Ambition Today Episode Transcript
Gabe Zichermann - Episode 36
This is Ambition Today today. We are joined by Gabe Zimmerman. He's the CEO and founder of onward which helps people achieve Tech life balance by reducing their excessive screen time. These are the entrepreneurs creators investors and Builders who in byssus changed to the world explore the hardships and heroism of everyday life while we reveal the key moments to leave behind a lasting Legacy.
This is Ambition Today with Kevin Siskar. Sup world. I am Kevin Siskar and you are listening to Ambition Today. Make sure you subscribe on our website Siskar.co, and the podcast on Spotify, Apple, Google, or wherever so you never miss the latest episode of admission today and you can also now join the show's back-channel the a list short for ambition list to get exclusive clips from ambition to the guests such as the single greatest piece of advice.
Our guests have ever received such as last episode when we talked to Terry young the CEO and founder of Sparks and honey a 24 / 7 culture Newsroom identifying the biggest Trends happening in the world. But today I'm very excited. We are joined by Gabe Zimmerman. He is the CEO and founder of onward, which helps you achieve Tech life balance by reducing excessive screen time Gabe.
Welcome to Ambition Today. Hello, Kevin, and I'm so excited to be here. I love that. This is uh, this has happened. You're such a unique talent. So it's really great to join you in this combo. Well, thank you. I appreciate that and I wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for you. So I'm excited that, you know, hear more about your story.
Um, so you're all you're in New York or heart, but you recently moved to the West Coast. Let's set the scene for the audience today. Where where are you? Where are you coming from? Yes, I'm in Los Angeles. I mean downtown Los Angeles and the watermark Tower which for a New Yorker is about as close as you can get to the energy of New York IMAP on the 15th floor like view of downtown LA.
Um, and uh it is of course Sonny, uh, and in the high 60s today despite being winter time. So it's it's a beautiful day in Los Angeles. Awesome. Well speaking about New York growing up in New York. Um, give us a glimpse into your early life and maybe share with us just a few lessons from that time that have stuck with you today.
Yeah, well, you know I grew up in Toronto actually, which is like Canada's New York. Um, but most people tend to think of me as a New York or perhaps because I'm kind of jewy but um, perhaps just because I lived in New York for a long time and did a lot of work there. Um, but growing up in Toronto my parents are immigrants.
Um, and I'm the eldest child in generation of my family. Um, my parents came from Hungary and Romania and the my brother family was quite well-to-do like lat. All doctors and lawyers and so on but my parents were more blue collar and did uh kind of more customer service jobs. Um, but my mom was also an entrepreneur and she had a number of businesses while I was growing up including a uh company that manufactured like.
From hands and also, uh a couple of retail stores and she's to sell at markets and so my my first experience actually, uh, my first experience actually kind of felling were being an entrepreneurial environment was with my mom, uh selling at these markets when I was very young. So starting around the age of 10, I would periodically go with her.
You know, this is this is definitely a theme that we've seen throughout the show is entrepreneurial people had some sort of Early Childhood early life exposure to an uncle or Mom. And um for anyone looking to start a fun with the unique investment thesis. You should just start a fund around investing in people that have parents.
Um, so keep it keeping it going here. You know. When did you fall in love with games? We're going to talk a lot about gamification on this episode. I know from from talking with you that a particular. Uh, which I have also played more than I should probably admit civilization, uh played a role in that Journey for you.
Yeah, I mean, so my earliest technology memory is it was 1982 some I'm a little bit older than you are was 1982 and I was eight years old and my parents, um, scrimped and saved their money because like I said, we were, you know, we were not wealthy and they went out and bought me my first computer which was a victim Commodore vic-20 and about.
Three weeks later. I learned my first lesson of the technology business which has become than my home for my entire adult life. Um, when the Commodore 64 came out and the vic-20 suddenly was absolutely, you know, within a few weeks of this purchase, but I remember my parents being like, okay, we're gonna buy this computer for you because.
Uh, you know, you are kind of nerdy and I think my dad I remember my dad think I think computers are going to be kind of a big thing. So you should probably get it. I was like, okay, uh, I got this computer and I did exactly what every nerdy kid does when getting a new computer at first, which is I tried to program a game.
Um, and so for the very beginning of my uh, you know technology experience, uh, my first instinct was programming and game and at that time there were these game programming books, um that were produced that where you could like, you know, copy code that had been written and build your own games.
And um, and so I remember writing a bunch of those writing a bunch of other stuff, um, you know, playing these games in the vic-20 the the medium for delivery of. That tape. Okay. This is before floppy disk drives actually, like literally an audio cassette tape. And um, and so we used to know I used to like try to get my hands on as many games as I could, um, you know to play by the cassette thing.
So it's a really really intimately connected to my earliest days. As I as a child and continue to be a theme all the way through my life. Yeah, and then how did civilization come about at others a story about college? And yeah, yeah, so, okay. So the first game so there's all these games that I'm playing and building and stuff when I'm younger the first game that really um, Well, okay, and there was also a Leisure Suit Larry which when I was like just getting into puberty was really exciting.
My friends had a bootleg copy of it. We played it like in the on the Mac and the school like a naive like after everyone was gone. It was really funny. Um, but the first game that I was really obsessed with is a game called civilization, uh designed by Sid Meier and then the game you play, uh, you know, somebody who who uh is the head of the tribe.
From the earliest days of humanity all the way through to the present day and even in the future developing technology military economic and so on. It's a complicated simulation and I was a really obsessive civilization one player and then happened to coincide with the time that I was in college and I played a lot of it.
I mean it played so much of it in undergrad and um, I was in a pretty nerdy School the University of Waterloo in Canada, but. Remember this one night where I was with my roommate. I was a we're at our at our um, you know, like dorm or whatever and um my roommate through this like raging party like just a Ragin and one was over drinking that I'm a pretty social person.
So my normal reaction to that would be like, oh, let's hang out on party. But I actually spent the entire night playing civilization like in the living room while the party happened around me and I remember being almost like an official of play, you know, where where I was conscious of the world, but it wasn't like engaged with that at all just like this game because I was like, I have to beat this game like one more turn one more turn.
So for those that don't know this is like a turn-based game. I've played it and you just sucks you in because you're like, oh just do gonna be like a minute and you just do that over and over and it. Sucks you in. Yeah, and some people are really not into it because it doesn't have like the action elements that um that are in a lot of the games a lot of had to do though.
And if you're into strategy it makes you think. Yeah, for sure and for me also optimization because I'm an I'm an Optimizer. So I like all games that involve route optimization process optimization anything like that gets me really excited. Yeah, and uh, so this game this was my first lesson on the power of games.
So even though I played a lot of games in written games prior to that. I this was my first real lesson on the power of games and you know on reflection it was like, You know, holy crap, like how is that possible? How did it do that to me? And so that was that really laid the seeds for the for the gamification topic.
Love it. Um, so you've sort of become in my opinion like the father of gamification to the mainstream Tech world and the last wave, um for those that don't know what is gamification and for those not familiar with gamification. Can you maybe give some examples of how it might touch people in their day-to-day besides, you know playing Fortnight or video games?
Yeah, so gamification is the use of game Concepts outside of entertainment generally speaking to change people's behavior get them engaged. Um, you know, help them be motivated the most classic example that people are generally familiar with our loyalty programs like Caroline. Loyalty programs that are kind of like a game but not exactly a game.
So they have many of the characteristics of games including points and levels and sometimes leaderboards and badges and all this kind of stuff but they but they're not exactly video games and that's really gamification like. Rezone debt Rose to bring together the powerful design mechanics from from the games industry this like, you know original experience of being like obsessed with uh, you know, with playing these games and bringing that to other disciplines and domains whether that's General technology or food or Transportation or whatever the case may be and for the better part of the last decade starting around 2009.
I have been you know, the person most closely associated with the topic and. Wrote three books on it and ran a big conference on built a consultant say yeah. Yeah Summit you did a TED Talk. Um, you know, we've helped all these companies I guess. What was the moment where you realized the tech landscape was changing and um, you know, how what changed the way you think about gamification and you know as a transition into your new company onward, yeah.
We're a couple of different things going on, um, you know at that time so one of the things just as prior to gamification, uh, you know, I had worked in the games industry. I helped, um co-found this company called train which was the first successful digital Distribution Company in the game Space kind of like steam, but before that was acquired in 2005, And then um, we after that I I did a couple of startups actually didn't really go anywhere and the gamification topic came out of just an area of interest of mine.
I was like, um, we sold try me the other company 2005. And uh, I thought of speaking gig booked as a media person for 2006 at the next conference, uh, this conference Hall casual connect, which is a casual games conference, uh that takes place around the world. And in fact, the founder of that conference series is really super successful used to work for me at 20 media and um, and she went on to do this amazing thing Jessica.
Uh, and so so I have the speaking gig booked at this conference and the uh, I message Jessica after trying to get was old I said, hey, you probably don't want me to come anymore because you know, I'm not involved with this company and you know, I'm kind of independent. I don't know what I'm going to do and just said to me she goes.
No, actually you're a good speaker. You'll come up with something. Why didn't you. Like common just do a talk, right? Yeah, I was like, okay, it's cool. I get to see my friends I get to hang out so I can go to do this talk. It was in um, Amsterdam a casual connect Amsterdam was in Amsterdam and I get up on stage and I'm like what if we could make everything more like a game that was like literally my thing what if like game concept could be used elsewhere and I didn't have the term gamification.
I didn't really have like a frame for that. And uh the reaction at that event was really terrible, like like people were just like I don't get it. This doesn't make any sense. What do you even talkin about? Like, that's crazy. Yeah. I only had like one or two people come up and talk to me afterwards and that's often the measure of like how impactful your talk was how many people like make an effort to talk to you.
So I so I was kind of like, okay this did not resonate but as I knew weren't even on the topic more. I was kind of like okay. No, but there's something interesting here and I started kind of like talk about it and blog about it write about it in 2008. I was invited to uh, I suggested a panel for in them was invited to him on which was about like next Generation game ideas at the Web 2.0 conference.
And this was the first time that I actually ran into other people who were working on the same topic. So we were um, we didn't know each other. Uh, and we were just sort of introduced for the first time in 2008 similar ideas thinking about the same thing. Um, and so uh, so that happened, uh that happened in 2008 and that was really the trigger for me as far as getting the gamification topic that happen getting it off the ground.
All right, awesome. So so taking a step back for a sec. Um, you know, you're at this game page conference prior to that. You know, what was your first job out of school? Well, so, you know interestingly I was sort of young when I finished school. I was actually 20 when I graduated from grad school.
So it was a little like young relative to most of my peers and um and so in grad school. Which was an MBA program at uh Rollins in Florida, um in grad school, uh, you know between my first year I befriended a number of professors amazing professors like a berry render who's a world-famous operations management per teacher Barry and I bury really befriended me and became a mentor of mine and he connected me with my first technology industry job outside of you know stuff that I just built for my.
Which was with this electronic medical records company called Vista and um in man I loved it. These were my people, you know, I found my people like they were uh nerdy and fun and really sweet and we were working interesting project. You know, that was 1985 and we were like medical records electronic medical records are just around the corner.
Of course, it's you know, 2850 don't have them. Yeah. Uh, but anyway, so, you know, what was really interesting was my first startup they were uh a spin-out from. A big a big company in need some money. So it was actually like really a great learning experience. I loved it. I was like great I'm gonna stay I'm gonna work here and in the beginning in the beginning of my last year of school stuff like January of the the last parts of five months before graduation the president of the company sat me down and he was like, oh, let's go to lunch and went to lunch and he said, Uh, so Gabe with and we love you.
We love having you here. But this company in this town are too small for your talent and you need to go to Silicon Valley. You can't stay here. Um, he's like if you if what you really want to do is stay here. You have a job with us, you know indefinitely, but we really think you need to go. And I honestly I honestly like burst into tears as soon as out of his view.
I was like, what are you talkin about like that feels like somebody saying it's not you it's me when they're breaking up with you but they're still breaking up with you. Yeah, you know and so so and I and I was like way behind all my grad school colleagues, you know, um, they almost all have had jobs already.
You know lined up for the end of school and I was like not looking because I had this job and so the. Uh, you know, so the the other kind of interesting lesson. I learned a number of lessons there which have carried through to this day. The first one is as a mentor to you like many people who work for me, um or who partnered with me or intern for me or whatever one of my things is always to try to like figure out what is the best fit for that person and to help them understand that I'm an advocate for their growth in their their own career rather than it being about like what I selfishly want from.
You know because that in them actually meet a really selfless kind of call at that moment. Um, and I've talked to a bunch of them after the fact and you know, they were all like, um, I was really smart. I wasn't really cheap I was doing something really important for them. So they were like, you know, this this was a costly decision, but they did it because they knew that the long-term.
My long-term potential was greater than what was, you know presented right in front of me and the second lesson that I learned, um, when he's definitely carried through to this day is having a some having the ability to shift gears like really reboot quickly. Is very valuable because basically I was like oh shit.
I don't have a job anymore. Yeah, you know, I got to find a job and um, they helped me and I pulled everything together and I like really focused heart and I got my first job out of grad school working for Cisco. In San Jose and at that time nobody knew that company was they thought it was like Food Service Company.
That's why yeah, but I was like no. No this networking thing. It's going to be a big deal just watch it. And uh, and so I went out to the valley, uh, and this first job. I made more money than my immigrant parents salaries put together. So like my opening salary at the age of 20 and Cisco was more than what my parents that are in put together and that's a powerful moment.
Oh my God. Yeah, the green for an immigrant kid. It's especially like, you know, it's it's so there's so trained to like focus and think about stuff like that and helping to secure your family and make things stable and all this kind of stuff that I was just like, okay. Well, this is great and then the problems started.
They started fairly quickly thereafter. Um, and for the for the next three years I kind of I really struggled I worked at Cisco I worked at Nortel was called Bay networks at the time. I worked at checkpoints off. Bring these railly, um, uh security company and each case. They were paying me more and more money.
They were they were more and more convinced that I would be able to like, you know, execute on bigger and bigger Visions for them and I was less and less happy with each subsequent choice. I didn't really understand until later that actually. The reason why I was unhappy because it was not doing something that actually was uh passionate about I was doing something that I was actually interested in.
I was passionate about making money and stock options and like being able to do whatever I wanted but it wasn't passionate about the work and that reflected very quickly in the. The quality of the work that I did. I'm sorry. I remember uh one day uh driving back home and I was I was having trouble like relationship trouble with my boyfriend at the time.
I was driving back up from my job from the valley to send it to San Francisco, which takes a long time and I had a moment where I actually like considered killing myself. I really fantasized about what it would feel like. To run the car into the um, concrete Meridian between the two, um, the median between the two sides of the freeway and this is a point in your life where you're by all means according to 10, you yourself 10 years garlic the epitome of success.
Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing. I'm working for the super hot start up on being paid all this money I get to do all this stuff. Like it's all these stock options. Like I'm going to be rich and uh and all of a sudden I'm just I'm miserable. Miserable and that for me was a wake-up call about having to do something that even though it would be costly to me and it would be really costly.
Um, even though it would end up leaving me broke for the first time in my in my kind of cycle as an entrepreneur and so the last time but it was the first time uh, I was like I have to do this I got to change and so I went and got my first job in the video game business. Because I was like, what am I passionate about?
I love video games. I played all this civilization. I you know, I'm used to make these games wouldn't it be cool to work in games when I got a really cool job working for some amazing people and game developers conference and that really started my career in the direction that eventually became, uh, you know gamification and now onward so, you know staying on that moment for a sec.
So what advice would you have to other people that maybe feel. Stuck or afraid or you know terrified to reinvent themselves. Um, and maybe they're miserable or in a similar place. What advice would you have for them to do? So to, you know, just take a step back and and reboot. As you said well, so I think most people in my position would answer with something like, uh, you know, you have to just follow your dreams and don't worry about be okay or do what you love and the money will follow and actually I I have to say that despite all of those things despite being a lot older and having a lot of success under my belt, uh, and also some failures.
I'm still all of those things Kevin. I'm still afraid. I'm still. I still feel stuck You know despite, you know people look at this they look at my situation and they and they think like how could this person super independent really like able to do kind of whatever I want? How could this person feel that way?
And the truth is I think I think it's either in your nature to be cautious and plotting and. And process-oriented all these kinds of things or you lack that Gene and you love to like how is ski and like, you know do acts like you have no fear of anything. Yeah, right. We're you have a bunch of different fears.
And so the most important thing is to actually understand who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are. And and people the name the ship that comes up. So you have to be anemic. You got to say, okay. I'm afraid of failure. Okay, I'm afraid of letting my dad down. Okay, like I I am easily embarrassed and I don't want to I don't want people to know that this thing didn't work out whatever those things are.
Yeah just have to be like honest about where you're at and who you are and not try to pretend like you're you know, like your Travis kalmyk when you're not. I'm not sure you are right it right. That's that's the um, you know, and the and Travis actually somebody that I really admired known him for a long time and he no bull in a china shop may happen, you know by hook or by crook.
Yeah. Um, I I don't I'm not as Fearless. So I'm much more conservative in a way. And uh, you know for better or worse, it's the thing that I continue to struggle with and I think people like me it never really goes away. Yeah, I agree with that and it's also a theme we've seen throughout the podcast and we're even talkin about to Terry about last episode how you know, the earlier in life.
You could do that self work almost every entrepreneur that's good or great has done this self work and that's part of the journey in the path. And the sooner you could figure it out the the the less there is to hold you back. Yeah, I think that's right. And I think and I would say whatever Terry thin is probably true because he's like one of the smartest guys I know uh, but but I would also say that um, I would also say that uh, uh, I think one of the most important tools in the Arsenal of a successful entrepreneur is your psychotherapist and many of my contemporaries turned to drugs as an alternative.
So they take antidepressants or Adderall or whatever. The like cocktail is the catch them, you know through the day, um, you know, but uh, I want to remind you of that song Comfortably Numb because I think it's actually like a very important song everybody should listen to it and it's like if you're not engaged with your own discomfort every single day if you don't.
Actually feel it. Um, you don't work through it. You just defer decisions until later and let me tell you something making a whole bunch of money getting through the gauntlet that you know, successfully launching a company or whatever the shit that you feel the way you feel worthless or week. They don't go away.
Yeah, they're right there they're still there. So now you have a huge bank account, right? But she's still feel really insecure about everything. So so it's that's not going to fix it. The only thing that will help you fix it or at least navigated or even just be able to live with it depending on your uh, your inclination is to is to do the self work and and I believe in a psychotherapist as a partner in that I second that as well.
So let's take a quick break. Uh, we're here with Gabe Zichermann, uh talking about his journey and his new company onward and we'll be right back with more. This is ambitious and today if you are doing this episode of Ambition Today, then please leave us a review in the iTunes Store Spotify, wherever you're listening.
If you don't know how to do that, you could visit Siskar.co and I'll show you how ambitious today is happy to partner with. We work a co-working space that lets you do what you love we work as offices in over 140 locations worldwide and many of our own companies use we work for their startup. Uh We've partnered here in New York with we were glad with Founders to New York and it's been an amazing experience for our Founders.
So visit Siskar.co to learn more and audible visit audible trial today to download any audio book for free. Um, Gabe. Is there a book on Audible or not inaudible that you would recommend people get and check out. Oh, um, I loved Tiffany haddish. Um autobiography the last black unicorn. So funny it is so amazing.
She's really vulnerable. She's really like real about the challenges of growing up in foster care and uh some of the weird situations that she's found herself in her life, and I think uh, And I and I would say it's especially powerful because women of a great success and power often are challenged by being vulnerable because they're in such a like difficult environment.
Um, I think and uh, and people don't respect and value their vulnerability very much. Um, so this is especially interesting because she is uh, you know, she's a superstar who is very comfortable telling you about her, uh, then the challenges of her life. I love it. Thank you for the recommendation.
If you want to check out Tiffany haddish this book on Audible, you can go to audibletrial.com/preneurcast on social media at Ambition Today.
Welcome back. We are here with Gabe Zimmerman and we're talking about his journey through entrepreneurship life and and now his new company onward. Um, so gay before the break we talked about your journey through through life and it's a pretty amazing Story So Far, um, let's talk quickly about your new company onward.
What is it? And um and tell me a little bit about this restaurant moment you had where you realize that. The landscape was shifting and how Tech was being built. Yeah. So like in my working gamification, I worked with all kinds of big companies and governments and and I've trained. Literally thousands of people on how to do gamification design and I and throughout that entire process.
I you know, I really like kind of I I was aware of the kind of ethical challenges. I made like everyone who trained with me for example at the sign an Ethics pledge in order to get their certification, which is about not abusing users and consumers but um, but nonetheless I was kind of like, uh, sort of like, I've always been the you can't put technology in back in the bottle.
And people are not going to go backwards and you know, we can do great things with tech and I still believe all of those things to be true. But how to moment. I was out to dinner in New York. I think I cook shop if memory serves and I had a moment and I was looking around and everybody I saw around me was like on their phone.
And you know, this is even before the Black Mirror, um, you know, uh, the Black Mirror episode about you know, live gamification, which was oh I mean just Black Mirror black mirrors like I yeah turns the knife for for a technology person like me. Um, but so so. I looked around everyone was on their phones and I just thought this is messed up.
This is like really not cool. Um, and so I got together with a couple of other guys who um were also thinking about the addiction space broadly speaking and what the implications were for for us going forward. And so we started on word at the beginning of 2016 with an eye to. Um, you know working on this problem and it's been really interesting Journey.
Yeah, I think it's been interesting. I mean when you remember when you started on word, and I remember thinking oh that's interesting and now 2018. That's like that's all I did was talkin about right? So, uh, we were really really head of the curve and I actually taught. It probably and managing attention in the digital age.
I taught a course on that on skillshare and I featured on word in it. Um, 15,000 people have taken the course so far check out on word amazing. Um, so I love it. So where's onward today in 2018? How is it grown? And where is it going? Well, interestingly onward actually hasn't grown that much over the I mean obviously it's bigger than just two guys, but it hasn't grown that much over the course of the two years, um where it's grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk.
As we've been trying to figure out product Market fit and this has been a very interesting Journey for me in that regard because um, this is the second or third time that I've launched a company in which the first the initial kind of ideas really on Trend people are really is really right. The timing is really good.
But the initial product the first version of the practice doesn't have the uh doesn't have the customer adoption doesn't have the like reaction. There's not like a I remember listening to Reid Hoffman podcast and he was talkin about how you know having a hundred really passionate users of your product is more valuable than having a million mediocre users of your product and I wish I would have.
Thought of that actually prior to the starting because you get you always get the advice that like it's going to be scale and you've got to like, you know get like large markets or Tam has to be huge and I think while all those things are true the focus the initial Focus needs to be on this more artisanal product Market fit question until you can perfect it.
So that's what we're doing right now. I mean, we literally like. You know doing customer feedback customer Journey conversations, uh taking those those customer feedbacks and putting them into like product plans. Um, it is at this exact moment in time a um, you know a very hand made. Um process where we're trying to we're trying to really get the product to work.
Nice. I know you were featured on 60 Minutes, uh to talk about the harmful effects of addictive technology. Yeah, and then this week all the news came out about Cambridge analytic and for those who aren't familiar with that, um, basically a data company based in the UK, um, which essentially stole Facebook data, And then used that data to influence culture and the election.
Um, actually just want to play a quick clip for everyone, um to to hear from the um from The Whistleblower from Cambridge General Attica that leaked it. Yeah, and then from there it was like you took that to then to America change the perception of reality for America. Yeah, and the reason why he was interested in this is because He follows this this idea of of the Breitbart Doctrine, which is that if you want to change politics you first have to change culture because politics flows from culture.
And so what I said is that if you want to change culture you have to first understand what the units of culture are people are the units of culture. So if you want to change politics you first have to save people to change the culture. Did I fit in with you know he's um, he had quite a famous expression about politics being War.
If you want to fight a battle or you want to fight a war you want to win a war you need weapons for that. You wanted cultural weapons and we could we could build them for him. But so so so on that clip right there, you know cultural weapons how should you know clearly this this is things are being co-opted, right?
So my question is, um, how is this a society should or people in society should be thinking about our relationship with technology in the companies that. Created um, yeah, I think the Cambridge analytical story feeds directly into the thing that I've been advocating for in. The reason why on word is designed the way that it's designed.
You cannot trust any large corporation to act in the long-term best interest of society or culture or you as an individual you sign away so many rights when you when you agree to one of those terms and service and that's not going to change, you know, people are trying to put pressure on Facebook to be less like kind of addictive.
Unless like um, you know less compulsion oriented, but it's like their whole business model depends on the time that you spend growing through their site. Like what do you what is your alternative for them other than doing this? And so I think the only way to actually deal with this is to give individuals their own personal defensive algorithm and that could take many different forms.
Uh, um, How much time you're spending with technology, but you could imagine a version of that that that's about privacy you need your own software that is defending you against the bots of your of your customer of your uh, um vendors software because they are trying to get as much of your attention and time and manipulate us much as they can.
So I there's a little bit of like a spiral there because it's like, okay. Well, how do you trust the companies that you. Uh, you know that you use for your personal defensive algorithm and I think ultimately um, you know, the investment the police that I would encourage all of us stand up with is that there are you know, startups and established companies who have no other.
A allegiances other than to you you pay them to help you with their screen time like you would with onward you pay us to help you reduce. Your thing time. That is you are the only person that we care about we have no other business model. We make our money we're successful because we help you. Um, and that that has to be the um, you know, that has to be the relationship and then our job is to help you break.
And keep to the limits that you said you want to set and I think that we could replicate this idea in many different domains and into rise of a I mean. Just consider this Facebook Engineers don't actually know how the Facebook algorithm runs anymore because it's a machine Learning System and it's a black box and machine Learning Systems generally cannot be easily interrogated from the outside to understand the process by which they actually learn this will increasingly be the reality that we live in um, and as that progresses, there's lots of ways to deal with it.
But as that progresses one of the things that will no longer work is like traditional regulation will no longer work. The machines will steal your data and then you'll say oh you broke you data rules or whatever. And the companies will be like it was the machines. Yeah. Yeah, which which we're gonna we're starting to see happen already.
So so so speaking about like repeating patterns of new technology, I guess how do you view what's happening right now, um with you know, mobile and Tech and data, right? And how do you compare that to past waves of new technology basically being co-opted for? Abusive purposes. Yeah, I mean they think this is an old story in humanity.
Right like every time a new powerful medium comes into this, uh into the focus if uniquely able to manipulate people because it is new and it's taking advantage of newer Technologies, you know, um a good example of this is his film because in the very early days of film the Nazis very successfully used film, too.
Uh, you know to to uh as propaganda Leni Riefenstahl famously, I filmmaker, uh working on Hitler's behalf. And um, so so that's a really powerful. It was a really powerful tool in that today. Uh, it would have less of an effect on you the same kind of propaganda would be less influential. Um, because time has elapsed and we wouldn't say like, oh, let's get rid of film because sometimes film is used for propaganda wouldn't do that.
So I think the same thing is true of all these manipulative Technologies today with one big exception. So what's different about today is uh, today's situation is that these addicting Technologies are based on a learning algorithms. And so those algorithms are actually designed um to. Uh override your will power to actually use your will power against you the way that they work is they are constantly running tests against you to see what will produce the optimal result and they do that over time and they do that, you know by category or whatever and so over time like Facebook, um, you know, the Facebook algorithm has this huge Corpus of data on you specifically Kevin Sisk are not people like you also but did you use specifically so over time they're able to get better and better and better at.
You think things that you want you things that will get you to continue to click and scroll and click and scroll and that's how we end up with this election in 2016 that underlying mechanism. It's not Cambridge analytic. By the way. It's actually this idea that you can extract all this all this data understanding but while it's easy to pile on Facebook, I want to point out that just about every company in our economy would love to be able to have that capability.
Taco Bell. If it could would get you to eat every single meal at Taco Bell that would be a fantasy situation for them. They would love to be able to do that contracts games all day, right and for them breakfast lunch and dinner, that would be a win. Right and so the important thing for us to all be conscious of as consumers and members of the society.
Is that as the technology that Facebook and Google and Snapchat have built to make their products more addictive as that technology becomes democratized and it will the cost of it will go down and it will be in the hands of just about every business in our in our economy. There's no company government agency.
Nothing that won't try to use these Technologies. I can tell you firsthand from gamification. Everybody came to my conference people. You wouldn't even imagine coming from different, you know, uh domains, um applying the techniques and the same thing will be true of learning algorithms except writ large.
So I think it's the we need to work on the other side of it. I don't think there's an effective regulatory framework and definitely not a self regulatory framework that's going to change this at all. I love that idea about having your own personal suit of armor a defense. Um, so no, I love I love you guys are building with onward, um quickly transitioning here, um moving on to the impatient today question of the day.
If you have a question for the pad go to subscribe and submit your question for a future episode, so, And the topic of tech life balance. Um, how do you recommend people keep themselves in check because you know, it's like it's like being in a weird relationship, right? It's like sometimes it's hard to tell what is and isn't normal outside of your own world when you don't have a baseline to compare it to.
Yeah, so let me actually say normal. Um should not be the standard by which you you measure yourself in this particular regard. Um, I think the important thing is to be aware and this is this is how we designed onward. This was our idea. Do you wear of behaviors that you think you do too much of don't worry about asking whether you're addicted to them or whether they're hurting you anything like that.
If you become aware of the havior and apathy a thing that you're doing where you think, you know, I'm doing this more than I would like or this doesn't make me feel good. When I do it got some moment, uh to put into your a pile of awareness and got a thing to act on and so I feel like. Um, there's a lot of advice floating out there about how to reduce your screen time.
But most of it is not really based on science. So what we've really tried to do is transpose the signs of addiction and compulsion to the domain of screen time and part of our learning and onward has been it's not straightforward. Like people will say. Switch your phone to grayscale and that'll solve your problem.
But there's literally no evidence that that actually works there is no evidence. So it's like okay we need are the things which are based in evidence the things which clearly can be seen and that things like cognitive behavioral therapy mindfulness meditation blocking, um, even exercising more will help you.
Use less screen time. Yeah, I'm a big advocate for fracture sizing more dorfman's the happier. You are. Um, so uh Gabe, that's why you're always so happy. I I've been trying to work out a lot more because you know, I've been through times when I don't work out it I can tell a difference in my own mental capacity.
And um, yeah, uh, we'll get on to thank you for coming on this episode, um for those listening the show notes everything we talked about reference those will be up on the website. Um, thank you for for coming on. Uh, anything you want to plug anything people should check out your Twitter onward.
Yeah, feel free to download if you think you're overusing your screens and some way or another download onward its onward so easy to find and on Twitter, I am G erm. Awesome, everyone. Go check out Twitter. I've been following you for years. Um, for those of you on the A-list, we will see you in a few minutes with the bonus segment for everyone else stay curious, and I will see you all on the next episode of Ambition Today.
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