think the, the sort of the gist of it and the short that you've given, uh, people is, is correct. I think it gets very technical. And unfortunately, when I then started set out to study, how do people create these identities on Instagram or on social media, how do they, how do they actually do it?
What's sort of the, the content, I was interested in the content if we want to stay with this duality, but I realized that it's almost impossible to get at this. And before we get at this understanding the how, in terms of me as a physical body with a piece of silicone transistors in slept sandwich between two sort of pieces of glass and with an Apple logo. Oh, right. How, how I engage with this and how this thing attracts me, pulls me away from the physical environment into a virtual environment and what the physical en environment around me does and doesn't do because it is augmented in a way by the, the tools that I have around me that give me access to the, the virtual environment. And the very simple argument, or perhaps want to kind of get this problem across that we're dealing with here is the fact that the phone's on the table and it's sort of, it, it could potentially ring or it could vibrate that already constitutes using the phone from what I believe in now, because it, you know, you're monitoring it, right?
There probably is a reason that you removed it from do not disturb, uh, so that it can send you message because you're waiting something. So that's part of it. And that means that at any moment in time, this world can pull you in. So that's sort of the, that's the, the general, the general idea. Now, back to the, to the question about the sort of the software developers and the engineers, I'm, I'm not a Luddite, I'm not, I, I, I don't hate technology and in fact, I come from very much enjoying my, my smartphone. I've probably given myself this blank check, just like, because I study it, I, I can do whatever I want, but I'm very guilty of doom scrolling, whatever the trendy term for it is, right? I, I do use it very excessively. I don't think that the problem is the technology per se.
There are two things that we need to, to to see here. There's people who develop technologies because you can develop them. Um, and then sometimes they're moral and moral and ethical discussions. But at the end of the day, in the hard sciences and engineering sciences, it's a rat race. It's a real competition. And if you don't develop it, then someone else will develop it before you. So you could ly say, let's develop it first before someone else does bad stuff with it. And I don't see why, if you think back to the blackberry, which ha the most, if we're honest with ourselves, the most important things you have mobile internet, you can quickly Google something, you can, you can use maps and you can use some form of digital communication. An updated version of this could probably look, you know, we don't know how this would look like because the smartphone form factor has taken over, right?
But this is powerful and this solves probably 80% of the daily users that we have with the device. A company like Blackberry, they don't care what we do with the device as long as we're good people and we buy, we buy the new device when it comes out and we also buy the Blackberry Watch and we buy the Blackberry home speaker and whatever, right? They just want us to buy the hardware. Different problem with over consumption, but you know, inherently they don't care if we use it in a way that is sort of enhancing our lives and makes us happy, or we use it in a way that makes us perhaps sad or less connected to people or tired or whatever. It's that you're struggling with, um, the people supplying the software for free that you install on the design device. Now they have an interest, they have an interest in this.
So if we were to, you know, and perhaps this is then when we get to political action, if, let's say one of the big players, and I actually, I've been name dropping a lot, right? I don't know whether that's allowed or not, but if, you know, one of the big usual suspects, let's say the big three companies that produce our daily personal devices, if one of them had a slogan out there that said, you know, our new phone now less addictive, I think consumers would flock to that and they, you know, all the other producers would have no choice but to implement that as well. So I don't think it's necessary given that the engineers have to use their powers for, for evil, right? Or for something that sucks us in more.
Joey Odom (22:10):
Do you think that day's coming, do you think that it, it, uh, I'm probably a little bit biased, but I can see this day almost like the beer companies, you know, advertising ends drunk driving. Do you think that, but because to your point, the manufacturers don't necessarily have, I mean, I guess you could, if you use Apple as an example, maybe in the app store there would be fewer downloads of, of, you know, pay app, paid apps or something. So maybe they would lose some revenue there. But to your point, it doesn't seem like they have a huge incentive for you to use your device more cuz you know you're going to buy it. So do you think that day's coming when you a manufacturer takes a stand like that? Or even maybe on a lesser degree, a a cell phone carrier?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (22:46):
Yeah, in terms of network and cell for carriers, I think this is, this is something, you know, that's bit out of my range, but I think that that could potentially happen because they also have an incentive to reduce the peak time usage of their networks and to just kind of reduce, uh, load overall. I will say that of course, people who produce devices like Samsung, apple, or Huawei, they, they also have an incentive in us using it because they also get feedback and they also get protocols, right? Yeah. But this is not, you know, so, so this is something to keep in mind. It depends on how salient this issue is for people. Because you can probably remember, and I think it was the recent, recent campaign of the, the white X with the black font and the simple design that it said more privacy.
More privacy, which the, I'm not gonna call it hypocrisy, but the irony, uh, that you're basically signing over your, you know, your first born child and everything you ever own and you will know <laugh>, uh, and, and it's advertised with privacy. That's ingen and that's very much like the smoking campaigns or the drunk driving campaigns. So I think we see this and there is pressure and this pressure at some point resulted in people or like emerged from people being unhappy from people like Zuckerberg being drug dragged in front of like some kind of jury and being interrogated and people making memes about it and people talking about it. So of course, but this is, this is happening very slowly and I am not sure that we are there just yet because we have this, yeah, we still have this incentive to participate in social media, don't we? Right. It's not just all that it's enjoyable as well. And whether it's for turning off your brain or for thinking that could be your life or for actually sort of living the digital American dream and trying to make it and get like all the, all the followers and whatever, I think it's a bit less obvious than someone just using your data against your will and tracking you. So I'm not sure that we will immediately get the, as a larger coalition of the willing for that.
Joey Odom (24:42):
Well, and it's what we found, what we find constantly is the people who are joining Aro are really doing it with, you know, moms and dads for example, are doing it for the, for the betterment of the next generation. Oh, for me, gosh, I gotta be on for work or I have to be on, and that's probably a little bit of rationalization on their own part, but they are gen genuinely saying, I want this to be better for my kids after me. But at the same time, you have this tension because virtually every two year old I've ever seen in a restaurant has a screen in front of their face at, at the table, right? And so it's, to your point, you're, it, it's almost like you're balancing out, how painful is it? Do I really want, you know, I want to, I want to quiet dinner, so I'll let my kid have a have a have a screen, a screen at the table. You have to have a little bit more of a farsighted approach in order to, to really address it. To your point, it is probably just a pain tolerance. How painful does it become? And and on top of that, it's really fun. They, they're really great. It, it's like, it's like the ice cream industry's not out of business yet because it's so delicious, even though we know it doesn't doesn't do great things to your body.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (25:46):
Yeah, no, I mean this is, this is a fantastic observation and I would even go so far that, that they're so great there, you know, there's reasons to give your young child a tablet, for example, because there's great opportunity for learning, for developmental support for all of these things, right? So there, there are fantastic applications for it. It's always a question of how much and then of, of what, what exactly is happening. But I don't know whether I'm allowed to kind, but I've, I have had a question for a while because we of course talked about sort of journeys and we've talked about sort of like dreams and realizations and turning that into mission. And I think with aro you're doing exactly that and you're talking about the future generation. It's my understanding that this, this idea and this product was born out of a realization for future generation of future generations as well, right?
Joey Odom (26:30):
It was, and it was, it was, it was born in many ways for me. And I think a lot of people look at it, oh, I want my kids to have good relationships with technology. Cuz that's what you, you said it earlier, I love my phone. We're not gonna get rid of our phones. They're beneficial to us, they're really helpful for our lives. They do get in the way of some of our best intentions, I find. And so for me, the thing that I was working to preserve, and this really when my kids were, I felt this pain when my kids were probably five and three years old and probably even before then. So I was, I wasn't necessarily at that time looking for I want to, I want them to have good relationships with their phones. I was thinking more towards the future of I want them to have a good relationship with me.
So it was, it was a little bit inward focused in saying that I am getting in the way of a future relationship. So I looked at it towards the future and future relationship. Now it's been super helpful as my kids who are now almost 15 and 13, they've had ro since before they had phones. And so they had this, there's this great opportunity for parents, for example, to teach, to, to model for kids how to have a good relationship with your phone. So I had a window to do that. And then it was, for them, it's, it's, it's a natural muscle memory for them to put their phone away from them, which I believe one of your, one of your core principles, and, and correct me if I'm wrong, is the really only effective way to spend less time on your phone is for you to not see it and for it to not be with you. Is that, is that correct? You still hold to that?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (27:58):
Yeah. Yeah. So this is the, this is what I've observed in a sort of non-controlled setting. Um, and this is what I'm currently trying to look at. You know, how it is with scientists, take your time and we need to play a bit of our blast glass beat game and play around a little bit. Um, but this is, this is the only thing that seems to be working quite reliably. And it's, it's great that you, that you say this because my, so my, my thought process now that what I wanted to discuss is, it's really interesting you mentioned the kids in a restaurant and you know, how much pain can you tolerate? How mu how annoying is it? Isn't it it easier to kind of give them a tablet and so they stop and the other people around the table or, and the other tables don't look, but if we think back, if there's a child and a child is loud and it makes noises and it's fun and whatever, it draws attention from other tables and it's not necessarily negative, right?
Usually as a parent, I'm, I'm not a parent, but I've heard enough about like, you, you feel embarrassed and you're like, oh God, don't do it. You know, come here, don't do this. <laugh> usually the other, you know, I mean, I, I have a dog, you know, and dogs run around in restaurants as well, <laugh>, right? Like you are embarrassed, but the other people, oh, this is so great, right? So I think we're looking at this as an individual level problem. And I completely understand it. When you have to look after a child, when you see this is the future, this is where it's going, right? Right. I need to teach them a healthy way of dealing with these devices. And I myself am struggling, right? To deal with them healthy. So I can understand that this feels a bit hopeless. But if we think about this as an individual level problem, right?
Then we are never going to beat the people who have an interest in getting our individual attention and our individual resources and knowledge and data, because this is not just an individual level problem. If, if your children don't grow up speaking to strangers in a safe, normal setting, how do they know then how it goes, how this works, what is acceptable, what is not acceptable? How do we want to engage in public space? You know, a agoraphobia that goes back to the Ara and Greece, which is, you know, the place where you walk around and chat and talk because you're bound to be there. So you meet people in Zimmer's world, in the big cities that we live in now, you don't engage with people and especially in bigger cities, you have this great big love for the abstract other, and we try to be nice to each other abstractly, but if you've ever used public transport here, people are ruthless to the people around them because they hate everyone and they're stressed, right?
<laugh>. So this, you know, and we're disengaging, we're disengaging. And now to go, to go full back full circle, I don't see two or three year olds, well, maybe two or three year olds are interested in the newspaper if you're holding it because they want to participate, right? Getting six or seven or eight year olds to read the newspapers. Right? You go, you know, good luck. Good luck trying. Right? Right. The media format is, is less interesting. The same with books nowadays, but the smartphone net comes naturally and that comes automatically when we have a format that is an intrinsic desire to deal with because it holds so much opportunity than we, we cannot, we cannot ignore this. And my feeling would be we cannot think about this as an individual level problem.
Joey Odom (31:02):
That's really interesting because you are right. We're gonna, we're gonna immediately f we're gonna immediately f you have to be very self-aware from an individual basis to know that this is, you know, the sacrifice of what you want now for what you want later. That's a really challenging thing. And so, and we're all relying, even if we have that great intention, then we're relying in the moments on, on pure willpower, just am I, am I strong enough to not hand my child a smartphone while they're screaming at a restaurant? That that's, that's a really hard thing to do in the moment. So what I think I hear you saying is you we're gonna have to look beyond just our individual ourselves as individuals and understand that maybe is it safe to say our contribution as individuals contribute to a much greater good? And so you have to look at it on a societal level. Did I hear that somewhat correctly?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (31:47):
Yes. Yes, absolutely. Right. Especially now in times where, you know, we see the social fabric tearing at places and we see that a lot of things that were consensus from, let's say the fifties onwards until the maybe late eighties are not consensus anymore. Then even more so we need to find elements that, that connect us and that pull us together. And I think we're doing a reasonably good job at doing this. However, we are not doing this in a, I speak with you and you speak with me manner in a way where we can go out and we can debate with each other, right? Rather, we're isolating ourselves where I engage in my device and you engage in yours, with yours, what we're currently doing, which is great because we are very far apart, so we couldn't do it otherwise, right? Um, but if we, if we continuously engage with this mode, well then we're only one step away from bubbles and echo chambers and so on. And then eventually it so difficult to get into a mode of exchanging, of accepting knowledge and of accepting stuff that's difficult and painful potentially, that that is going to be very difficult to recover from this state.
Joey Odom (32:50):
It does seem like that. There, there's, and you said something that was interesting when you, you described a scenario where we were in a, in an on, let's say an online discussion with each other and you said, we're interacting with our device, I'm interacting with my device, you're interacting with your device. But we're not, I don't know if you meant this intentionally or not, but what you didn't, we weren't interacting with each other. We were only interacting with our own devices, maybe bouncing a, a, you know, our own opinion within our own echo chamber that's bouncing up against somebody el else's echo chamber, and there's no actual interaction between the individuals. It's just interaction with devices wouldn't, that's, that's a really interesting way to to, to concept that.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (33:27):
Yeah. Yeah. This goes back to the semiotic triangle. I mean, the idea is we have a common, a shared object of attention, a shared object of intentionality. You know, there's a rock or some kind of little caterpillar that does interesting stuff. And we sit next to each other and we look at it, and if we look at each other, we know that we're looking at the same thing. Whereas if we're in a group chat and we open the next link, they're the same link. We look at the same thing, but it's not the same thing because I look at it through my lens and you look at it through your lenss, and of course that raises questions for shared intentionality that sort of increases the, uh, sort of the primate of the eye of the me over the group. And this is something that is in a way, surprisingly recent, because if you, if you look at sort of ideal type photos, maybe, maybe you need to look at old furniture catalogs.
Um, but what you would see is families sitting around the radio in the living room, and there is one thing that gives you mediated information, or it would be one person reading a book to their, their, their, their children, or it would be one TV and you have your TV dinner because it's the eighties and you're stressed already <laugh>, and we're already sort of accelerating society, but we still have this one object that we focus on, that we cuss at, or that we sort of, you know, cry over that we laugh about, uh, that we get our emotions from. But this has, this has disappeared virtually. And if that is still the case and you're guilty of the two, I'm sure, right? Then you have your second screen in your hand and there's the main thing, but you're actually entertaining yourself with something else. So that then question that goes back to when we said, what is the physical space around you?
What is even this sort of reality that we're inhabiting when the reality that I'm inhabiting is, you know, doom scrolling through some kind of shoes, whereas you listening to some kind of, or checking out some music that you want to listen to. So the space that we inhabit, even though we may be physically co-present, it's not the same space anymore. And now I've only given you very in innocent examples that may be trivial and perhaps also can lead to, you know, a more, you know, I guess we're all for this, too old for this now, but sort of teenagers hanging out together, they're in the same room, they listen to some music and they engage with their devices and share things and look at things together and show each other something here and there. This can be really nice, uh, really nice exchange as well. But if this goes with information that is completely diametrically opposite to what you are consuming, then of course this can become slightly more problematic. And if we're then in a space where we sh we have to engage with each other, but we don't really know how to, because we've not learned how to do it and or we haven't practiced it in a long time, then it becomes very complicated.
Joey Odom (36:08):
This seems like it has to, and, and I don't wanna be, again, we, we keep a pretty positive outlook, but what you just described that seems like inevitably that has to disintegrate community, that that has to, whether that's community of, of two partners or of a family or of a large social group, that just, that there's no way around that, right? It has to, it has to erode your, the, the a community or maybe not even erode it, but never lead to building of a community. Is is that, is that accurate? I mean, am I being too dooms day-ish there, but how can, how on earth, how on earth can you build a community if everybody's next to each other, but consuming different pieces of information and so there's no commonality?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (36:47):
Yeah, I mean, it's a fantastic question for anybody who wants to do a PhD. I think this is a
Joey Odom (36:51):
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (36:51):
Is a great, a great starting point. I, I think I see two, two things there. One is a very unfortunately bleak and straight a forward answer that yes, the way we are currently engaging with media, the way that media is currently directed at us and the way we're handling devices, that's very complicated. And I don't see how this is good for creating community. There are counter examples, for example, um, with large global WhatsApp groups that, for example, have formed amongst Uber drivers, uh, or at Deliveroo, um, um, not Uber Drive, but like the, the cyclists on their e-bikes, uh, in the gig economy, um, that have used this to create global networks and to actually, you know, fight back against the machine because individually you don't. But so this, this can also spontaneously, and we've seen, um, social uprisings lately, starting with the Arabic spring, uh, where this is used for good.
Um, it can also create small, interesting local C communities, community watch, or you try to look at a, after a community garden or whatever. So there are, there are these great local uses, but they tend to be very local and they tend to be very community focused and intentional and often also rallied against an issue. The more so, sorry, that's the bleak, the bleak of sad. The other, the other option is, and that's one that I'm also guilty of sort of contributing to, is whenever someone says technology and the future, you see Keanu Reeves flying through the Matrix being chased, you know, <laugh> and the, it, it's the only way, right? It's the same. We can, we can imagine the end of the world and the Hollywood sells us this four times a year, but we can't. And the end of, and this is not a pure capitalism problem, but that is much harder in the current system that we're in.
And so there are some scholars trying to work on something like fully automated luxury communism. This sounds very, very lovely. It's a very good term. Um, the, I don't think you need to make this about the political spectrum, sure. But the idea is can we create an imaginary, some kind of artistic rendition, some sort of artistic rendition even that imagines the future where the machines don't try to sort of suck the blood out of us and kill us and we have to find them. But where there actually is a way where we develop technologies that help us and support us, and that indeed allow us to live perhaps a more leisurely, a more fulfilled life that allow us to produce more sustainably and so on and so on. And very rarely do we get media renditions also because, you know, chaos and a fight and a good hero is, is is enticing.
But the idea is, can we even create an imaginary like this? And so there's a great call right now, and I think there's some movement for artists and for visionaries and for imaginaries, just how could this even love look like? Because we know that automatic doors and any type of laser point or any type of gps, all the cool stuff that we have nowadays has been designed by kids who watch Star Trek. That's sort of the, the argument. It's very gross simplification, right? But as a kid, oh, that should be cool. Maybe I can do it. Right. So if we only see a fight and a struggle against the machine, then all we can come up with better ways to fight and struggle. But perhaps there are ways to create imaginaries as well, where indeed it doesn't have to be this way. And how could this look like, and perhaps this can then inspire new groups of engineers, uh, scientists, and also social scientists to think of products of societies and of societal technology Sure. Social technologies to reach a point that's slightly more sustainable and slightly more humane.
Aro Team Member (40:29):
We hope you're enjoying the show. Let's take a quick moment to hear from one of our members about how Aro is impacting their life.
Aro Member (40:36):
I would say Aro is an accountability box. That intelligent integration between the app and the box, it holds us accountable for the time that we spend every day. Instead of looking down at our phones, we're looking in our kids' eyes, we're playing with them, and we are shaping our family in a, uh, more loving and powerful way.
Joey Odom (40:59):
Maxi, real quick before we jump, I, I have some, I want to get into some of your findings and your studies cuz they're fascinating. But you, you alluded to this earlier, and this may require a little bit of vulnerability, but your how has, in studying all of this, how has it affected your relationship with technology, if at all? And, and when I say your relationship, maybe just practically your usage, um, and then the follow up is, are you content with how you currently use your smartphone yourself having, you know, knowing more than 99.9% of people in the world about this?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (41:32):
Yeah, I'm sure about the percentage, but I, I have thought about this. I have thought about this a lot, to be honest. I think a sort of halfway through my research work, I had a very old phone, an old iPhone I should say, that I had, for some reason I changed the battery myself and it was one of those glass back ones back when they were still breaking all the time. So I had found a cheap, a cheap replacement back because I didn't want to pay a hundred dollars for that. So I had to kind of tape it shut and it was all a bit weird and wonky and broken. And one of my colleagues told me, I think I commented on her using, uh, using Contentless like Apple Pay. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, and I was like, oh, that's so cool. Yeah, I don't, my phone doesn't have that.
And she's like, mm, you're lacking a bit of street cred there, right? You're talking to me about smartphones, right? But you don't actually have a, have a novel device. So I, I do, I sort of, ever since then, I try to sort of keep, you know, updated and see what's happening. I used to have this big desire, and perhaps you remember this as well, the, the smell of unboxing new technology. Sure. I tend, you know, and getting something new and cool and always something new device, this has kind of subsided a little bit, but I do need to push myself to kind of stay engaged, uh, in terms of my use. The reality also is, you know, at the end of the day you're, you know, as an academic, you're a glorified secretary sending around emails all day, back and forth, all emails. So there's only so little that I can do.
Um, I find myself so occupied by my computer that I don't have much time to engage with my phone, frankly. Sure. But then in the evenings, I sometimes end up, you know, noticing that I probably wanted to go to bed earlier and that it's quite late and ended up scrolling something or reading something part of, part of, you know, part of the time. It's useful part of the time it's not, but I also, I don't have this immediate urge to kind of scold myself for that because I've already lost, I've already lost the time. So I don't need to be, uh, be, uh, mean to myself. But I can probably say this from a position where it's, I don't have enough time to actually waste too much time. Yeah. And thinking back of how much time I spent when I still had more time when I was in school, then I think I would've been more frustrated. Uh, the other thing is perhaps I also rely a little bit the rest on my laurels saying that I know what I do <laugh>,
Joey Odom (43:50):
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (43:52):
I probably should take it a bit more seriously.
Joey Odom (43:54):
Well, you know, again, this is, to me, this is, it's such an individual journey for everybody where it's people say, oh, I, I know I shouldn't doom scroll at night. Well, I don't know that, that if you wanted to, if you, if someone were to say, I've had a long day, it's, I'm going to, I'm gonna sit here and and scroll for 30 minutes, I think Go ahead. More power to you. It's, it's, it's sometimes to your point, if it gets in the way of those other things that you intend to do, to me it's, it's, the distinction is like, did it get in the way of your intention? And if your intention truly is to scroll for, you know, 30 minutes, an hour, that's, I, I think more power to you. So I was That does make sense. I, I was curious if it's, if it's impacted at all, but it sounds like you're a little bit too busy to even
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (44:34):
Use there, there are two problems. I, I completely agree. And this is very much perhaps there's this sort of this cathartic moment for me here as now that I as well know that I'm realizing this. One thing is if I sit down and want to scroll for 30 minutes, very rarely it's 30 minutes. Sure it's longer. That's one problem. And the other thing is as well, and this is, I, I haven't found conclusive evidence and I'm not comfortable calling this addiction, especially with, there's all smartphone, there's 200 smartphone addiction scales, and everybody says it's addiction, addiction because they try to kind of get some, but it, it just doesn't work. And the way it's test with self-report, it's, it's, it's, it doesn't make sense anyway. But I can tell you that everybody who's seriously addicted to let's say gambling, let's say any type of substance that they, after a long day say, oh, now I can finally do X, Y, z, you know, and there is, there is a desire and they want to do this, but part of you wanting to do this also is because you're so habituated, let's say, I wouldn't necessarily say addicted, but so habituated because after a long day of work, your reward is to sleep deprive yourself,
Joey Odom (45:37):
<laugh>, you know,
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (45:38):
That's the way of, that's the way of spinning it as well. So perhaps there is something to be, to be done there.
Joey Odom (45:43):
Um, I I wanna give a little that, that was one of, that was a big question I had. I want that towards the end, but I, I wanna jump into that cuz it's, it's such an interesting question and maybe the semantics aren't quite as important, but I think, I think it does matter when we talk about, when we talk about phone usage, I have this belief, and it's not scientific, that the vast majority of us have us have a set of bad habits that we've learned. The iPhone's 15 years old, we've learned this behavior. I tend to stray away from saying, Hey, we're addicted to our phones, even though that's the easy thing to say. And one of the reasons why we say that is cuz I think that people just lack a system. They like a plan, they like a good environment that would make an actual difference.
And when in, in a way when you say I'm addicted, it releases some form of your own personal control over it. Where I say like, no, it's actually habitual. Maybe it's compulsive. And again, I know it'd be easy to go down a wormhole, but will you expound a little bit more on your belief? Do we have bad habits or do we have an addiction? Truly, is this a for, for the average phone user who's on their phone five or six hours a day? Would I, I'd, I'd be, I'd would love for you to go a little bit deeper on this discussion on habit versus addiction or compulsion.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (46:54):
Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, everything that I've been working on that I have been, uh, publishing very much argues for the habit case. It's habits, it's routines that we've developed. Um, some of them useful, some of them not useful, some of them perceived as a decision, uh, some of them cued automatically because there's environmental responses. There may be things that you do because you know, oh, I'm going to get my phone now, do this and this and this. I'm sure you've also waited for public transport or waited for a friend somewhere and you will find yourself with your phone in hand. And that, that decision to take it out and to see what's there is not necessarily, at least I don't perceive it as like, ooh, yes, maxi now wants phone <laugh>. Right. It's not, it's not so clear that I talk to myself, I'm now doing this.
It just sort of happens automatically in terms of addiction. Um, and this is not published yet. And also this is, I I haven't looked into this direction because there's also the neurobiologists and there's also other people that you need to get into place with F M R I scans and like much smarter people than I. So it, it's, it's to to to, with with the tools that I use, I can't conclusively say Sure. Uh, but what I've seen from naturally emerging data is that standard theories of what addiction would look like actually don't, don't work. Because this, when, when you let users self-select, when they record themselves, so you get self-selected snapshots. And in these self-selected snapshots, they use the phone whenever they want to. What we see is when they don't use it, then they use it for short times and not so frequently.
And when they use it, then they use it for long times. And a lot, this can of course correlate with what exactly it is that people are doing because it depends on different activities. Um, but the typical addiction pattern would be at some point you need your fix. And indeed you have this buildup, right? You have this buildup of intensity where you're trying and trying and going for it, and then eventually you have to get that release. There's the, uh, metaphor that's being used of the, um, like a bathtub dripping, fulfilling, like getting fuller, fuller, four fuller, and eventually it flows over and it needs to flush out. And this typically applies to the most basic needs food, uh, using the restroom, sex, all of these desires, right, that we have as an an animalistic sense, you know? And once you're done with it, then you're happy, and then, you know, then you can move on to other things.
But this is what, at least from this very cursory data that I have, uh, that's not controlled. This is what it seems to look like. So I'd be very careful with it. And then think about what you, yourself said, it doesn't feel like addiction. It doesn't feel like you can, but your life is set up in a way that you don't need to put it away. And that there are so many opportunities that you can pick it up. So this is the angle that I think is more productive, at least for now. Yeah. Uh, before we figure out whether indeed there's some type of other, uh, thing going on.
Joey Odom (49:55):
And, you know, th this is where we begin, is if it's, I know, and this is, this is an interesting, I don't know that I've mentioned this to you before, but I've found when I have my phone with me and, and I've been using Ro and I've been building the system, you know, we've been working on this for, for years. And so even now, three or four years after having some form of, of ro if I have my phone with me, I'm still not very good at, at ignoring it or not initiating my own behavior with it. When I'm away, I, I've found that I have much more prolonged periods away from my phone where I don't think about it. It's not a big deal. I've built that muscle around it. But when I do have it with me, it's a, it's constantly beckoning me, me, and I love what you said earlier, even just having it there in a sense, you are using it when it, when it's present with you.
And so it's, I say all of that. It, it, it kind of confirms what you're saying there, but it doesn't feel like an addiction when I'm away from it. And this is what we found with most people who, who, it, it's an instant impact when you're away from your phone, when you have a system, when you have ro in your home, for example, and this is not commercial at all for ro, but anybody who spends or puts their phone in a shoebox, it has the, the, the, the willpower to do that. You, you actually get better at it pretty instantaneously, which I would assume is also not typical of, of, um, of addiction. You don't really improve instantly with that.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (51:13):
Yeah. And I mean, what, what I've seen, I work with video recordings, uh, first person recordings. Um, it doesn't even have to be a shoebox. I've seen so many people working on things absolutely frustrated, just throwing the phone behind them, hoping it hits the sofa, all the back, right? <laugh>. So just getting, getting it, getting it outta reach, uh, getting outta reach of li a little bit can, um, can help already.
Joey Odom (51:35):
I wanna segue into some of your findings. And you've had, you've had some just fascinating stats and, and I use them and give you credit for 'em all the time. Um, and I want you, I, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these. One, one of them I found, found in your findings is that, that the participants that within your study is they interact with their phones about every five minutes, regardless of context, about every five minutes. And, but the thing that was most notable about that was when you told them that and they were shocked and even unhappy about that. Is that correct? I, I'd love to hear a little bit about that. And it's not that the usage is one thing, but it's their perception of their own usage, which was most interesting to me.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (52:10):
Yeah. So this is the, the average and the aggregate over, you know, over multiple participants and over multiple days. So I think what this probably looks like in reality is more where you have like more frequent interactions, and then when you're walking for somewhere from A to b e than it might be 10, 15 minutes, but it added up to this. And, uh, you know, it's so beautiful. I couldn't have forged it better myself that it's, you know, one minute every five minutes sort of if we, if we sum it up, which then goes to, goes to 60. Um, but yeah. Um, even, even more so than just showing them the statistics because that happened afterwards. What we did was, what we did was sit down with people and talk to them about their recordings. So we spent a lot of time, and I will thank you, thankful for the, for, uh, to, to my participants for the time that they've given me rewatching this footage.
And I've done it myself as well. I can sometimes be paid for or embarrassing because having to see yourself do the stuff that you do, right? Um, that's, you know, that's not the easiest. And most of the time we have the typical, you know, hands go up and there, oh my God, what am I doing here, <laugh>, why am I doing this? I absolutely am not thinking what's going on here? And so this was then what pushed forward, okay, let's actually look at how much time they spend there. And a lot of people are surprised at the context when they, when they use it and how frequently they use it. Yeah. I mean, there's so much great richness in human experience when that you can get out of qualitative data for people saying, oh, I'm so lost here at the end of the day, please, can someone get me out of my misery? I think that's one of the quotes, <laugh>. And they, they, they take the phone and saying, oh, no, can someone get me out of my misery? Because they don't want to engage with the stuff that their daily job is, you know, giving them. So, um, yeah, no, it's, it's, um, it's, it's very fascinating stuff and it's very authentic sentiments that you get from people, and perhaps this also resonates with some people, uh, listening in,
Joey Odom (53:57):
I'm so glad that there's not a video on me, um, showing my, my, my phone interaction. I mean, I, I will stop. I think a lot of us, I'll, I'll interrupt myself mid-sentence, you'd be speaking if I, and, and something pops up and I'm holding my phone. It, it's a mid-sentence distraction. My daughter gave me a hard time for this the other day. She goes, dad, are you gonna finish your sentence? And I, here I was just engulfed in something totally different. Back to your point, I was physically present, but just completely in a different place. This is one of my favorites. And it's, to me, shocking and also hopeful. You say that 89% of smartphone interactions are initiated by the user and only 11% by the phone itself, by the notifications of the phone. That's I think probably opposite of what most people would guess. I I would love to hear more about that.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (54:47):
Yeah, it's so powerful. I mean, this completely shocked us as well, um, when we ran some initial, because it takes a long time to, to analyze the data. So what we did was to kind of look at what's going on and see whether you can even use the data run after coding one participant to see, and you, you start to see these numbers build up and it just stays this way. And initially you think, oh, maybe this is just because you haven't gone through all the data. But yeah, I mean, it's, you, you said it already, but this is how I usually start when I, when I talk to people, when I talk about my research, usually people have sat in a room for a long time already and I say, hi, who of you things? Their phone is distracting them and annoying them and pulling them away.
And ev you know, usually three ports of the room are like, yeah, I hear me. And then I ask, how, who of you has checked their phone already? And most people say, yes, I've checked my phone today. And then who has their phone on do not disturb? And then all the hands go up because you sit somewhere in a meeting room, and of course it's not supposed to vibrate or make noises, whatever, but you need to check it because you're on an, I think one participant called it, you're on a downwards escalator. Hmm. Right. If you don't straddle, if you don't keep on walking, the message is piling on top of you just get more and more and more and more and you miss stuff. And someone else, like, so this this fear of missing out, not just in the social Kardashian sense, but in the sort of personal sense of missing out on what's happening and not being seen as being on top of your stuff.
Some jobs, especially junior jobs, also being available, being ready and going the extra mile is part of getting forward, getting ahead and being seen as being useful. So being constantly reachable. Um, we've all internalized this very much so it's, it's not a surprise that people proactively try to, you know, they mute their phone because they don't want it to go off and it's annoying, but at the same time, they have to proactively check. And that perhaps explains a little bit the regularity as well, with which we check, because you need to check and every, you know, five minutes, you're probably likely to have a moment where you're not focused on a task, but you take a little break. Yeah. And you end up with the, with the phone. And that's the the final comment that we get from actually, I think almost every participant, you end up with it in hand much more than you would like to.
Joey Odom (57:03):
And, and why is, I think I, I think I know just by that this has been a curious follow up to that, which is the do not disturb function. You mentioned that, that, that you, you propose that may actually be counterproductive to reducing screen time. Is that be, is that because, is that because when it's on do not disturb, for example, you, you, you don't know what's coming in. At least when you're getting notifications, you know when something has come to you, right? So when, when it's on do not disturb, you don't know. And so as a result you just check more. Is that why it's counterproductive?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (57:38):
Uh, yeah, that's, I mean, there's one way of, of putting it. I think there's many different technical solutions to it, but clearly having all the notifications on and waiting for a lot of important notifications, but not having any sort of actually being delivered and therefore, therefore constantly checking the phone, that's a typical problem. So if it's, you know, if, if you, I don't know, maybe you have your, you know, the iPhone SS function where you're allowed special context to call through do not disturb. I presume that your, your children, your family are on that, right? So that gives you peace of mind. If I'm waiting for an important delivery or an important message, and so I need to leave the phone on, but at the same time I have all my other apps sending me notifications about absolutely pointless stuff, then I'm, then I'm not winning either.
Right? And there's fantastic work by colleagues in the engineering space and the software engineering space as well that try out whether you can batch notifications and deliver them in different ways and try to make notification delivery itself more unobtrusive. And so this is, this is in itself in the lab, it works really well, but then there's two nails in the coffin. One is my finding people just put it on Duna Disturb, so the entire elaborate system doesn't work. And, um, the other one is that a lot of this stuff, like if you think back to maybe five years ago, we have so much more opportunities now in nuancing, different duna disturb in muting things and whatever, but there's a lot of studies as well that people want more options, but they also don't use these options because they can't be bothered to play with them.
Right. And they, like, they don't care about this stuff. And like, whenever you're asked to, oh, review your settings and you see the menu and ready go, like, no, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I just want to get to it, right? So one is people put it or do a disturb. The other one is if people are given the choice, they don't use it. Again, this is a lab finding, but this is, this is, this is another problem then. So it's difficult to engineer our way out of this if the engineering is not the problem.
Joey Odom (59:37):
So is is people are looking at this and you have, you give a great driver's license analogy, you know, just needing more training, you know, people needing more training, not necessarily a smartphone license, but needing more training in general. And then as, as I've read some of your conclusions on, on your studies, which again are fascinating and, and by the way, they're academic, but they are, they're so insightful and, and I would encourage people to go to go look into them. The, you talk about people identifying, defining the, the environmental factors that trigger us to use our phones. And then we, you say that we need, may need to relearn how to engage with our devices healthily. That seems to a lot of people like a very sizable undertaking to be that introspective and to go do that. So how practically as you see it play out for the person who is struggling with that tension of, Hey, I wanna, I wanna engage more in the present, and I feel like my phone's taking me away from that. How do you really go through and have that self-assessment and then begin to develop that habit? What's, what are some effective ways you've seen for people to, to be able to put that into practice, into practical life?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (01:00:37):
I think that's the, the first problem with academia and the ivory tower that, you know, there's a lot of work on this, you know, and there's all these smart people that say, we should look into this, right? I'm not including myself here, but I have said we should look into this, but then have I done this? You know, no, because I don't have the time for it. But this is sort of the next big step that we need, need to look into. I think this also goes back a little bit to, to what you were saying, because this is very much a generational task as well, because this is something that we can foster in schools, in parent-child relationship, potentially in social relationships as a society, as a public, where we can ask these questions, where do we want to go? Where we see, and usually leveraging children, which are generally innocent and seen as innocent as well, and seeing the world that we're giving them and, you know, presenting them with and forcing them to grow into, um, seems to be a strong, uh, a strong factor.
Teaching this at an early age, I think is really important. The other side for, you know, us and particularly most listeners who aren't children, uh, the only ways friction, the only ways increasing friction. And it's, it's shown that it's not the perfect solution. It's shown that like these, these apps that either limit your time or there's physical solutions which you propose, there are physical promotion solutions that involve throwing the phone away <laugh>, but the only thing really is, is friction. And, you know, reflection on what it is that you're actually doing, taking the time to looking into the settings, taking the time to listen in a little bit and to see what it is that you're doing and what your problem is. Whether that is affecting your relationship with your partner, because you're both sort of sitting in bed and, and scrolling with the phone and you'd rather be doing something else.
Or whether you, you'd rather be reading a book, but you're tired after the day and you end up scrolling and you don't get to reading the book. Even. It's, it's a lot of introspection. It's a lot of these incomplete friction tools that will be problematic, but that will, you know, help you and it's, it's painful and difficult. Yeah. And to avoid other people who are growing into this just now having to do this, then we have to see and work extensively with schools and with children's, I think, and with, uh, with children and with policymakers to see if there's a way of teaching people how to pick it up in the correct way to do your homework. And then also when you've looked up the stuff that you needed to look up on Wikipedia to put it back down and not end up on whatever mobile game you're playing on social media.
Joey Odom (01:03:02):
Right. I love that. And you're right. It, it did that friction and reflection and it's, it again, just like anything that's valuable in life, it does require, it will require a little bit of pain. And that's, that's the, the same with with healthy relationships and healthy diet and exercise and, and, and, and probably to some degree, it's just that part of that reflection I believe is probably just taking it seriously right now. It's, it's very casual. And if we take it a little bit more seriously to your analogy on the, on the driver's license, we take it a little bit more seriously, then hopefully we can accept the fact that it will be a little bit difficult and continue to strive towards something that is, that is hard knowing that it won't ever be perfect, but that, but that it can be better.
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (01:03:41):
I mean, we're at the very early stage with this stuff, you know, I don't want to be saying this, but like, yeah, we all I to used to dial in and I remember the sound of the 56 K modem, right, of course. And like, like these things and it, the, the fact that it's here, I think, I don't know, one of, one of the Google, like cos or cos in 2015 set, you know, the, the internet's gonna be gone in five years or 10 years. It's just like air water, it's just around us. We don't notice it anymore. And I think we're slowly reaching this, this area as well, uh, this, this time now. And it's, yeah, it's very difficult to put yourself into these, these shoes, but you need to think about the early, you know, the 1910s, the stuff that was developed back then.
I think back then a lot of chemicals were new and you could buy heroin in the pharmacist just as a cuff syrup, right? Wow. And then the problem developed and then we started regulating it. And there's all these other things that we've learned about. I think it's, it's fair as well to realize that we think we're so in control and we're so in charge. But at the end of the day, these are completely novel technologies that have caused massive social restructuring and upheaval. And it's, it's okay that it takes time to learn this as a society. And in that sense, just from a pure social level, I think that the society, as in the people that it is made of will realize what is good and what is useful, um, and what causes problems for what we need regulation right now, reconciling that with, with economic and political interests, that then is another debate
Joey Odom (01:05:08):
That'll be interesting that <laugh> the debate for the future that'll be heated for sure. I wanna close with, with one question, and Aro is here to help people put down their phones so that they can align their actions with their intentions so they can live out the intentions they have for their lives. And I'm, I'm just curious, the question we ask everybody a lot, I ask you is, what is intentionality? What does that mean to you?
Dr. Maxi Heitmayer (01:05:28):
Yeah, I mean, it's, it is, it is a difficult one. It's a tough one, and I have a feeling that it should have a better answer prepared, given that I, that I work so much on this, I think I would very much go with a sort of textbook idea that intentionality is the taking a break in whatever flow of activity, taking a break in the run of what's happen happening, and actually thinking about what do I want to do? What am I doing here? Anitha has a great analogy. What if you are, you know, if you were to grow up alone, stranded on an island like Robinson Cruso, there's no Friday, right? And everything's perfect. You can eat, you can drink, you don't need to worry about this. Why? Well, why are you wearing clothes? Who is that? Was that your idea of it? Someone teach you that?
Why are you drying some kind of herb that you found somewhere rolling it up and fermenting barley juice and sort of like consuming it? Why, why are you doing all of these things, right? Why are you putting stuff on your face? Like all of these like very like cultured and social elements. So thinking, reflecting on this at a deeper level, I think that's intentionality for me as the, at the higher level for me personally, because my work is so much on what people do in natural context, I find it very difficult to think about intentionality because it's all about natural habits. It's all about things evolving naturally. And if I see from the recordings what people do and how we navigate through our lives, and I myself have been recorded, uh, and people have been noticing like, you, you like being pulled on a string from one to the next, and there's things around you, objects that are calling you to do specific things.
You're going upstairs, you pick up the laundry because it's already there, and then there's the next thing and there's the next thing. So for me, there's a big question how much I actually live with intentionality. And that's sort of at the meta level then. And this is something that I think I personally certainly want to get better at, being aware of what it is that I'm doing, but that we could also probably dedicate a lot more attention to understanding what intentionality means in a lived personal experience sense, uh, much more than in a sort of abstract, uh, sense. I want to live more fully or whatever
Joey Odom (01:07:38):
Gosh. That's wonderful. That's so good. Dr. Maxi Heitmayer. It is, uh, this has been incredible. This has been, uh, so great. So Rich, thank you for your insight, your knowledge. Thank you for your work. I love what you're doing, what an what an amazing thing you're working on in a huge undertaking. And thank you for, uh, for everything you're doing, not just for the academic community, but for the world at large. I think your, your research and your work is gonna have a big, big impact on culture. I really do. So thank you for sharing, sharing with us today, ladies and gentlemen. Dr. Maxi Heitmayer, how brilliant is he? And he was generous enough to use small words with me. That was really, really helpful. What a brilliant guy, what cool work he's doing for all of us. I know you'll wanna listen to that a few times. So thank you so much for listening to my discussion with Dr. Maxie Heitmayer. We can't wait to talk to you next time in the next episode of The Aro Podcast. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support.