Wednesday was my birthday. It should have been a great day. My wife and daughter had prepared a delicious breakfast, I had lunch with close friends, and I finished up some writing and client work. At the end of the day I headed to San Francisco to enjoy a swanky scotch tasting at a friend’s house.
I was having a fantastic day just minutes before but suddenly I felt crummy, like something unjust had happened. The malaise lingered as my mind began to rationalize the news. Was the deal justified? Why had Facebook paid so much? What did the deal mean for the future of the tech industry?
However, the question that most disturbed me was why hadn’t I built WhatsApp? The simplicity of the app made it look easy. Perhaps, I thought, I should get back to starting companies instead of writing books about them.
Then I remembered one of my favorite monkey studies. A bit of primate psychology helped me regain my sanity.
Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, wanted to know if capuchin monkeys felt jealousy in the same way humans do. His study began by training two monkeys with identical cucumber slices. Whenever they completed a task, in this case retrieving a rock and handing it to a researcher, they each received a slice of cucumber. When both monkeys were offered the same reward, they completed the task as prescribed.
Nir’s Note:This guest post comes from Brendan Kane who has built technology for MTV, Paramount, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and the NHL. In this article, Brendan describes how he reprogramed the way he views the world using little more than his iPhone and iPad.
We all have the power to change our lives. I know this because I found ways to reprogram my inner circuitry and change my perspective of the world. A few simple steps inserted into my daily routine dramatically improved my life. Surprisingly, many of my new rituals were made possible using the technology I carry with me every day.
“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”
I was trained to think small and seek comfort rather than risk. From an early age, many of us are told to think realistically and to leave the big audacious ideas to people with more experience and resources. But the truth is, as Steve Jobs said, ““Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”
We are all born with the same basic brain hardware and though there are variations in intelligence between people, the differences are relatively minor and show little correlation with life outcomes. However, what does make a difference is how much we believe in ourselves and our capabilities. A much greater determinant of where we will end up in life is whether we have what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck calls a “fixed” or “growth mindset.”
Nir’s Note: In this last in a series of guest posts on the topic of technology habits, Jason Shah shares practical tips he used to regain control over his devices. Jason is a Product Manager at Yammer and blogs about user experience and technology at blog.jasonshah.org. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonyogeshshah.
“Not long ago, in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Texas, a 17-year-old boy was weathering withdrawal at its worst. His body shuddered with convulsions. He hurled tables and chairs around the hospital.
Had he been hooked on heroin? Cocaine? Jim Beam? Joe Camel?
No, his psychologist said. The teenager had withdrawn cold turkey from the Internet.”
This account of a young man’s struggle with Internet withdrawal is from a 1996 New York Times article. Since then, the Internet has become even more pervasive and habit-forming.
Indeed, much of the web’s appeal is hardwired in our DNA. Technology companies carefully hone their services to cater to our survival instincts. Over time, we have become conditioned to know where to look on the Internet for rewards, and in the spirit of survival, we return repeatedly to get as much as possible out of a reliable source of pleasure.
Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Sharbani Roy explores techniques she used to change her bad habits related to eating, sleeping and exercising. Sharbani blogs at sharbaniroy.com and you can follow her on twitter @Sharbani.
It’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to sleep. You’ve been cycling through Facebook, email, and other online media for hours. You want to stop, but you can’t. This technology-induced insomnia will likely ruin your next day (or two) of productivity — and you’ve really achieved nothing according to your list of to-dos. Late-night surfing has become a bad habit you’d like to break, but just can’t figure out how.
Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some data, narrated by my inner monologue.
Inner Monologue: “Wow, 12AM, I should get into bed.”
Lights turned off, head on pillow. Check.
Inner Monologue: “Hmm, I’m a little bored. I had those articles I was going to read…and I’m not that sleepy yet.” I reach for my phone. “I love you, smart phone.”
One article later.
Inner Monologue: “What a great article! I should share it.” Switch to Facebook news feed. “Oh, look at Amanda’s adorable baby!” Like. Scrolling down. “Ha! Teslas ARE awesome.” Continue scrolling. “Puppies and kittens AND a baby hedgehog all in one photo!?” Like. “Oh, I should send that Tesla pic to Aleks … and email her to catch-up.” Switch to Gmail. “Hmm, inbox full. I’ll just respond to two.” Mid-response, a new post from TechCrunch pops up. ” Oh, what’s this? Smartwatch?” Click.
Nir’s Note: This guest post by Avi Itzkovitch offers some clues as to why we can’t seem to put our cell phones down. Avi (@xgmedia) is an Independent User Experience Consultant. He is currently working from his Tel-Aviv Studio XG Media.
Do you constantly check your smartphone to see if you’ve received messages or notifications on Facebook? Does your phone distract you from your studies or work? Do your friends, parents, children, or spouse complain that you are not giving them enough attention because of your phone? You may be addicted.
The smartphone has become a constant companion. We carry it throughout the day and keep it by our bedside at night. We allow ourselves to be interrupted with messages from social media, emails and texts. We answer phone calls at times when it is not socially acceptable, and we put our immediate interactions with friends and family on hold when we hear that ring tone that tells us a message is arrived. Something fundamental in human behavior has changed: our sense of phone etiquette and propriety has caused us to get out of whack in our interactions with one another.
So why is it that we allow ourselves to be interrupted? Why do we feel it necessary to answer these calls? Maybe the addiction started long before cell phones even existed, with the advent of the phone itself. Albrecht Schmidt speculates in the Interaction Design Foundation Encyclopedia:
Nir’s Note: Is “no” the most powerful word in the English language? In this guest post Chikodi Chima explores what happens when people say, “No.” Chikodi is a former VentureBeat staff reporter who helps startups with their public relations and marketing. His blog is PR Tips For Startups and he is @Chikodi on Twitter.
Sirens were beautiful creatures from Greek Mythology who lured sailors to their death. The power of their song was so irresistible it would cause captains to steer their boats into the rocks and drown. We are also seduced daily by ideas that sound great at first, but may leave us shipwrecked, unless we have the power to say no.
Investor Marc Suster recently warned about the perils of shiny new objects. “Everything you say “yes” to is incrementally one more thing to support and you die a death by a thousand cuts,” he says. “I strongly believe that your success will be more defined by what you choose not to do than by what you choose to do. Of course what you choose to do has be be meaningful, timely, valuable, prescient and high quality.”
Why we say “yes” when we mean “no”
Michael Hyatt says there are three common responses to people who ask us to do things we don’t want to:
Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This usually comes when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.
Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Auren Hoffman, the CEO of LiveRamp in San Francisco. This essay is a bit different from the normal subject matter on the blog but I hope it will stir some discussion about which of our personal habits are worth improving. Connect with Auron on Twitter at @auren or on Facebook.
To really differentiate yourself in this winner-take-all world, you should be focusing on improving your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Most people who set out to improve themselves focus on their faults. For example, here’s Bridget Jones’ list:
“Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds. Number two: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important, will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional wits or perverts.”
While I don’t deny that it’s good habit to place your undergarments in the laundry bin, it is not the best way to achieve greatness. People who focus on their faults can eventually improve them to a point where they are no longer obstacles, but doing so will not propel them to success. A better strategy is to focus on one or two of the things at which you excel and hone those skills or talents to the point of excellence. Working on your faults might help you make a living, but honing your talents may help you change the world.
A few years ago, Joe Marks, then Disney’s vice president of research, visited Tokyo Disneyland and was puzzled by a particular behavior he observed there. Park visitors were standing in line, often for many hours at a time, outside a shop in the park’s Frontierland. Marks found out that they were waiting to buy an inexpensive (less than $10) leather bracelet on which they could have a name painted or embossed.
Why were the bracelets in such demand? Joe wondered. And why weren’t other stores in the park selling the same bracelets, so that Disney could improve visitors’ experience by reducing their wait time? In Joe’s mind, the company needed to make the popular product more easily available.
As it turned out, Joe’s intuition, though supported by standard economic theory about supply and demand, was wrong. The visitors he observed usually were standing in line with their sweetheart or spouse. The couples’ willingness to patiently wait for the bracelet was a signal of their strong commitment to each other, for according to a Japanese tradition, exchanging leather bracelets is a sign of bonding. It was the very act of waiting for the bracelet that made the product so popular.
If the Internet had a voice, I am fairly certain it would sound like the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“Hello Nir,” it said to me in its low, monotone voice. “Glad to see you again.”
“Internet, I just need a few quick things for an article I’m writing,” I’d reply. “Then it’s back to work. No distractions this time.”
“Of course Nir, but while you are here, won’t you look at what Paul Graham just wrote?”
“No Internet,” I’d resist. “I’m just here to find some specific information, I can’t be distracted.”
“Of course Nir,” the Internet would say. “But this article about LOLCats addiction is related to your work. Give it a click, won’t you?”
“Interesting.” I’d say hesitantly. “Just a quick read and then it’s back to work.”
3 hours later I would realize the time I’d wasted clicking and curse the Internet for sucking me into its mind vortex yet again.
Ironically, I research and write about seductive technology and yet I struggle to resist its temptations. Much of my work is written for entrepreneurs and designers looking for ways to boost user engagement with their products. The rest of my writing is intended to increase awareness of the habit-forming potential, and at times, unintended consequences, of an increasingly connected world.