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‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Former Pinterest president, Moment CEO Tim Kendall on smartphone addiction

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Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Tim Kendall, the former President of Pinterest and current CEO of Moment. Tim ran monetization at Facebook, and has very strong opinions on smartphone addiction and what it is doing to all of us. Tim is an architect of much of the modern social media monetization machinery, so you definitely do not want to miss his perspective on this important subject.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A Podcast about the Bay Area, technology, and culture. I’m your host, Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my cohost, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Are you recording?

Rajaraman: I’m recording.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’m almost done. My phone’s been buzzing all afternoon and I just have to finish this text message.

Rajaraman: So you’re one of those people who can’t go five seconds without checking their phone.

Kaykas-Wolff: Can you just give me a second? I got this notification from Instagram. I think somebody liked something I just did.

Rajaraman: Yeah, no. As you know, we have at least all guests and hosts must put their phone on do not disturb when they come on This is Your Life in Silicon Valley.

Kaykas-Wolff: Do you think that was a convincing acting thing that I just did right there because I don’t even have my phone with me?

Rajaraman: Let’s just say you don’t have a future in Hollywood.

Kaykas-Wolff: I always hoped I did. Today was pretty interesting because we had a conversation with Tim Kendall.

(Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Rajaraman: Tim was one of the early employees at Facebook and really was responsible for driving some of the revenue strategy, and also ran Pinterest. He’s a pretty big deal.

Kaykas-Wolff: Tim’s got an interesting perspective because he runs a company now called Moment, and they focus really specifically on helping people understand how they use their phones.

Rajaraman: I think he, as he discusses during this interview, went through a period where he could not stop looking at his phone. As one of the architects of some of these products, he had a really self-reflective moment.

Kaykas-Wolff: There’s something a little bit ironic, and maybe kind of enjoyable about hearing technology executives who were big drivers for the things that we spend so much time on today, starting to tell us all that it’s actually not healthy for us to do anymore.

Rajaraman: He definitely talks about that. I think we pressed him on that pretty nicely. This was one of my favorite interviews that we’ve done so far, Jascha.

Kaykas-Wolff: It was a fun conversation. I think something for all of you as listeners to consider is at what point in time are we all going to, or you individually going to, start to think about our use of technology as something damaging to our health?

Rajaraman: Definitely. Please enjoy this episode with Tim Kendall who’s an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent guy.

Rajaraman: Given a kind of copy served version that Apple built and it was horrible, it was so bad, or maybe it was my fifty-six bottom modem that made the whole just a bad experience.

Kaykas-Wolff: Could be

Tim Kendall: I was a very, very early adopter, I was on the 144 k modem. You know building 486 DX2 computers, remember that?

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah a lot of people don’t know this but Sunil was one of the first hardware hackers, he use to use his phone and-

Rajaraman: Yeah that’s exactly what I use to do

Kaykas-Wolff: Click, click, click, and get all this free dial-up for long distance stuff cause he used to call people all the time.

Rajaraman: Oh yeah, back to Tim, so you ended up at a company called Facebook in 2006

Kendall: Yeah

Rajaraman: How does that happen?

Kendall: So how does that happen, well I, out of undergrad I was an engineer at Stanford, but somehow got a little distracted or sidetracked into venture capital. Cause I thought of venture capitals like this way that you could sort of play a little bit in sort of this realm of entrepreneurship without sort of pinning yourself to one particular idea of things. So I was just-

Rajaraman: Can we talk about that for a second, so growing up Colorado, I’m not saying that Colorado’s not like the hotbed of finance but venture capital is that an idea that came because of Stanford, because of Silicon Valley?

Kendall: Yes, I mean I remember thinking, you know, I remember exploring at Stanford the ways in which you could explore entrepreneurship and in the exploration came about oh what are the funding sources of that, oh and what are these people who allocate capital actually do? And it sounded, on the face of it, I’m trying to reserve all the follow on judgment, put aside all the follow on judgment that’s come around the whole industry.

On the face of it it sounds like such a cool and amazing job and so I pursued that for a couple years before I basically got a little bit more clear on what I wanted to actually do with my life. Which was to actually build the company versus be more the coach on the sideline. So that’s how, that transition’s what lead to Facebook.

Kaykas-Wolff: Well so just really tactically how did you get introduced to the company, and what was the interview process like?

Kendall: So the way I got hip to the company, cause at this point 2005-2006 you’re talking about a few million users, still just a college site.

Rajaraman: With that Friendster might win at that point right?

Kendall: Well actually Myspace was really starting to, I mean I remember the summer of 2006 after I started, Myspace was a hundred some odd million users and just dominant. I mean you heard and saw Myspace everywhere and Facebook was just a few million users, but tactically I was taking a course at Stanford Business School from Eric Schmidt and Eric Schmidt had these lunches after the course. So the course was every Tuesday-Friday and then he’s saying “Hey I’m gonna have lunch in this room from noon to one, anyone can join.”

And I remember the first time he said I’m like oh my god I’m gonna go every single lunch, and which I did. But what was astounding was, there were one or two other students in these lunches. So you literally got to have lunch with Eric Schmidt for an hour or two hours a week. And so probably the third lunch I got the nerve to ask him, what ended up not being that hard of a question but a really important question in retrospect which was okay Eric you’ve got a gun to your head, you’ve to leave Google, where do you go? What do you go become the CEO of?

And he said well there are two companies, this is January of 2006, so Facebook is a few million users, YouTube is, so he says two companies. He says hands down I go to Facebook and if that doesn’t work out I go to YouTube. And YouTube by the way is-

Kaykas-Wolff: That’s incredible.

Kendall: YouTube at this point is ten people and they had just come on the scene with The Chronicles of Narnia, the SNL skit that had created a little bit of virality around YouTube. So he was, of course he bought the company for a billion-six nine months later but I don’t think he could forecast that. So I got in touch with them, actually I had a business school classmate who was friends with Peter Thiel. Peter Thiel already made an investment, he was on the board, and I said to this business school classmate, hey look my dream job is to go work at Facebook. Do you think you could set me up with Peter Thiel? So he did, so I went up to the city, met with Peter Thiel Founders Fund-

Rajaraman: Did you have to donate any blood?

Kendall: I did, I don’t even know what that reference is.

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah this is a Silicon Valley, HBO Silicon Valley reference. Something about now blood transfusions or if you take of young people, yeah

Kendall: Oh I’ll have to catch up on that. In any case, I did not have to donate blood but I had this fascinating conversation with Pete and said hey look I just want to go work at Facebook, can you just get me into the right, you know, side of conversations. So he introduced me to Owen Van Natta and Matt Cohler, and I went in and met with them and then, you know there was a more rigorous interview process then I would have expected. But I don’t think they had a very big candidate pool.

Kaykas-Wolff: And how many people was Facebook at this time?

Kendall: Probably about a hundred.

Kaykas-Wolff: Wow so okay, so quite small and what was it like? I mean what was-

Kendall: Well the job, by the way, was, we need a product manager to help figure out what the business model’s gonna be, like we think maybe it’s advertising but we could be totally wrong. And we’ve got a couple of wonky banner things running and we’re generating a little bit of revenue, we need to generate a lot more revenue. And we need someone, you know, to basically figure out how we’re gonna make money. And so that was the job, which I was wholly unqualified for and so we spent, I showed up, by the way, its total chaos.

I mean it’s clear that Mark is brilliant, it’s clear that the product direction that we’re going in is revolutionary so this is the summer in which the team, I wasn’t a part of this team built news feed, the team figured out oh let’s open the side up to open registration. And they were starting to talk about platform and how you can platform a social network, very novel and clever and shroud idea.

So it was clear they were headed in the right direction but companies no matter how amazing they turn out, they are at that stage its just…

(Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage)

Rajaraman: So, okay so then getting just with one specific anecdote maybe two, what is something that you know that you can share that people wouldn’t expect to know about Facebook, from those early days. That you know, okay wow, maybe it was the moment that you thought it was gonna go under, maybe it was something else. What’s an anecdote you have for us?

Kendall: Well the one that immediately comes to mind is that we were all, there was fear of, real fear of failure and getting crushed by Myspace. Then sort of underlying that a little bit faith that, well we think our approach is right. Which was an approach that was really bet on technology and authentic identity. We thought that would win out over time but it sure wasn’t clear from the numbers right. It looked like Myspace was just gonna become completely dominant so a lot of fear on that basis.

And then actually fear from a standpoint of, you know, you look at the graph of Facebook and it’s this crazy smooth up and to the right curb. And we had down months, or at least flat months. Month on month growth was not increasing and that’s not a good feeling, and I remember there was a designer, there were a couple people, who in the summer of 2006 left the company.

Kaykas-Wolff: Wow that was a very expensive decision.

Kendall: That was an expensive decision, but I remember in one of the designers who left was, I just had this sense of him being highly competent, very wise. And when I heard he was leaving I thought oh shoot, what did I just do? Is this a sinking ship that I’m just gonna go to the bottom of the ocean with.

Kaykas-Wolff: So when I really appreciate this kind of common bond fear and maybe there’s a flip side to that. Which is about optimism and excitement about the things that you can build but you’ve now been with a handful of different organizations that have all had interesting paths they’ve taken. Is that sense of fear a thing that’s unique-

Kendall: Corvasive

Kaykas-Wolff: To places that are successful, is that the Bay area or is it companies in particular?

Kendall: I think it’s a great question… there’s probably… it seems inherent to entrepreneurship everywhere, that there is just a fear, there’s this really hard balance of fear and self-doubt on one hand, and faith and optimism on the other hand. You’re always, I mean I feel that in the company that I’m working on now, which is just a startup that I’m trying to lead. It is just the, it’s this siege of fighting, trying to keep self-doubt at bay and hold faith. So I think it’s probably common, it’s common to entrepreneurship and it’s probably more of a siege earlier than it is later.

But I think you raise, the part of the question that I find really interesting is it more pronounced in Silicon Valley than elsewhere. Maybe.

Kaykas-Wolff: Have you lived anywhere else in your professional career?

Kendall: No, in fact, I joke that its probably because, it probably explains with I don’t like Palo Alto, of the twenty-three years that I’ve been in northern California I think, I’m catching up now cause I’m not there anymore. But I think fifteen of them were in Palo Alto and then all of them are within a one-mile radius of University Avenue in Stanford.

Rajaraman: Yeah good old University Avenue [crosstalk 00:12:29]

Kendall: It’s just like a little microcosm of the rest of the world

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah so reflective

Rajaraman: I have to ask you, since we’re talking about Facebook, what’s your view of the Chris Hughes op-ed and you know is there, was there any sense in those early days that you’re building a company that can influence elections someday?

Kendall: Well I’ll answer the second question first, I mean there was, and I’ll speak from my experience, there is no modicum of realization that this tool is going to do a heck of a lot more, now the founders may feel differently because that’s sort of their role right, is to think bigger than the guy thinking about the business model. But I didn’t think, I mean I knew it was addictive, and I mean that not in a pejorative way, we were getting lots of usage, but it really seemed pretty harmless voyeurism and vanity. And it became, obviously many, many orders of magnitude more powerful.

Rajaraman: And the quick take on the op-ed?

Kendall: … I thought it was very thoughtful, there were points in there that had not occurred to me. I don’t… I don’t have a good solution, I don’t think regulation is realistic. I think if it were realistic and we had the right people who could apply it thoughtfully, maybe that’s the right path but it’s not gonna happen.

Kaykas-Wolff: It’s not gonna happen in the US? It’s not gonna happen globally? Incompetence exists in the US government, international government, its-

Kendall: … I think it probably will happen internationally and is happening internationally. I suspect the nature in which it will happen will not be as thoughtful and optimal as it could be. And then I think in the US its just way to slow if it happens at all. And it will be even less thoughtful than anywhere else in the world in terms of how and the way in which it’s applied. I’m just so not optimistic about that

Rajaraman: I think it will just further entrench the, all of the big companies as is and so I don’t know if regulations is gonna help but-

Kendall: Well in their, let me just add, I think their behavior now is… this is probably a bad thing what they’re telegraphing in terms of their behavior are in a lot of ways… poison pills against regulation right. And what I mean specifically by that is Mark talking about you know, very clearly telegraphing I’m gonna encrypt everything across all these platforms.

Image via Getty Images / boonchai wedmakawand

Kendall: And that is a… that may for some strategic reasons make sense, I think the overarching driver of that is if this is all in a row and you can’t break me out, and its all encrypted you can’t hold me accountable for any of the content.

Rajaraman: Yeah, good insight, so I don’t wanna fast forward through your career because it’s been an interesting career, but I also want to get to the work that you’re doing now. But really quickly the Pinterest, you were obviously you know, president at Pinterest, ran product there and you look at a Pinterest it doesn’t really get much negative press pretty much at all. Can you just talk a little bit about the degree of addictiveness of the Pinterest product as compared to Facebook and just why Pinterest is essentially able to avoid any and all scrutiny in terms of-

Kendall: Well to be fair Pinterest gets hammered for having to nice of a culture.

Rajaraman: That is, Silicon Valley gets hammered for that. I mean no cares about that outside of here but yeah it gets hammered for that within Silicon Valley.

Kendall: Which is so weird.

Rajaraman: I know

But it does get hammered for that for sure.

Kendall: I mean I think the reason that it escapes, so lets set the addiction piece aside for just a moment, I think the reason it escapes a lot of scrutiny is that, versus a Twitter or a Facebook, is that its not really, it gets bucketed as a social network but its not a social network. So its much more of a utility or a tool like Google search, which by the way the search part of Google doesn’t get a heck of a lot of scrutiny when you think about it in context of everything. And so it’s just a utility for people and its not a tool for really sharing… with your friends and family what you’re up to, or finding out what your friends and family are up to, or reading news or doing any of that thing.

It’s a very individualized tool that’s basically meant to, for people to plan what they want to do with their lives, what do they want to cook for dinner tonight, what do they want to do this weekend, what kind of car do they want to drive in a year, what kind of home do they want to live in two years. Its sort of this harmless, very individualized experience that just doesn’t get them into controversial domains in the same way that a Twitter or Facebook does.

Kaykas-Wolff: Well I mean there was the kind of anti-vaxxers stuff that happened recently and Pinterest took a relatively quick and clear position and made a move on it. And again in a scenario-

Kendall: Credit to them

Kaykas-Wolff: Where Twitter would probably have the same issue if it was as early as six months ago, they didn’t they just addressed it. What makes that organization work that way?

Kendall: …well I think they’re growing on this dimension cause if I were really candid I’m sure that Pinterest of four or five years ago, when I was there, would have necessarily been that deliberate or decisive. But I think they’re drawing brighter lines and moving more quickly against things so what I would give credit to in that case was the fact the culture in the decision making has just gotten more mature. And so they’re ready to say look this is a bright line, it’s pretty clear this content is making the world worse, let’s get rid of it and this is what we’re gonna say. And I think they’re also starting to, and this is the sophistication that comes with a more mature company, I think they see, and I don’t know this is me speculating, I think they see the benefit on these issues in terms of generating goodwill and brand equity. Which I think it does.

Rajaraman: How addictive is Pinterest?

Kendall: Relative to, I mean if you just look at their time spent versus you know these other platforms, not that addictive. And its sort of no more addictive than Google search is addictive. Which I’m sure there are outliers for whom Google search is a problem but its not pervasive. And really the company is trying, the mission of the company or the old mission of the company, I can’t remember the new mission. The old mission was to discover and do what you love meaning, we want to help you Sunil discover some stuff and then as soon as you discover that great recipe, we actually want to do everything we can to get you off and to take action on it.

Kendall: So almost definitionally half of the mission of the company is to get you off of their product.

Rajaraman: So let’s talk about now, you are part of a group of people that are now becoming, you know, celebrities is the wrong word but you have Tristan Harris from Google, you have you and you have Antonio Garcia Martinez to some extent and some others talking about how bad these products are. How bad smartphone usage is, I have two questions why and why now?

Kendall: …well I think the, they’re probably bundled, my last few years at Pinterest and not because at being Pinterest necessarily, I just started to see my personal use blown. And it was coincident with having two young children at home and getting home from a hard day of work at Pinterest and its six o’clock at night and I should be in our kitchen or in the living room down on my knees hanging out with my kids and really interacting with them. And I am in my pantry scrolling through you name it, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and I can’t, I literally can’t stop.

I know intellectually, higher level parts of my brain, this is not congruent with my values I don’t want to do this. But my limbic brain is saying no enjoy, enjoy this indulge yourself and you need a break. And that cognitive dissonance was a struggle so I was suffering and I thought to myself, god I’ve gotta get a handle on this and realizing that others might be struggling as well. So it was really, almost a realizing that my physiological health was being impacted, probably a lot of others were.

Image via Getty Images / antoniokhr

Kendall: And could there be a way that technology, softwares and others could help people with this.

Rajaraman: So I’m sure you get this often, so I’ll just ask the questions from the crowd. So, well you know you’ve made a lot of money off of this and you know you built these things that are, so it just feels convenient that you would be kind of, it feels convenient and easy that you be doing this now. So what would you say to people who are listening to this who feel that?

Kendall: …well, what would I say. It’s probably warranted criticism I mean I think that I certainly have some regret in my role although it was a smaller role than the leaders of the proper company my role at Facebook. Although I haven’t been with the company for almost ten years and I think they’re the most precocious example of what’s driving a lot of this. And then you know…really all we can do right is focus on now and what we’re doing going forward. And so going forward I mean I’m funding this thing myself entirely and so in some ways the economic exploits are getting redirected toward this, that’s goodness.

Rajaraman: Why don’t you just tell everybody what it is

Kendall: Oh it is, so I now am the CEO of a company called Moment and Moment’s been around for several years. About a year ago, a little over a year ago, I acquired the company from the founder Kevin Hilesh, who’s now a key part of my team and still really involved. And what Moment does is, in a phrase, we give people back their time, but what we’re basically trying to do is help people understand, hey you use your phone an inordinate amount and if you don’t like that and you don’t like, particularly the knock-on effects of that issue, we have some tools and we have some coaching programs that can help you use your phone in a much healthier way. Oh and by the way you get a lot of time back when you do that.

Kaykas-Wolff: So a couple questions, least assume that all of us just kind of let our limbic brains run loose and choose to do whatever we want, you join the team and are running the team over the course of the last year at Moment. What is the learning that you’ve had and really specifically what does Moment know how we make decisions on our phones?

Kendall: …so I’d say a couple things, I think one is that this problem is a lot like, it has so many parallels to food in that when you eat poorly, you feel terrible in the medium and long term but it feels really good in the short term. Oh and by the way when you eat a little bit of junk food it’s really hard to not eat a lot more in that moment. And so there are characteristics oh phone usage that are almost, completely mimic the characteristics of eating poorly versus eating well.

The other thing is that that I can tell you just from looking at our own data is that there’s, it’s a little bit of a game of whack a mole in terms of the different aspects of these services and what’s on the phone. And what I mean by that is that what we see is that the obvious suspect in terms of the thing that sucks the most time from your or mine day, is social media. But the problem is that we see, and by the way I’ve experienced this myself, you get rid of social media and something else replaces it.

Kaykas-Wolff: Because you’ve already started eating that way.

Kendall: Yeah so you get rid of Oreos and you do chocolate chip cookies but what’s the equivalent of that on a phone, you get rid of social media and you get addicted to news. And you get addicted to the browser.

Rajaraman: I had peanut butter cups instead of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream last night.

Kaykas-Wolff: You need to stop that. So you get an organization like Apple who as a, forget about work stuff, as a customer I like a lot of what they do and I like a lot of the story that Tim Cook tells right. We got a business model that allows for us to make decisions that are generally better for humans that other companies do. They introduce something like screen time and you guys have been around before screen time existed, should we trust organizations like Apple because of the economic incentives that they have to introduce tools like screen time that are supposed to benefit us as humans or make us happier.

Rajaraman: He’s looking up and thinking, just giving the visual.

Kendall: I mean when Coke put a label on its can and told you how much sugar you’re drinking did it make you trust them more? I mean maybe a little bit on the margin but it didn’t give you a whole lot, it didn’t tell you how bad the sugar was, it didn’t tell you the long term effects. I mean I think my bone to pick with Apple is two-fold, one is that it relates to screen time I think they get credit for taking a step. It is such a micro step in the scheme of what needs to be done and what could have been done. And in what I mean by that is that if they were trying to help people who were morbidly obese, what Apple has done is basically chucked them a scale and said good luck.

And there’s no exercise regiment, there’s no nutritional guidelines and then said hey we care about this problem, look we gave you a scale come on you can weigh yourself. And so that’s kind of my bone to pick a, bone to pick b is Tim Cook and others talk about how their incentives are pure and aligned. However, the bulk of their profit growth is from services. What’s the bulk of services, it’s the app store, what’s the app store, games. What’s the bulk of games, in-app purchases of games.

Which basically correlates with time spent so their profit growth is predicated on addiction.

Kaykas-Wolff: How bad is it? So just give people a sense of scale, either through an anecdote or data you’ve seen or whatever, how bad is smartphone addiction and where are we headed with this. What’s the worst-case scenario for me?

Kendall: …well I think that the worst-case scenario is we’re gonna end up in a similar place to where we are with sugar and processed food visa vi type two diabetes being a global, particularly a national, epidemic. And costing us as an economy a tremendous amount of money and killing a lot of people. And that sounds very dramatic from where we are today but I think that’s where we’re headed. If you look at the data in terms of what overuse does to our brains in terms of causal links between overuse and depression and anxiety.

Image via Getty Images / Feodora Chiosea

Kendall: The casual links between overuse and spiking cortisol levels, which by the way lead to all these knock-on diseases, I think we’re headed to a scary place. And adults are admitting, two-thirds of adults basically if you ask them, in the United States, will say I have a problem. Only a quarter of adults have been able to make any headway through their own efforts.

Kaykas-Wolff: How old are your kids?

Kendall: Three and four.

Kaykas-Wolff: Do they ever get to use devices?

Kendall: I mean I could, I wish the answer were no not at all, they do a little bit. They watch, no interaction, they don’t use devices in an interactive way, they use them as many TVs. And they get to watch, on Wednesday mornings if they get ready for school at a certain time cause they have a late start, they get to watch ten minutes of something. So not a whole lot. And oh, by the way, there was a period over which when we took a longer drive or flights we use to let them use it.

Kendall: And they became such terrors, the medium and long term implications or result was so bad that we just stopped. It was easier to deal with the siege or a flight and a drive without a device then it was to give it to them.

Rajaraman: Yeah so this is, once again, the chorus of executives, I think the criticism is flatly this is that okay you built this stuff now you won’t even let your kids use it, thank you. So okay what about the other, how would you respond to people saying you’re an alarmist and this is TV all over again. We’re just gonna settle in this is the new norm.

Kendall: TV is, we hear this a lot, I understand the argument. TV is so fundamentally different then what we’re dealing with in terms of, first of all, TV doesn’t go with you everywhere it’s not in my pocket at least old TV right. And it’s not interactive and it’s not any highly personalized and sophisticated way tuned to me and preys on basically all of my vulnerabilities. To get me to do things that aren’t necessarily in my best interest in the long term.

TV didn’t really do any of that, or if it did, it did it so poorly that it was pretty easy to break out of the force field if you wanted to.

Rajaraman: What do you think about the work Elon Musk is doing with them, I guess and now some others are with the brain companies, and so I figure you would probably know quite a lot about this Jascha so go ahead chime in I see you-

Kaykas-Wolff: On the brain, no I’m just laughing at you, I’m like the brain companies, that’s the next big thing. I want to take this and go off in a little bit of a different direction if that’s okay. You made a comment around addiction and organizations being benefited by addiction and I can go so far as to say that I don’t think this is hyperbolic. We’ve moved out of the information age and moved into the addiction economy age kind of or whatever, however you want to frame that. But Sunil kicked off something that I think we think is funny generally, that’s what often times executives in technology companies are recognizing something is wrong and then they’re going and spending their time elsewhere.

How does that change from being just a handful of people around the world that have this enlightened understanding of what going on into general consumer understanding.

Kendall: …well we talk about this a lot internally and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this. I think there’s a lot of good people who are being very vocal about the consequences of this technology and the overuse of it. I think that, I mean the wonderful-ish thing about food and diet and exercise is that the consequences, the feedback loop of the consequence is very obvious in terms of our physique and in terms of how we feel.

It’s a little bit more opaque with this because it probably doesn’t change our physical appearance so unfortunately, we cannot use vanity as a motivator. But it does certainly change our state of mind although I think that’s a little bit more abstract for people and so I think one of the ways we get there is with research. But another way, which we spend a lot of time thinking about we don’t have any great solutions here, is how can we put a mirror up to you beyond just hey Sunil you spent four hours on your phone you should feel bad.

Image via Getty Images / Paola Vasquez Duran

Kendall: But ideally it would be, you spent four hours on your phone some of this was good and actually made your cognitive function higher and you feel happier as a result of it. But these, almost like looking at your consumption of food any given day and giving you an assessment and an extrapolation of that, in terms of the impact it’s going to have on your physiological being. So you really understand “Hey when I do this, this is the impact, in a believable way. That’s hard.”

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah right to move away from paternalistic language of let me tell you all the bad things that you’re doing why don’t you eat your vegetables.

Kendall: Right

Rajaraman: Well we close with one question this has been awesome, just I have one idea for you buy a Superbowl ad and get people to turn off their smartphone for thirty seconds.

Kendall: That’s worth four million dollars

Kaykas-Wolff: You just you really want to be in event marketing I think that’s your thing. The biggest iPhone shut off in the world at the same time.

Rajaraman: Yeah that’s right an iPhone block out. Okay well, you got the last question.

Kaykas-Wolff: What is the app that everybody should go out and install right now that you think is beneficial for them? For their phone Android or Apple’s.

Kendall: …I don’t know the names of the app that popped into my mind which I like, there are a number of these apps and there are probably, if you searched for life clock or something. Basically something that you put in your age and your health and everything, basically tells you how much time you have left in your life. And then it gives you a countdown, a daily countdown, you have this much percentage of your life left.

Kaykas-Wolff: Very fatalistic

Kendall: It’s very fatalistic, I find it grounding and motivating.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’d buy that, I’d totally buy that

Kendall: I wish I gave, I had a name, there are many of them out there. I mean I think if you literally search for life clock or countdown, life countdown, something will come up.

Kaykas-Wolff: I think we all waste a lot of time and we waste a lot of time because of bad decisions because our limbic brain is going off and telling us to do stuff that’s a waste of time. Or we’re to wrapped up in our own vanity.

Kendall: And I think we’re delusional, I mean I’ll speak for myself, I’m delusional in that I think that I have infinite time left cause I think that’s just the human tendency.

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah we’re young.

Kendall: Yeah you guys are fit, I’m not but-

Rajaraman: On the social networks that clearly you spend a lot of time on who are a couple of recommended follows that you would make a recommendation to our listeners to go and spend some time reading, listening to.

Kendall: So three, four people that I follow on Instagram who I love, Brene Brown, Russel Brand, Sam Harris, and Ray Dalio.

Kaykas-Wolff: Those are all hot tips.

Rajaraman: Crisp answer those are good ones.

Kaykas-Wolff: How about favorite Pinterest boarder? Is that a thing? What do you call a Pinner? I don’t know the proper, I used Pinterest I don’t know what you call a person who puts pinboards up.

Kendall: I mean mines gonna be a little, it won’t be weird it will be good, Evan Sharp, whose one of the co-founders has amazing boards. He was the co-founder and really the creator of the whole grid design which is one of the big foundations of Pinterest. He’s an architect by training and just has a phenomenal eye and so his boards are beautiful and fascinating.

Image via Getty Images / JOSH EDELSON / Stringer

Rajaraman: Well this has been an awesome interview, one of my favorites.

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah I’ll second that. Thank you for spending the time with us today.

Kendall: Yeah, of course

Kaykas-Wolff: So I’m starting at my phone right now Sunil and I’m looking at the Moment app in particular, well actually I’m on my lock screen, and it says you’ve had fifty pickups so far today, it’s three o’clock and you’re over your goal of forty-one per day. So I’m already losing.

Rajaraman: I wish I could say my stats were better but they’re not. Especially if I actually looked at them but I don’t want to look at them because I’m in total denial.

Kaykas-Wolff: I think that denial thing is pretty real. We are constantly trying to battle between telling ourselves that when we used to watch TV a bunch as a kid and our parents used to say that it was bad, that what we’re dealing with right now is exactly the same. But its really not.

Rajaraman: No and I’m glad that we touched on that definitely during the interview today but this interview isn’t meant to be alarmist. We hope that what you take from it is just that you put additional thought every time you do pick up that phone and for those with families, kids, I just am curious to hear your own internal monologue about how you want them to use phones.

Kaykas-Wolff: We’d love to hear from you so if this conversation was interesting and you want to talk about mental health and phone use or tech use, hit up either Sunil or I on Twitter. He is suubs01 and I’m kakis

Rajaraman: And as always if you enjoyed this episode of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley, we would appreciate if you could give us a review on whatever app that you’re listening to us on. Thanks as always for listening and we hope you enjoyed today’s episode.

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