1 Big Idea to Think About

  • We must decide what type of relationship we want to have with technology. Will we choose to create boundaries and take control of technology in our lives? Or will we be taken along by the tsunami of the opt in culture?

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Find one way you can choose to opt out of the opt in culture. Create a bedtime for your phone.  Have a conversation instead of sending a text message. Opt out of notifications for an app.

1 Question to Ask

  • Is my relationship with technology causing me to “miss” the essential things in my life?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • The exhausting nature of the opt in lifestyle (0:01)
  • Setting boundaries and putting technology in its place (2:37)
  • What Erin’s technology looks like (4:55)
  • The 80’s with Amazon (9:08)
  • Giving our kids what technology can’t (15:53)
  • Including surprise and the sensory elements in childhood (19:26)
  • The importance of eye contact (23:13)
  • Add a suggestion box to your home (27:20)
  • Having better, richer tech-free conversations (30:35)
  • What kind of relationship do we want with technology? (32:52)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown: 

I still come back to this idea that it does feel overwhelming. As I hear you talking about it, like I. Okay, I’m imagining now every single thing you sign up for now, anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. The gym that I go to, of course they have an app, and of course, that’s the way that you schedule your classes. Every single place has this. I find that extremely tiresome. Everyone finds that tiresome.

Apps were never intended. When Steve Jobs announces the iPhone, the only apps available were designed by Apple. It was never imagined to be what it is today. Now, they made a shift with that because they could see the opportunity in the marketplace. But when you go forward, you know, it’s more than ten years now, and you look at what was intended with the iPhone, you know, in one sense, the first smartphone that was out there and what we have today, it’s extremely exhausting. 

Everybody listening to this, you know, this is true. You’re so sick of having to have every single thing you do. You have to go back to that app, and then maybe you have to update that app before you can even use it. Cause you haven’t used it for a while.

Okay. So I get the idea that new apps coming in, pushing back. But when you say Uber, for example, when I hear that, if I think of my honest reaction to that, I travel all over the world, that Uber has been so useful to me. I think wherever I am, no matter what the situation. Okay. Uber can solve the problem in most countries. Now, that goes to the heart of the problem, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t mean the unintended cost problem. I mean the utility. The utility of the device in our pockets is the problem that I don’t know fully how to solve. It’s like the utility of the car. The car kills an unbelievable number of people every year. Just unreal. If we invented something today that killed that many people, we would not approve it, I think. But the car is so much utility, there’s so much symbolism around it for people the world over. We put up with it in the externalities that follow because of the utility. The utility of the phone is the thing that is most challenging to me in being able to really just go, “Forget it. Let’s just be 100% opt-out.”

What’s your reaction to that, Erin?

 

Erin Loechner: 

I mean, I’m a firm believer in technology and its place. So for me, when I think Uber, I don’t think Uber. Let me put it this way. I have scheduled an Uber on my desktop computer. It’s possible. You can do it. You don’t need the phone. You don’t need the app at all. You can schedule your gym, any membership, a mind-body app, that kind of thing. There are so many alternatives, and I would even venture to say, I mean, I know a lot of gyms do still have paper calendars, but it’s rare, that’s for sure.

And yet we can get by with the desktop computer. And that’s my solution. Here we are having a podcast on my desktop computer right now. And I think it’s a worthy option because what it does is it creates sort of starting cues and stopping cues for your technology usage. One of the problems with having us carry it in our pockets is it’s always there. 

 

Greg McKeown: 

That’s the problem. Of course, it is. 

 

Erin Loechner: 

It’s the problem. And so if we do kind of create these sort of built in boundaries. I’m not talking self-control. I’m not talking let’s self control or will our way into this. Let’s make it effortless. Right? Let’s. Let’s make it so that when we are visiting our desktop computer, we are. We are in the frame of mind to be working, to be, whether it’s scheduling for an upcoming travel, it’s booking your hotel, it’s also booking your Uber to get to the hotel.

All of that can be done on your desktop in the right frame of mind so that you are then focused on the actual traveling and the trip while you’re there, you’re focused on the people around you because you are sort of earmarking this task. You are designating this task for a specific time, and that’s when you’re going to execute the task. That’s sort of my, in terms of our family, in terms of my tech usage, that’s…

 

Greg McKeown: 

That’s where you’ve drawn the line. You’re saying, I have reclaimed space from the, from the, like, mobile. I remember. I remember when Zuckerberg realized, “Oh, my goodness, everyone’s going mobile.” Facebook is a. Is a. Is a desktop. You know, certainly, it’s a PC interface right now. And he said, okay, for a year, I’m not going to take any meetings. I’m just going to. That doesn’t have to do with mobile because we have to win the mobile or we’re irrelevant.

Okay. You’re saying where you’ve come down in your family is, let’s shift it back to a pre mobile technology usage. That’s what it sounds like you’re saying to me. Okay, so let me just ask you these questions. I can’t remember what we’ve covered in this conversation versus prior before we started recording. But you have. What phone do you have right now?

 

Erin Loechner: 

Right now, I have a Nokia.

 

Greg McKeown: 

A Nokia flip phone. It’s. What capability does it have?

 

Erin Loechner: 

I can call and I can text, but I don’t really love the text feature.

 

Greg McKeown: 

But it’s built-in. Same problem. Right. The opt-in was integrated into the technology. You didn’t choose that when you chose the phone, they don’t say, “Oh, do you want this element or want that element?” 

It’s all integrated in. It’s sort of what’s happening right now with AI, which is totally exhausting to me. There isn’t a single thing in the world that isn’t now being. And AI is being put in it, whether that’s useful or not, whether that’s going to. It’s just so messy, in my view, part of this wild, wild west with AI right now. And that doesn’t make. I mean, I’m an AI Luddite. It’s just we don’t need everything always integrated. We don’t need everything coming as standard. It adds loads of complexity. 

So you can phone, you could text. Is it just like, literally, one of these flip phones that just has the, you know, just the number keyboard, or does it have a whole keyboard?

 

Erin Loechner: 

No, it’s just. I mean, it’s the number keyboard. It’s like the push button, right? And then you call and I don’t know the model number.

 

Greg McKeown: 

You can text, but it’d be a pain to text.

 

Erin Loechner: 

It’s kind of a pain to text. I will say, yeah, you still have to push, you know, number three, four times and all of that. It’s a pain.

 

Greg McKeown: 

Do you have any other phone? I mean, do you have like a hidden smartphone? No, my husband, that you’re not telling us about.

 

Erin Loechner: 

My husband has a smartphone that if we need it while we’re driving. 

 

Greg McKeown:

Your husband has a smartphone?

 

Erin Lechner:

Yeah, yeah, he does.

 

Greg McKeown: 

So he has a smartphone. You don’t. Your children have no smartphones?

 

Erin Loechner: 

No.

 

Greg McKeown: 

Do they have phones?

 

Erin Loechner: 

No phones.

 

Greg McKeown: 

The oldest is twelve. One could argue, okay, you don’t need this at this age. But as I say that I think about the norms of our world right now, and they do have phones before then. And there’s people listening to this that for sure their ten year old has a phone and a smartphone and even younger has the iPad and so on. 

Okay. Any iPads in your home?

 

Erin Loechner: 

We have an iPad and it’s an old version that has one app on it. It’s a piano playing app. So it can’t actually hold more apps than that. It’s very outdated.

 

Greg McKeown: 

No one playing video games in your family?

 

Erin Loechner: 

We’re not a video game family.

 

Greg McKeown: 

Let me say that again. Anyone playing video games in your family?

 

Erin Loechner: 

Like, on a regular basis? No, but I will say my son has played Super Mario, Nintendo three on the console with the blowing. You have to blow the cartridge to get it in there. And to be honest, I thought that I would mind. I don’t know that I do. It feels like a very. Again, it’s the starting cue, the stopping cue. It feels like something that’s very manageable to keep in its place. I don’t know that I would mind that if he did want to play it on a regular basis.

 

Greg McKeown: 

Obviously, I’m pushing you and challenging you in a kind of personal way, in a sense here. But the reason isn’t disbelief. It’s like, let’s get real. So many people talk about this subject, but I think that people listening are going to want to know, well, what did you really do? What’s really possible? What can I imagine for myself in this situation? 

Now, you said that your husband has a smartphone. How is his usage?

 

Erin Loechner: 

You know, one of the things that I really appreciate about him, we’re very aligned on this issue, and I think that’s important. And I like that we’re talking about this because it is important to sort of carry a vision. And I would say in the homes in which you’re not as aligned with your spouse, it is a very tricky integration to make, for sure, because we have seen it play out. We have been firsthand in the meetings and the boardrooms, and we know sort of the.

The behind-the-scenes here. It’s been a hill that we’re willing to die on.

 

Greg McKeown: 

You saw how the sausage got made.

 

Erin Loechner: 

Yes. And a lot of that research is in the book as well. So this is something. It is not. It is. I have very firm convictions, and yet it’s not something that I think is formulaic. But I think if we’re getting into the nitty gritty of what does, a home without devices. It feels like. It feels like the eighties with Amazon in our house. It really does. I mean, it feels like, you know, kids can roam the neighborhood. You know, we give them a pocket knife and some mangoes and set them out, and they know sort of where all the houses in the neighborhood are. It’s a very. It’s an older way to live, and yet it’s been worth it to us. It’s been worth it to put our roots deep into, let’s maybe peel back a couple of layers and ask ourselves, how did we use to parent? Not that the eighties solved all the problems. That was certainly a problematic era in other ways. But I think that there was some beauty to child innocence, and there’s a beauty to not being followed or tracked or we didn’t even, we haven’t really gotten even scratched the surface on a lot of these problems that the kids are facing. 

But I would just say as hard as it is for our parents, for us as parents, to envision what it could look like, it’s so much harder for kids. Our kids have it worse than we do. We’re just trying to navigate it. And yet, I feel like it’s a worthy challenge and a worthy area to place our advocacy, recognizing that our kids are going to be benefiting from this conversation and from these questions.

 

Greg McKeown: 

And you’re saying they’re worse than we are because the world that they were born into had, was an opt-in world. So they don’t, they don’t, they don’t remember. Of course, they can’t remember the eighties. They couldn’t experience a life where technology wasn’t built in the center of the home. Right. That it would be in everybody’s, you know, they haven’t lived a life differently to that. Is that why you’re saying it’s harder for them?

 

Erin Loechner: 

Correct. I think, yes, it is harder for them to imagine an alternative because this is the future that they’ve inherited. And, and that’s, I would like, I think that’s a failure of imagination on our part. I would like to get creative and figure out how do we incorporate some of those sensory experiences. How do we make sure that this generation gets to live more of their memories than watch other people’s memories? That’s what I’m after.

 

Greg McKeown: 

The vision you’re describing, I think, is compelling. I think that that’s, and it’s not hard to want, it’s not hard to imagine, but the de-layering of all of the opt-in, all of those opt-in decisions over years and years, all of that effort to make technology well, I remember in the nineties and in the early two thousands, I remember one of the main technology companies running a huge campaign about the benefits of boundaryless technology. And that was their term, boundaryless living, boundaryless anywhere, everywhere. You’re going to have this technology. And I remember at the time thinking, that’s not a great slogan to me. I don’t know that there’s, like, I get that. What are we giving up for that? And you can see that we’ve given up a great deal more than given up a great deal more than is obvious in those second-order and third-order consequences that we’re talking about here. 

Give us a start here. Plan. Where does a person, a family who’s listening to this, where do we begin? You know, now what? 

 

Erin Loechner: 

I like that question, and I think we begin by the book’s subtitle, is how to give our kids what technology can’t. So I think we’ve spent the bulk of our conversation kind of unpacking the villainous aspects of technology and the murky parts and certainly the practical ways to not have a phone. But truly, I’m so less interested about whether or not the phones exist in the home and far more interested in what we can give them. Instead, I believe in creating engaging experiences, like we said earlier, so we’re not sort of running away to check our feeds.

And so my big challenge, and certainly I would like to end on a hopeful note, and that I think parents can do this far better than Silicon Valley. We can engage our children better than the tech bros and the hoodies, right? Because we have the gift of presence. We have the gift of eye contact. We have the gift of a sensory, engaging experience. And when I think of, you know, when I think of TikTok, when I think of Minecraft, when I think of all of these very engaging, addictive sort of platforms, my goal in this book was I wanted to know, how do they do it and how we can do it better?

And so I interviewed the Minecraft designers, and I wanted to know, how do you present a challenge to a child that is just risky enough that they’re into it, but not so risky that they’re demotivated? I wanted to know from TikTok how do you create that feeling of inclusivity in your home and delight in your home so that they always feel like there’s a place to be invited to. They always feel like there’s a place to go where they’re discovering and exploring something new.

That’s what I’m after, and that’s what this book is. That is the starting point, is let’s not focus all of our energy on fighting technology. Let’s make it effortless. Let’s steal their tricks and use them in the home and engage our kids and get back to the relationship and the connection that every parent can have with their child.

 

Greg McKeown: 

What you’re saying is, even though this conversation has been framed more around the enemy of the story, what you think the grander solution is, is the bigger yes. If you can design a family culture that is itself healthy, engaging, rewarding, then people will choose to opt into that rather than to simply make do with the counterfeit connection and the counterfeit engagement that they’re going to have in a digital experience.

One is actually richer than the other. That’s your, the framing that you prefer around this subject.

 

Erin Loechner: 

That is exactly what I’m saying. Yes, let us show; let’s show our kids what they are missing. How can you possibly know? You know, we just say, get off the phone. Get off the phone. But if there’s nothing better on the other side, what are we really offering? And so, yes, I am concerned that there’s a world out there left undiscovered. And that’s what I’m after. Yes, I want to know how can we be more engaging than the algorithm.

And that’s what this book is about.

 

Greg McKeown: 

For example. So give us your best design or the best things that you have introduced that you feel have been more rich, more engaging for you, for your children, and for your whole family than the alternative that they have before them.

 

Erin Loechner: 

One of the really interesting things that I noticed as an influencer, anytime you read sort of the influencer metrics and briefs and you kind of know what’s performing well, what’s not performing well, all of those sensory experiences. And we know this, right? We know this just from living life, always perform better. If there’s fire, if there’s water, if there’s, you know, if there’s a beautiful oceanscape behind us, if there’s, you know, just birthday candles, if there anything.

The four Waldorf elements, right? If you’re an education person, they’re earth and water and fire and air. And all of those things, I think, are built into early childhood for a reason. You know, what is more engaging to a toddler than blowing bubbles outside or, you know, splashing around in the bathtub or blowing out the birthday candles? 

All of those things, I think, pointing our children toward those sensory experiences they can’t actually live and engage with because they’re watching it on a phone, and it’s not the same. And yet, there’s a part of us that yearns for it to be the same. Otherwise it wouldn’t be performing so well on social media. Right. But there is a reason that if you’re a stylist and you’re working for a brand and you’re putting together a campaign, you’re probably going to use one of those four elements. You’re going to shoot outdoors, you’re going to go to the beach, you’re going to have a cozy fire and read a book. And all of it, all, they perform well for a reason. So that’s what I’m trying to prove here to parents and really to families, is that those things are within our reach. We can create those engaging experiences. It does not have to cost money. It doesn’t have to be a whole moment.

One of the things that TikTok does really well is they removed starting cues, right? You open the app and you’re met with fun right away. You’re met with surprise and delight, and you don’t know what’s to come. And this we do every day as parents. You know, if we’re throwing a batch of cookies in the oven, our kid is gonna trickle out and see something smells good, what are you making? Or who’s coming over? Whatever there is built in opportunities to surprise and delight our kids just by living alongside of them. And that’s why we do have the upper hand against technology, is we can really grasp and catch those moments and make them into memories in a very low stakes way. And technology, surprisingly, teaches us how.

 

Greg McKeown: 

One of the predictions that I keep hearing people making, I did some work with Airbnb, and I was talking with one of the founders and the current CEO, and one of the things he was talking about with me was that in the future, people’s hunger is going to be for experiences. In person experiences, unusual things, extraordinary. So when you’re traveling, you want to have a local experience. You don’t want to just see a thing. You want to experience something. And I think that that aligns perfectly with what you’re saying, which is that the yearning for personal experience is enormous. And apparently, a lot of people think that that’s going to sort of come back with a vengeance. And perhaps that’s in reaction to the technology, seduction and ubiquitous digital experience that we’ve been offered for a generation. I don’t know if that’s really what it is or reaction, get back into that balance. But what you’re saying is if you can think in terms of creating experiences, tactile, present, not massive and expensive, but beyond, you’ve given concepts there other than the cookies.

Give me other tangible things. What simple, small, easy things do you think lure people away from technology into the main?

 

Erin Loechner: 

Eye contact. I think look your kids in the eyes when they come into the room. I think whatever you’re doing if you’re chopping vegetables, put down the knife. I think if you’re in the middle of an email.

 

Greg McKeown: 

I love that.  Eye contact. 

 

Erin Loechner: 

I think that’s everything I really do. And that’s why I think that parents can do this better. It’s free, and we have it at our disposal. And that’s truly, I think that’s why it’s so important that we go first with our tech usage is how often do our parent, you know, our kids are seeing the top of our heads and not our eyes. And I think that. 

 

Greg McKeown: 

They hate that, too.

 

Erin Loechner: 

They hate it, too. I mean, mirror neurons, there’s science, all of it involved, but, yeah, I think start there. Just look your kids in the eyes. Every time they walk in the room, they get a micro goal. Make it happen.

 

Greg McKeown: 

The yearning to be understood, to be seen, to be known is, as far as I’m concerned, the most. The deepest need, certainly the deepest unmet need. I think it’s the deepest need other than survival. And I think it’s really close to that level of desire and those micro-moments of when you want that and somebody’s on a device, or somebody’s too busy for you. And I’ve had way too many moments of that over the course of my children’s lives.

And surely everybody listening could admit to that in the world that’s been designed for us. Okay, what else? I got the cookies, I’ve got the eye contact. What else? Easy, simple, and immediately actionable.

 

Erin Loechner: 

I think one thing that I really recommend, if your child does already have a device in the home, and so, because we’ve talked a lot about what do we do if they don’t? I think keep a suggestion box. I have a Lincoln hat. We call it a Lincoln hat because Abraham Lincoln always took walks and he would stick notes in his hat, right. Instead of. It’s like the original notes app, right. It was just his hat.

But put something, something tangible and tactile, on your counter so that your children can have a brain-dumping spot for anything they are seeing online. I think that’s really, really important. I think that a lot of times, we’re so focused on the managing and the moderating of screen time that we’re not as focused on, well, how are you engaging with this device? What are you seeing? What are you interested in? It’s a great conversation point. You know, at some point, our kids are going to be out of the house. They’re going to get to make their own decisions.

I’m not unaware of that. And so, for me, it’s more important to maintain that relationship so I can mentor them no matter what they decide.

 

Greg McKeown: 

Just to clarify, this is a box in which they’re saying what? I thought you were going to say. Here are the things I’d like to do, the fun things I’d like to spend time doing.

 

Erin Loechner: 

Yeah, that’s how we would use a Lincoln hat in our home because our kids aren’t on devices. It’s, hey, here’s an idea that I have. Here’s something I would like to create together. Here’s something I’d like to schedule. Can we have these people over for dinner? All of those things. And yet, I recognize we also need a dumping ground for the parents that do have sort of split technology usage. So I think that’s one of the issues with personal devices in the home, is everybody’s engaging with technology in different, very unknown, very isolated ways.

And so if we can break that barrier of isolation and we can collectively know what each other is engaging with and be on the same page about that, really just out of curiosity and connection. Right? Maybe you’re really interested in something that I didn’t know you were interested in because I don’t have access to your feed. Right? So having sort of a dumping ground for those conversations. And I always suggest if a child, if you have a kid that has a device, have that suggestion box on the counter so that they can just like meta, anonymously report if they see something disturbing or if they see something that they’re curious about or that they don’t understand, let’s have those conversations, you know, let’s open up the communication for that to exist.

 

Greg McKeown: 

You know, it seems to me that at the heart of the solution, there is the need to increase our communication investment and competence. You know, these things seem to me to be, in a sense, at odds because the more that you’re on a device, the less eye contact you’re having, the easier it is to avoid each other, to have a transactional relationship, to text your spouse, to text your child. And if it’s something sensitive, you’re transacting with each other instead of actually interacting, instead of connecting, instead of listening to each other.

So I think that there’s something to be said for these being at odds, but it seems like the only way forward is to start having better, richer conversations around the things that matter. Tech-free conversations around the things that matter. 

 

Erin Loechner: 

Yeah. 

 

Greg McKeown: 

What’s your reaction to that?

 

Erin Loechner: 

I think you’re exactly right. And I think that’s maybe the heart of it here, is that when we really appeal back the usage of personal devices, we recognize how much they do erode those values, you know, we value open communication, but it’s easier to send a text. You know, we value, we value sort of debate and discussion and enrich the conversation, and yet we’re constantly being interrupted by a ping or a ding on our phone. You know, I think that’s the heart of it, is what is getting in the way and maybe how are the ways that we have kind of adopted this technology for all of the progress, right?

Because there are good things. If it were all bad, we wouldn’t be using it, and yet we haven’t. I think we’ve gotten really good as a society with asking ourselves, not even asking ourselves, just recognizing that technology could be progress, right? It is progress. And technology perhaps is a big part of the future. And we have to ask ourselves, is technology as big a part of the future as we want it to be? Right?

If technology is the future, is this the future that we want? Do we want this sort of big, wieldy? I wouldn’t call it an interruption for everyone, but I think for a lot of families, it is. Do we want this big elephant sitting in the middle of our house?

 

Greg McKeown: 

Do we want, do we want to pay for big brother?

 

Erin Loechner: 

Do we? Yeah, I don’t, and I think a lot of people don’t. And I think that that’s what we have to ask ourselves. What are we paying? How much does it cost? What are we trading off? And those answers are exactly what you said. It is what’s missing. It is the eye contact, it is the conversations. Are there ways in which technology is eroding our values? And I think anytime we stop and ask that question, we are opting out in a way. We are on a path to opt out in small ways and in large.

 

Greg McKeown: 

Because we’re taking the right pill. We’re actually starting to see it.

 

Erin Loechner: 

Yeah, no, that’s exactly it.

 

Greg McKeown: 

I love that. That’s a great place for us to end. I love this idea of these bigger, revolutionary questions. Even if that’s a bit much for somebody to start implementing immediately. That’s what you’re asking is from a biggest, at the meta-level; ironically thought using that word at the meta-level, what kind of a future do we want? What kind of relationship do we want with technology? Do we want this future that is being presented to us as absolutely default, that the opt-in culture is coming with a vengeance, like a flood, like a wave? There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a tsunami. It’s changing everything. And we’re just pulled along because we’re so overwhelmed by that change, in fact. 

Or can we remember our agency? Can we discover it again? Can we take control of the things that we can do something about so that, I mean, it’s a very big long-term perspective so we don’t get to our deathbeds. We sort of joked about it earlier on about what we don’t want our tombstones to say, but we don’t get to the end and say, “Yeah, yeah, a portion of the pie chart of my life was looking at my phone instead of looking in the eyes of my child, like that actually shows up as a slice of your life contribution.”

Nobody wants that. Nobody wants that future. But it’s literally, you know, by default, we are allowing these things to happen. I know I have still done that too much in my own life. And we miss it. We miss, you know, we miss our life if we’re not careful about it. Erin Loechner, thank you ever so much for being on the podcast. Thank you for challenging us to seek the opt out lifestyle, the opt out family.

 

Erin Loechner: 

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

 

Greg McKeown: 

For everybody listening, what did you hear? What’s the message that you heard today? What were the themes? And second question. So what? Why? Why does this matter? Does this matter? Does this conversation matter? Does the technology default status of our life, where smartphones are just default, where every app is just default, where we say yes to all of the technology and every app that comes along is so what does it matter? And if it does, why does it matter?

And finally, the third question is, now what? What will you do differently as a result of this conversation? Who can you talk to about it? Maybe the action is to buy this book, The Opt Out Family. Read it. Read it together. Read it with somebody else, read it with the whole family, and see if you regret that. It’s hard to imagine regretting becoming an opt-out family, an opt-out individual. That’s hard to imagine.

But it’s over to you now. Thank you. Really, thank you for listening.