Transcript of Currents 037: Sam Harris on Surviving Our Smartphones

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Sam Harris. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: Today’s guest is Sam Harris. Sam is co-founder of Syncify.FM, a kind of cool podcast app, and he’s a podcaster himself and has his show the Growth Mindset podcast, and in fact, I’m going to be a guest on that podcast tomorrow. So, this was originally, we recorded this episode a few weeks ago, and our recording platform ate it so we’re doing it again and by chance, the two days seem to coincide. His platform is at Syncify S Y N C I F Y.FM and we are going to do a little experiment, first time, and we’re going to have a discussion about the episode on the Syncify platform.

Jim: That’s one of the distinguishing aspects of this particular podcast platform, is that it has room for like a discussion forum about each episode. So, go to the Jim Rutt show on Syncify.FM, go to this episode, and if you want to have… you want to talk to Sam or talk to me, post a comment and we’ll reply and see what kind of dialogue we get going.

Sam: Sweet. Thanks for the introduction, Jim.

Jim: Yeah, it’d be cool. And so anyway, today we’re going to mostly talk about a TEDx talk that Sam gave called “The genius you need to listen to is yourself.” That was actually quite good. And [crosstalk 00:01:25]

Sam: Thanks. I’ll stick with that. Quite good. I’ll put that on my bio for the rest of my life.

Jim: Yeah it didn’t [crosstalk 00:01:30] it didn’t suck too much, right?

Sam: Could have been worse.

Jim: It could definitely have been worse, but yeah. It hit on a lot of themes that we of course talked about on the show a whole bunch, which is how our God damn technology is hijacking our brains, right? So, you asked a couple of great questions that I thought were quite funny. My favorite was “How many of you have looked at your cell phone on the toilet?” I think everybody raised their hand for that one, right?

Sam: Yeah. It’s a good one because it’s just like, you don’t usually talk about that but like everyone’s done it and you’re suddenly like “Oh, this is like a weird thing”, you don’t realize that everyone else is weird in doing it. You haven’t even realized that you’re doing it, that it is weird, and you’d never tell other people that like “Oh, I’m always doing [inaudible 00:02:13] on the toilet, and then you’re like “Oh, this is, this is bad.” Yeah.

Jim: You know one of those weird “15 weird things”, you follow these fucking idiot polls and stuff. Apparently that’s the most likely way to break your phone is using it in the toilet, right, as it turns out.

Sam: Yeah.

Jim: But this is a manifestation of something much bigger, which is that our attention is constantly being hijacked no matter where we are. So, talk a little bit about your perspective on that.

Sam: Yeah. So, essentially I feel like a mobile phone is just… it does so many things these days, which is great, but it’s like an infinite to do list of stuff. There’s just more and more things on there for you to ever do, which is lovely in some ways, and that you can always be productive, and yeah. I mean like social media, there’s just more notifications and sort of people’s feeds that you can go and look at, but then even if you’re not on kind of junk stuff, you’re still on stuff like your email or there’s just endless amazing blogs that you can subscribe to and get more and more news, or podcasts you can just listen to endlessly. And it just means that at any given point in time, when you’re not quite sure what to do or your brains are a little bit bored, you’ve got this endless list of things to be distracting yourself with and making yourself feel like you’re productive.

Sam: And when you’re in that slight moment of stress and boredom, you’re like “Oh, quickly, I can relieve that with this device that has more things for me to do, and I can go back to my safe feeling of like I’m doing stuff”, but that stops you from ever really thinking rationally about what you should actually be doing with your time, or just being bored and solving your own problems. That’s kind of when you have those moments of genius, and that’s why I talked about like on the toilet, your brain is only half being used with dealing with your going to the toilet nature and it’s got this other half going on that needs to go and do something and it’s just like fiddling it with your phone. Why does it do that? And this is really sort of absurd that we need to just fill those moments and we’ve been unable to have the self control to actually think about what we want to do with that spare brain capacity.

Jim: Yeah. It’s interesting. I came to a very similar perspective while doing water walking of all things. I had a bad hip before I had my bionic hip put in about a year ago, and about the only good exercise I could do that was reasonable cardio was walking in the water fast for cardio purposes. And guess what? Walking in the water is one of the few places you can’t have your phone, and I found myself falling into those deep thought flow states again, right? And it kind of woke me up and I said “Fuck.” You know, this used to be the best time I had was going on walks, just sitting in a chair and thinking, and some of my most productive business ideas, personal ideas, philosophical ideas, all came from just doing just that, disconnecting from inputs.

Jim: And, at that point, I consciously set out on a program to find substitutes for everything on my smartphone. I actually gave up my smartphone for a year. I wrote it all up in an essay say called “Reclaiming our cognitive sovereignty”, which is on Medium. So, I know exactly of what you speak. So, what are we giving up? What are some of the things that aren’t happening? You gave some good examples. Imagine if Einstein when he was feeling stressed out, instead of playing his violin, played candy crush, or even worse, doom scrolling on Twitter or some fucking thing.

Sam: Yeah, or like TikTok, which endlessly just blasts you with videos. You don’t even scroll, it just like feeds the most interesting thing for you, you don’t even have to think about what you might look at next. It’s ridiculous. And yeah, I guess I kind of wanted to question people with how seriously do you take yourself, and if you think of Einstein or if you want to be someone like that, ready to change the world and is a creator of ideas and things, you need to be the one having that time to think about what you want to create. Whereas, if all you do is use your phone to listen to other people’s conversations, you’re never going to have any of the ideas yourself, you’re only going to listen to what other people have spoken about and what they’ve done. And you’re never really going to be a creator or someone, or a giver of like things to the world. So, if you take yourself seriously and you want to be someone that is a genius et cetera, you need to start listening to yourself and allow it to happen.

Jim: Yeah, of course these damned devices are very pernicious. You point out, I don’t think he actually used the word, but we get dopamine hits for all these little pieces of crap that we discover, which, oh, by the way, turns out to be probably congruent with the fact that we got a little dopamine hit when we discovered a ripe berry when we were hunters and gatherers, right? To reinforce the behavior that led to finding a ripe berry. So, instead we find some mildly funny little comment on one of these social media programs, we get a little dopamine hit, wonderful. And so our ancients useful dopamine attention signaling system is now been hijacked, and as you point out, by extraordinarily smart computers using unbelievably large amounts of data to essentially hook us.

Sam: Yeah. A hundred percent, and the notifications that they send you really adapted smartly. So, Facebook, it was sort of if you get tagged in the photo, everyone… It’s just like your ego is just such a thing that’s like as soon as you get tagged in the photo, you want to know what you looked like, you want to know what people are thinking about you. There’s nothing you can do besides just go straight to that photo and see what’s going on, and it’s just really funny the way that is, and then also they space out and notifications across the day so you wouldn’t just have everything all at once. You kind of get reasons to come back and be there and stuff, and it just starts triggering you to check, like the [inaudible 00:07:39] hooked model of… because if you have like variable rewards.

Sam: So, if you always get the same amount of likes from the same people every single day, you wouldn’t need to go and check because you’d know they’d be there. But because you have different amounts of things, you’re always like “Oh, I wonder if this one’s gone viral or if the person I fancy has gone and looked at me and stuff”, and it’s just all these sort of unconscious things that are going on that you’re sort of kind of anxious about. You need to go and see, and there’s potential for it to have a really big upside, and so it’s just like gambling every single time that you put something out there that makes you want to go back and find out more. And it’s sort of very deep in your sort of innate nature that you kind of start getting like controlled, if you will.

Jim: Yeah, you mentioned Tristan Harris in your talk, he’s been on the show twice, and particular, I love to point people to the film that he’s been involved, he was heavily involved with, called “The Social Dilemma”, and they do a really nice job of dramatizing these three little evil demons behind the scenes that are, as you say, literally plotting what notifications to send when based on cognitive psychology. But even more importantly, because cognitive psychology to apply that is actually work, instead, we know how it’s really being done with massive amounts of machine learning on massive amounts of data. So, the Facebook gigantic machine processes God knows how many billions of behaviors per day, correlates that with coming back and spending more time on Facebook, and basically it’s continuously tuning the notification pattern that’s both group learning and also specific to you to decide when to hit you with what, right? So, it’s basically you against the computer stronger than the one that beat Kasparov in chess, trying to hijack you using these ancient forager-based dopamine signaling systems. Not good at all.

Sam: Yeah, and I think there’s a really good sort of philosophy around like play games that you can win and sort of, when you know that you’re up against a competitor where it’s just not designed to help you win and be your best self, it’s like why are you playing that game? And you can still use social media in a healthy way, but just making sure that you’ve set up rules for yourself in which you can use it in a winning way. So, I don’t know you, say that you use some things but like for six months a year, and then for six months you’re just not on them, to give you the head space and other people won’t be… I’ve deleted social media often, but I use schedulers to make sure people can still see stuff about me.

Sam: I really enjoyed just doing some ridiculous posts over the weekend, I kind of got lost, fell off a fence down the Holly Bush and it went up my bum, and like it was pretty funny to share that with my friends and they could see these things, but I didn’t need to be on there the whole time. I just scheduled it and then I was able to check in a few days later, get my messages from my friend saying “Sam, you’re hilarious” and I was able to have a laugh, but not be on my phone the whole bloody time and like missing out on my family time whilst I was around and stuff. Use it on my own terms and like get the benefits from it without the negative’s kind of thing.

Jim: That’s exactly key. I like to think that if we think about our online communication tools kind of like alcohol, right? Alcohol’s kind of enjoyable, it’s a good social lubricant. I enjoy a nice craft beer, a good single malt scotch, or good American whiskey from time to time. But on the other hand, we know that alcohol can be the road to ruin for a lot of people, and I’ll give my father credit, he was not a fancy dude. He dropped out of high school after ninth grade. He was a cop for most of his career, but he was a wise fellow in his own way and he taught us some rules about drinking. One of them is “Never drink before noon boys”, right? And I will say that one stuck to me, I’m not a person that’s going to drink a Bloody Mary with breakfast or a Mimosa.

Jim: I may have done it three times in my whole life and I felt guilty every time, right? Dad said, and he was from a family of Irish Catholics, of which about half the males were alcoholics, and he was not one of them. And I suspect that his simple rules which he lived by, one of the things that protected him from, obviously, a genetic and cultural propensity to alcoholism. The other was never drink to offset a hangover. He said “That is the definition of alcoholism”, and I have not done it once in my life, right?

Sam: Ever. Wow.

Jim: And then the third… Yeah not once. I’ve attempted, shit man I’ve woken up feeling like a shit sandwich that was run over by a steamroller, particularly when I was young, but nope, nope, nope, nope. Never, never, never do that, take a drink to offset a hangover. And then the third one, which was more general, which is don’t get seriously wasted more than about once a year.

Jim: Now, I will confess to have violated that one quite a lot until I was maybe 22 or something like that and then tapered back. And probably I’m not even at the level of getting wasted once a year these days. Maybe I’ll go out and have to get wasted one of these times soon, but anyway, these three simple rules turned alcohol into a non-dangerous thing and I’ve passed it on to my daughter and my nephews. They all quit, and then I’ve added my own, which is a very simple way to modulate your drinking daily is the rule of three. Three drinks, that’s all you need, right? It’s enough to give you a buzz, but not enough to give you a serious hangover, and so just count to three. When you got to three, stop, right? And these kinds of simple behaviors are unambiguous, right?

Jim: They’re not [inaudible 00:13:10] take a lot of cognitive load to figure them out, and so we can apply those to our digital regime. The very first thing is turn off all the fucking notifications, know things that make your phone buzz and beep right. I will say, even in the days before I had my big insight about cognitive sovereignty, I turned them all off. I don’t need the God damn thing beeping at me. And another key one is don’t have it within sight a lot of times, like never ever take your phone into your bedroom all right. I quoted my essay, some very interesting lab psychology, which is even if your phone’s turned off and out of reach, the damn thing reduces your ability to concentrate and it reduces your ability to do real cognitive work just because you can see it.

Jim: So, just keep the God damn thing out of your sight as much as possible, little things like that. You quote 60 times a day that a typical [crosstalk 00:14:02] person looks at their phone. I think that’s actually low. The data I saw, this is a couple of years ago, was 150 with some reasonable percentage of, particularly millennials, at 300. 300 times a day they looked at their fucking phone. What the hell, right? So, don’t do that. And then, as you mentioned, I also for a long time have been using disciplined rules for getting away from this stuff. I started 15 years ago. I used to, I still, I use a really old online system called “The Well”, which goes back to 1985, one of the oldest continuously operating online communities, very high quality discussion, great folks, but it really sucks you in. And, so 15 years ago I started a bit more than half my time being off The Well, be gone for six or seven months, come back for four or five months, and then be gone for six or seven.

Jim: These days it’s about two months on, 10 months off. About four years ago, I extended that to Facebook. I said “God damn it. I’m spending too much time on Facebook”, so about four years ago, July 1st to December 31st off of Facebook, and it was amazing. Suddenly, as you say, the time you have to talk to yourself and to work on your own projects because it’s not just the time on Facebook, which may have been 45 minutes a day, but it’s the emotional energy that goes into Facebooking, right? It was great. Last year I added Twitter to the list, and in fact, I’m coming up on my sabbatical time, 1st of July, I am looking so fucking forward to getting off Twitter. What a God damn drain, right? Truthfully, I wasn’t much of a Twitterer until I started my podcast, but you know I sort of felt like “Ah as a podcaster, you got to play the Twitter game”, et cetera.

Jim: But it’s a lot of good information out there, but it’s just too much. All this inbound, inbound, inbound, inbound, and no time to reflect. And then one of the things you did talk about in your TEDx was the idea of a Sabbath, you mentioned in Israel, nothing happens on Saturday. Well, I don’t know, a couple of years ago I started cyber Sabbath Sunday, which is don’t use any interactive media. Don’t play games. Don’t do anything. Don’t use your computer on Sundays. The only thing that I allow myself is I will read a book on a Kindle, but I won’t order a new book on a Kindle. So, if you think about Kindle, it’s more like a passive device if you just use it for reading, et cetera. So, these are things that one can easily choose to do to manage the danger, shall we say, of dopamine addiction in the same way that my father’s three rules, plus my one rule, are pretty handy for managing alcohol risks.

Sam: Yeah. I liked all those things.

Jim: What kind of stuff do you do to manage this stuff? What do you think about rules of these sorts?

Sam: Well, that goes, as you’re saying, trying to just create rules where you can then sort of play a game and win and enjoy the thing. And I really liked the alcohol ones that you set, because they all allow you to have a good time, but they block ever getting out of control and kind of just being like “Oh, I’ll just break it once” and it just spiraling into something worse. And that’s the problem with social media and you’re like “Oh, okay. I’ll just use it a bit” and then there’s always something “Oh, well I’ll just come back for this and I’ll just come back” and then it’s suddenly you realize the screen time’s just going up and up and it’s just like “Holy crap, how much am I using this thing?” And, yeah trying to sort of stick yourself to certain rules.

Sam: So, it might be that you just allow yourself a screen time limit, but generally I find that those things it just then later shows you “Well, you’ve hit your limit for the day, but you’re like “Oh, well I’ll just change it for this minute” and stuff or whatever. And so it’s better to just completely delete it and use a scheduler, and then just go on the website so it’s just never on your phone is one option, but there’s lots of different ways. For WhatsApp, for a while, I was getting so stressed out about how much WhatsApping I was doing, that I wouldn’t let myself open WhatsApp until I’d spoken to a real human being in real life. So, I’d have to go up to random people on the street and just have a conversation, and it was just like a stupid game I made for myself, but I really bloody enjoyed it.

Sam: I met so many random people, some of them who were kind of weird, some of them became mates and just like complete oddball characters. And it really pushed my confidence to just sort of randomly introduce myself to people, because so many people were so ready to talk to me, which is kind of weird because you just think that people would not want to have a conversation. I felt much less lonely by doing that, and when you’re just on your device and you’re speaking to digital people, it’s not so realistic. So, that was a really nice game that made me kind of feel like I was a real person, as well as being involved with the sort of social digital world as well. Other rules… Yeah. I mean, I got kind of into other stuff and I think just making sure you have a regular check-in with yourself really on that stuff.

Sam: So, each week I will look at my screen time and see what’s going on. And, a different thing is that I also look at my heart rate, like my resting heart rate, because I’m quite a fit person and I just know that if I’ve got all three things going well, if I’m getting enough sleep, if I’m not stressed, and if I’m doing enough exercise, my heart rate will be below 50 BPM. Whereas, if I’m breaking any one of those too much, it just starts going up, and after like a week, it never goes up by more than that much each day, but over a week or two, it can just rise every single day for two weeks and I’ll be getting up to like 65 BPM. And, that’s a 30% increase if I’m sort of breaking through any of these rules, and then I’ll notice it and then check in and be like “Okay, I’m doing something wrong. Is it my sleeping pattern? Is it my tech usage? Do I need to just completely assess what I’m doing?”

Sam: And so recently I was going a bit wrong and I was just using… I was doing too much trading. I kind of got into trading, I was making lots of money and stuff on the side and that was cool, but then I woke up in the morning and I wanted to see what my trading account was doing and I’d be checking it too much. It just was adding stress I didn’t need, I was like “Okay fuck it. I’m going to log in once a week and I’m just going to set some long swing trades. I’m not going to do any day trading in this things”, and then my BPM started going back down again. I was like okay, no more trading for Sam. He doesn’t need my money. He needs more head space and I’m probably making just as much money anyway, I’m just not faffing about which is good.

Jim: Yeah. These are all nice rules. I love that rule of don’t go on WhatsApp until you go out and talk to a real person in the real world. I liked that one a lot. I’m going to see if I could work that one into my rotation.

Sam: I stopped that during Corona virus.

Jim: And now we can never, at least here in the States, I guess the UK too. You guys are… we’re past the curve and those of us who were vaccinated.

Sam: Yeah.

Jim: We can go out there and chat. I have to, I’ll confess, I’m a chatty kind of person and I will chat up people at the grocery store, random people on the [crosstalk 00:20:43] streets and what have you, and always enjoyed doing that. But, it’s kind of a useful thing to think about in terms of a little game that you can win, before you go waste your time on Twitter, go out and talk to somebody, right? Or the other one that’s easy, and I have to confess I’ve fallen out of the habit of, is talking to people on the phone. Just call up one of your old high school buddies and say “What’s up?” Right?

Sam: Yeah I’ve been doing that a lot more lately as well, it’s just it’s really good. It’s silly how little you do that sometimes, and certainly as a guy I think it wasn’t a natural thing for me to go and do, but I could just start prioritizing a bit and it’s great. I have lots of friends that are really nice to talk to you, why don’t I do that? And texting and that stuff is not the same at all.

Jim: Yeah. The problem, our damn online, it’s just so accessible. It’s so easy. It’s so frictionless, right? I can just pick this damn little device up and suddenly have access to, on Twitter, god knows how many people. On Facebook, several hundreds, alleged friends. I have 4,000 or something, but the Facebook algorithm is not nearly as viral as the Twitter algorithm, which seems to just spread anything you post to everybody and his brother. And, it gets involved in these gigantic shit storms sometimes, and it’s just so accessible. It’s just like it’s a thing that is dangerous in the same way alcohol is, or probably even closer to something like heroin, right? In terms of its addictive power.

Sam: Yeah. It’s pretty funny how we’re like [inaudible 00:22:18]. And certainly TikTok, that one’s been really big for that, and your kids these days have such a good spreading algorithm to really boost any content that people enjoy. And so you can become like TikTok famous in a week if you just post a few good videos, which is why people really like it.

Jim: Yeah. I would say I’ve never looked at TikTok, don’t intend to.

Sam: Yeah.

Jim: The other one I’ve not ever looked at is Instagram, but I read a very interesting book called “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” by Anne Petersen. She kept stressing how, especially for women, grooming their presentation of their self on Instagram had actually become the center of their life, and that you’re highly stressed about, would plan their vacations around whether there was Instagrammable photographs that were available. And, she quoted a woman who said “Well, why would I go there? There’s no Instagram photos to be had”, right, and I go “What the fuck?” It sounds like this is a [crosstalk 00:23:18].

Sam: Yeah. Yeah, like the experience is being able to take things and show off as opposed to enjoying the experience. It’s so absurd. But, that was part of where some of my speech ideas came from was I think I was in Bali, and it was like this epic waterfall thing then you could get a swing on the edge of this cliff and you could do this giant swing across this thing. And, you could spend a bit of time on this thing having a great time, sort of swinging off the edge of this cliff, and there’s a bit of a queue for it.

Sam: This girl just did one swing, got a photo, came back, checked her phone, and went “Oh, that looked great.” Walked off. And you’re like “You queued for 20 minutes to swing once?” You could have been on there in your bliss moments for a few minutes just having fun, but no, you just wanted the photo to show off to your friends like “Look at me.” Actually what happened in her real whole day was she queued for ages and then went to other places and queued for ages and was on her phone the whole time, she wasn’t doing any of what the Instagram actually showed. And you’re like, it’s just nuts. Why do people do that? Yeah, that was a moment that was I was like “Right. People we’re getting this wrong.”

Jim: Yeah, so literally Instagram has programmed her. She is now a creature of Instagram rather than her own autonomous self.

Sam: Exactly.

Jim: Another one, they say “Oh yeah, the AI’s are taking over or will in the future, I go “Hey, folks, you probably don’t realize this, but the AI’s are now driving human evolution” and you go “What? How could that be?” Well, what do you think Tinder is? Right? Tinder is a bunch of AI’s and well, not every hookup leads to reproduction on a probabilistic basis, those people you hook up with sooner or later, you’re going to plant a baby, right? So, literally the AIS are driving human evolution through things like Tinder or OkCupid or whatever. I’ve been happily married for 40 years. Fortunately, I don’t have never been immersed in this horseshit, but because it’s our deepest drive of all, the desire to reproduce, presumably these dating apps and sex apps have got to have really big saliency in terms of driving our behavior, and literally now driving our reproduction.

Sam: Yeah. That’s kind of weird.

Jim: Yeah. Have you ever used one of them things?

Sam: Yes, I am on Tinder. I am also on Hinge and I have had some terrible dates. I don’t know if you want to go down that further. It’s certainly a weird place to be and I certainly find in London, it’s like there’s so many people that it just makes the whole thing really value… it’s just like really cheap. It’s just endless more people. Oh, it’s really weird, and so I didn’t really like the experience that much.

Jim: Yeah, and that’s not what we were designed for. I’ve actually looked at the data, and back in my day by far the number one way people established romantic relationships was introductions through friends, and my wife and I met that way. It’s still like number three or four on the list, but number one online. That is interesting. Now, again, no one could make the economist’s argument “Oh yeah. Well you have a bigger market so you’ll come closer to the equilibrium pricing” on who you should have as your mate, but somehow that seems like something not right about that.

Sam: And also you know the grass is greener on the other side, it gives you so many more options, and humans with more options can make it harder for them to make decisions. So, there’s a lot more emotional unavailability going on as it’s called, because people aren’t sure if they’ve got the best thing and because you’re on an addictive algorithm where you’re always “Oh, maybe there’s something better if I keep on swiping right.” So, you’re in the moment with this person, but notice this one tiny flaw instead of trying to work through it and sort of seeing how you could maybe have a better discussion, or maybe taking ownership of something that’s wrong with yourself. You’re like “Oh, well this person’s not right, I’ll find someone else”, and yeah there’s just not so much of a reason to stick around and actually you sort of… that you’re grateful for what you’ve got and sort of working out how to deal with flaws and these things and it’s not healthy.

Jim: Yeah. I can say if you have an actual relationship, if you’re switching costs as the economist would say, or perceived to be less, then you’re less willing to tolerate anything that annoys you. As somebody who’s been married for 40 years, mostly happy, I can guarantee you that even in the best of marriages there’s annoying shit that happens on a fairly regular basis. So, perhaps lowering the switching costs will not produce a good, solid emergence society, which society is based on the family unit, and if we don’t have stable family units, we’re not going to have a stable society.

Sam: Hmm. Which is nice and worrying. Good.

Jim: Yeah and it’s the AI is doing it, right? So, saying “The AI’s are going to take over”, well, guess what people? They’re already driving the formation, this formation, of our most basic human family unit, which is, the pair bonded couple and their children. So, think about that a little bit in terms of what these algorithms and these dopamine hooks are doing to us.

Sam: Yeah. So many things going on, but there was the thing that wasn’t like 100% bad. I think there is an argument to say that in some sense it does make it easier to find people. I mean, I’m new in Cornwall and have been able to go on three dates and meet people, and sort of work out a bit more what’s important to me of my values and stuff. And, if I didn’t know any people, I probably wouldn’t have dated anyone by now and so there are some advantages to be mentioned, and we don’t want to be a complete hater, but yeah [crosstalk 00:28:40]

Jim: Things have advantages.

Sam: Yeah.

Jim: Even Facebook’s got some advantages, right? I’ve met lots of interesting people on Facebook, particularly in the groups. I found that my usage of Facebook over the last few years has moved from probably 90% general Facebook to now about 80% groups. And, there are some really good groups of people that have self formed on Facebook that never would have found each other. So, I think we should all be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water that, as you say, you may give you access to a social life that you might not have otherwise had. And in Facebook’s case or many folks, I’ve developed useful relationships with that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. So, it’s like alcohol, alcohol has got some good and it’s got some risks. Learning to extract the good without getting sucked into the bad is kind of the art and science of how to live in our digital world.

Sam: Yes.

Jim: Yeah. I liked another thing you chatted about in your talk, which is the idea of two hour blocks away from this constant stuff. And you gave the example of, I don’t remember who it was, somebody that meditated for two hours a day. It kind of resonated with me back in my business career, particularly in the later days where I was this insanely over-scheduled kind of dude, I told my assistant “Block two hours a day, think time” right? And not that I always actually got it because sometimes shit would actually be on fire, but I’d say at least half the time I got two hours uninterrupted by meetings or phone calls or emails or anything else, which was great.

Sam: Yeah. I think it’s epic because it’s so easy to just fill the time and it kind of runs away with you and [inaudible 00:30:22] you never get to do things properly and work on any of the big things that you’ve got. And, if you’re trying to be somewhat productive and stuff, you actually need to have that time for some deep thought and deep work and deliver on stuff, as opposed to just being in meetings and talking about things, or answering emails and stuff, which are all useful things to do, but just balanced.

Jim: Another one you mentioned just in passing, I think it’s probably worth digging into a little bit, is one of the things, one of the results you mentioned about our life on our phone is “Never have to be bored again. Maybe being bored is good.”

Sam: Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s a big believer in the antifragile of like you grow through pain and being uncomfortable as well, where the good things happen and where your growth is is when you step out of your comfort zone. And, being bored is kind of uncomfortable when you get very used to being instantly able to satisfy your boredom with something to entertain yourself, but when you’re bored, that’s when you go into problem solving of “Okay, how do I stop my boredom? Okay. I can think about my problems. I can have this idea”, or you think about what’s going on in the world and maybe what frustrates you and you come up with an idea of how to fix it. You could come up with like a business plan or something, and that’s like… Boredom is great to culture and then to sort of find how you can creatively solve that boredom, as opposed to just relying on text answer for it, because that’s the genius parts for sure.

Sam: And that’s what was always sort of, if you’re never bored, you’re never going to have those moments and it’s the same way of if you’re always satisfied, you’re never useful. As in, if you as a human, you need to have like a balance of good and bad kind of thing, so as in if you had sex once and you just felt ultimate, like the same amount of pleasure you have just at that moment for the rest of your life, you’d never do anything with the rest of your life. You’d just feel like “This is great and that’s it”, or if you sort of ate something nice like a sweet and you just say “Hey, I’m really, really, really happy” and then you just never needed to eat again ever, because you’re just very happy with your stomach feeling, then you’d never eat. You need to get hungry to eat. You need to get bored to have ideas and do stuff, and I think it’s just part of like the balance that you need to go through.

Jim: Yeah. Those are… it strikes me the same. Right, there’re times when you’re not over-scheduled you’re not just constantly dealing with inbounds, that you were actually able to take pieces of ideas and say ” [inaudible 00:32:45] this and that plus this equals that that might actually be interesting” and one wonders what’s going to become of our world if we have no more boredom.

Sam: Definitely. So, an interesting example actually I’d never even thought of, was one time… because I had been running my podcast for quite a long time and I had this podcast. I booked a podcast room in London to record a podcast with this Olympic rower and he got the wrong week so he didn’t turn up. I had two hours alone in the podcast room by myself, I had never recorded that podcast by myself or anything, but I was bored and I had all these amazing mics and I was like “Well, I may as well do something.”

Sam: So, I just wrote a few different lines down of things that I could sort of think about and could probably refer, and that’s when I first started doing my own podcasts and it was like “Oh wow. I can actually do this. I have good ideas.” And it’s just because I had that two hour window with nothing planned in my schedule other than making podcasts, but to myself suddenly. When you kind of book those things into your calendar, you can do them, but if you never sort of make time for it, it just doesn’t happen. Yeah, you reminded me of that so I thought I would share.

Jim: That’s kind of nice. So, kind of summing up, where do you think we’re headed as a society at the present moment and does it bother you?

Sam: Sort of, but in other ways, no, because I am a believer in the antifragile concept. I do believe humanity is antifragile and that we will get stronger through these things and problems. You could look at, say the second world war, and say that was just such a shit thing for humanity to go through, but then we formed the UN and we kind of learned to not do these things, and maybe if we hadn’t done that and we carried on unboxing technology a bit more first without a world war, but we had all these nuclear weapons, we may have fired them and destroyed the world later. So, actually perhaps it could have saved us from our own demise. And I think, again, sort of like social media or whatever, these things like we are going, we are getting more polarized.

Sam: We are sort of being more individualistic and egotistical and stuff, but we’re also… but there’s so much more focus on mental health and people thinking about their mindsets, and getting ways to be calm and sort of being more equal. And, there is sort of some resistance coming back and things and like “The Social Dilemma”, and I think people will learn and we will ultimately build better things. So, I am kind of a positive person overall, even if some stuff you can talk about, it’s like Doomsday right now with all the problems currently, but I think that we generally sort of kick back and react to things that are bad and learn from them. So, I’m kind of happy in many ways.

Jim: All right. Well, let’s wrap it up there on that upbeat exit note. Thank you Sam, for a wonderful conversation. I look forward to being on your podcast tomorrow.

Sam: Me too, it’s going to be great fun.

Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at