RICARDO SIGNES: Welcome to the Digital Citizen podcast. I’m Ricardo Signes, the CTO of Fastmail, the email provider of choice for savvy digital citizens everywhere. We’re here to talk about the idea of digital citizenship, a topic that we think about a lot at Fastmail. And here with me is my colleague, Helen Horstmann-Allen. Helen, I know you very well, so why don’t you tell everybody else something about you?
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Hi everybody, I’m Helen Horstmann-Allen. I’m the Chief Operating Officer at Fastmail. I work on our product direction and strategy, our marketing, and our support teams, and I think a lot about why we build the things we do and what it means for the people who use them. Rik and I have known each other for 16 years now, and we’ve talked about so, so many topics. Rik is one of my favorite conversationalists. He always has a really deep and interesting take on things that I didn’t think had deep and interesting takes, like the Fast and Furious movies. So, I thought the idea of getting to talk to him about the internet and how we all use it sounded like a great topic. Rik, tell me a little bit more about the podcast and what we’re going to do here.
RICARDO SIGNES: Well, we’ve talked about having a Fastmail podcast for a long time, but I think it started when we started having a lot of Zoom calls between the Australian and U.S. offices, and everyone got to enjoy everyone else’s accents. And the biggest idea tended to be things like, what if every week we listened to one of the Australians explain cricket to one of the Americans.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: I think I’ve listened to several episodes of that podcast already, actually.
RICARDO SIGNES: Effectively, yes. I have not been at the live taping where a few of us actually went to cricket, but I still think I could listen to that and not get it and probably some people get frustrated by that show episode after episode. But, we kept talking about it for a long time, sometimes as a joke and sometimes seriously, and we weren’t really sure what we did want to talk about and bandied about a lot of ideas until we got to the question of things that were really important to us as a company and as a group of individuals that we thought would resonate with people who use Fastmail and people who looked at Fastmail and things that we did, and maybe anybody else who happened to stumble across the podcast, but also be interested, or even better, helped by some of the conversations we wanted to have. And the topic was, digital citizenship as a concept itself.
RICARDO SIGNES: You have to have some concept of the world you live in, where you spend all this time on the internet, but the internet isn’t only full of bad things. It’s full of good things and it’s full of neutral things, and a lot of the qualities of the internet have to do with how you engage with it, knowing how it affects you.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: We talk about Fastmail as being email you can feel good about, and putting something out into the world that makes people feel good is something that’s important to us. Computers touch so many aspects of our lives, right? The internet has changed the way we do so many things in so many different places. It seemed like a topic we could go really deep on and with a lot of different variations. I’m also a huge science fiction fan, and I was like, maybe we could get some sci-fi authors on this show. So, if you’ve got a book, please talk to us. We’d like to talk to you.
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah, absolutely. We have a list of, “What if we talked to a person like this?” And it’s a long, fun list. And several times I said, “I don’t get why we would talk to somebody who knows about bicycles,” and someone would say, “Well, it’s actually a really interesting concept of the interaction between bicycles and the internet.” And I would walk away from that sort of stunned. So, I think we do have a lot of topics to cover, and hopefully, we’re going to start with some topics that people actually identify with and have an interest in.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Well, so Rik, who are we going to talk to you today?
RICARDO SIGNES: Today we talked to BJ Fogg, who is a behavioral scientist. He’s written a book called Tiny Habits. Tiny Habits is a book all about how to make meaningful changes in your behavior to help you achieve your goals. Changing our habits, it seems like a valuable topic, it seems interesting, but what does this have to do with digital citizenship? What does it have to do with our relationship with the online world? As I kind of tried to dig into the question, I realized we had a lot of really interesting conversations to have.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Totally. We do product design for Fastmail. We think so, so much about people’s habits. You move things even a tiny bit, and something that used to feel easy and seamless now is jarring and unsettling. Tiny habits are everywhere. I’m really interested to hear what you’re going to be talking about. What else can people look forward to hearing?
RICARDO SIGNES: Well, we talked about online habits and we talked about the ways that you can change your habits and what you might want to change them to. But specifically, why do you want to change them to specific things? For example, can you change your habits in order to have better connection with other human beings? And at the end of the conversation, after you’ve gotten the chance and everyone else has had a chance to hear the whole thing, we’ll talk a little bit about some of the takeaways from that conversation. You’ll also be able to find these written up on our website, which is fastmail.com/digitalcitizen.
RICARDO SIGNES: So, you are our first guest on Digital Citizen, which is…
BJ FOGG: Oh my gosh. I’ll try not to screw it up for you.
RICARDO SIGNES: Well, I will be doing the same. So, we’ll be doing this together. We’re concerned with the question, how to be a responsible digital citizen, which is a really wide-ranging question. I think you and I might have a couple of different bases to go through as we talk about this, but why don’t you start off by telling me and everybody listening a little bit about you and your work?
BJ FOGG: Yeah, I’m a behavior scientist at Stanford University. I’ve run a research lab there for a little over 20 years, and my work’s always focused on how do we help people be happier and healthier through behavior change? And that’s the focus of my teaching at Stanford, and that’s the focus of my lab’s research as well.
RICARDO SIGNES: So you’ve got a book, Tiny Habits, which I’ve read. It’s sort of a manual for the application of behavior design to the reader’s life. And it has techniques in it for how you can affect changes in your own behavior. Could you tell us the central idea of the process and how it works?
BJ FOGG: I’ll try. Well, the highest level, if you want to design lasting change into your life is first of all, help yourself do what you already want to do. Don’t pick new habits you don’t want, pick those you want, and number two, help yourself feel successful. That’s what wires in the habit. So, if you do those two things, and there’s various ways you can do those two things, those are the keys. And I call those maxims. And I talk about those throughout the book of how you do that specifically.
RICARDO SIGNES: And the whole thing was built on the Fogg Behavior Model. Can you give us a breakdown of how that works?
BJ FOGG: Yeah. The Fogg Behavior Model was a cornerstone model for a broader domain that I call behavior design. It gives an entirely new set of models and a new set of methods for change, and one of those methods is the Tiny Habits method. So tiny habits is a subset of a broader domain called behavior design, and the key that unlocked the door to all of behavior design is the Fogg Behavior Model, and it goes like this: A behavior happens when three things come together at the same moment. There’s motivation to do the behavior, there’s ability to do the behavior, and there’s a prompt. And if any one of those is missing, the behavior won’t happen. Now, behavior is the broad category. Within that, you have habit. Habit is a subset, and the same thing applies. A habit will happen when you have motivation, ability, and a prompt. And if you miss any of those, if any one is weak or missing, the habit won’t happen.
RICARDO SIGNES: So, if people have a change they want to make in their behavior, they have something they want to start doing, how do they go about leveraging that process to make the change happen?
BJ FOGG: The best next step is for people to join the free five day program, get a Tiny Habits coach that I’ve helped train, and then use the Tiny Habits method to bring new habits into your life that you want.
RICARDO SIGNES: So when we talk about these being tiny habits, they’re small changes that people want to make. Over and over, that’s the emphasis. That we can make extremely small changes and from there grow larger changes. It seems at odds with traditional advice of just find the behavior you want, power through it until it happens. What do you think is the difference between these two and why one works and one doesn’t?
BJ FOGG: Yeah. It’s massive. I mean, the traditional approach doesn’t work very well. Everybody has tried it and seen that it’s really hit and miss. Like, “Oh, I’m going to set this big goal and I’m just going to keep myself doing it no matter what.” And there are times, rare times, when that will actually work. So it is an approach that can work if you can radically change your environment, but we can’t all get a whole new set of friends. We can’t all move somewhere. We can’t all get a whole new job and so on. I mean, if you need to make a big change quickly, the only way to succeed in doing that is to also change your environment, because otherwise it’s very unlikely that the change will stick.
BJ FOGG: You can power it out through discipline or willpower or grit or whatever you want to call it temporarily, but if people have tried this and failed, you’re not alone. This is what happens. So really when it comes down to lasting change, you’re looking at two things. One, we design your environment. Even if you’re using the Tiny Habits method, it’s like, make your habits really easy to do. And then on the flip side is, you’ve changed in very small, incremental ways. And that’s what the Tiny Habits method’s all about. It’s a straightforward method you could apply to any aspiration that you have now. Now, Rik, it’s not to say you don’t achieve big things with the Tiny Habits method. You do dream big. You do say, “Oh, I want to finish my novel by the end of August.” Or, “I want to be able to run a five minute mile,” or “I want to sleep better.”
BJ FOGG: You know huge aspirations. But then, there’s a process of breaking that down and finding the exact right habits for you that will help you run at that pace or finish your novel or whatnot. And then you go into the Tiny Habits mode where you make it super tiny, you find where it fits naturally, and then you reinforce the habit by causing yourself to feel the positive emotion.
RICARDO SIGNES: The thing that I struggled with reading it was seeing the path between the big aspiration and the small start. An example that you have in the book is flossing one tooth. And I thought it was a great example because it’s basically the smallest activity I could imagine. You’re flossing one tooth and using this to get your teeth flossed. But for me, when I imagine starting off my habit is so small, it’s this, I feel like there’s a sense of, but how do you go anywhere from here? Is the answer here, “Don’t worry, it happens,” or is the mental process required to actually continue to find your way from tiny to large?
BJ FOGG: It’s actually a mixture of both, so good question. Let’s pick tidiness as a habit.
RICARDO SIGNES: That would be great. If you tell me anything that helps me with that, everyone will be happy.
BJ FOGG: So let’s say your house, your office, is a total mess, and you really want to be tidier. And if you use the Tiny Habits method to create three habits around tidiness, like maybe as soon as you start the coffee maker, right after you start the coffee maker, you can tidy one thing in the kitchen. Every time you park your car, you grab something that should go in the trash, and you go throw it in the trash as you walk into the house. And the third one might be in the evening after you turn off the remote from watching movies or the TV, you tidy one thing in the living room. Okay, super, super small stuff. And you make it so small that it doesn’t require much motivation, and it certainly doesn’t require willpower.
BJ FOGG: What people will find is, as they do just those three things, they will naturally in the morning after they start the coffee maker, “Oh, I tied it up the coffee cup. I put it in the dishwasher. Oh my gosh, here’s a dishrag that’s out. I’m going to put that in the laundry. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well wipe this counter here. Oh, I did the tiny version, but I did more.” The habits will propagate other related habits that you haven’t even planned for. So it’s not like you have to say, “Here’s three tiny habits and tidiness. I’m going to add a fourth and a fifth and a sixth and a 12th and a 20th.” You get yourself started, and what happens is your motivation to be tidy goes up, your ability to tidy up actually increases, and most important, your identity shifts to thinking, “Oh, I’m the kind of person who tidies up.”
RICARDO SIGNES: I was really intrigued by the idea that these habits change your self-identity into the someone who does these things. I tidy up every day. I’m a tidy person. And it had me thinking, I don’t spend time, maybe yet, on designing my own behaviors, but I have a lot of habits. I’m 40 years old now, maybe a little more. And I’ve got a bunch of habits, a bunch of behaviors in my life. How does our habituation happen?
BJ FOGG: Yeah. The best analogy for this, and I have some of this in the book, but I might do a longer book someday on this, is habits, you can think of habits like plants. So if you, people listening to this, if you have a background in gardening, apply what you know to habits because the principles transfer really, really well. For example, you take a good seed, which would be the habit. You place it in a good spot, which is where does this fit naturally in your routine, and you keep it nurtured. And it will then take root. Now, plants will grow if you don’t do anything. I’m looking out here. So we’ve pulled out some lawn because of the drought here in California, and there’s little weeds popping up, but we didn’t plant those, but that’s just like habits in our own life.
BJ FOGG: Habits will just pop up on their own, or you can design what you want, just like you would design a garden. And it’s just minimal effort to think things through. So you end up with a garden of habits that you actually want, and you actually designed into your life, as opposed to a random set of weeds and maybe the occasional plant or flower or habit that you like.
RICARDO SIGNES: As you go through this process of building this garden of habits, of establishing, what are the things that you want to cultivate? Presumably, the other action you need to undertake is getting rid of the weeds, and I can imagine some of this happening naturally. As you build new habits old habits are replaced, is that always how this works?
BJ FOGG: Bloggers and people who haven’t really studied this carefully too often overemphasize the idea of the only way you change a habit is to replace it. That’s not true. I can absolutely stop teaching my Stanford class because it ended yesterday. So that habit, I don’t have to replace. I now have a free hour, and I’m not replacing it. The best thing to do for most people is to focus on, even though you have habits you really want to get rid of, you got the weeds in your garden, the best thing to do to move forward is to create positive new habits in your life and learn how that method works. Learn the skills of habit formation.
RICARDO SIGNES: So with all this in mind, how can we be mindful of this when we look at technology? How can we make sure that we’re using technology to create positive habits and not bad ones?
BJ FOGG: This is a big topic. I will give some specifics. There are other people in the world who have a much more comprehensive approach. One, don’t let technology replace our human interactions. And in the Tiny Habits mode, one example is, let’s say I’m on TikTok. Just for…I do use TikTok.
RICARDO SIGNES: Well, that’s great!
BJ FOGG: And my partner walks in the room and asks me a question. So after my partner asks me a question, I will put my technology face down and listen. So rather than trying to continue to do TikTok or whatever and have a conversation, create this habit of, I just put the technology down and I pay attention, and I have the human interaction. Similar thing with, say, going to dinner, whether it’s in a restaurant or a dinner party is, after I park at the restaurant, I will put my phone on airplane mode, so the technology is not distracting you from the human-human connection.
BJ FOGG: And there’s a set of things you could do under that umbrella we could get more granular on, but I just chose, let’s prioritize human to human relationships and not let technology compromise it.
RICARDO SIGNES: It seems to be almost self-evident that my phone can be a great prompt to help me do things. It can be a great ability multiplier to get certain things done. Do you have any specific things you think are worth talking about? How are we not thinking about the best ways to use it to defend our behavior in positive ways?
BJ FOGG: Yeah, there’s a lot to that. Let me start here. One of the things I advocate is do not use your…Do not bring the phone into your bedroom. And my Stanford students, they’re like, “Well, that’s how I wake up. That’s my alarm clock.”
RICARDO SIGNES: It’s mine, too.
BJ FOGG: And then my response is, “Buy a real alarm clock. Buy a real one.” Because having the phone right there next to you all night and in the morning and so on, just creates, for most people, not the situation you want. Either you’re waking up or you’re spending time scrolling in bed and all that. So, just make that change. That’s probably the simplest thing that may have the biggest comparative benefit. Next, go in and fine tune all your notifications, and be really, really tough about what can notify you and what cannot. All the way from Slack to your heart rate monitor to texts and on and on and on. Really take control of your notifications.
BJ FOGG: And I do that a lot. And then to get even more granular is I just don’t answer the phone ever if I don’t know who’s calling. Just as policy. And that helps me not get distracted from projects I’m working on, because if I’m working on something and the phone rings, I don’t even think twice about it. It’s like, I don’t know who that is, I just stay on my project. I don’t get distracted. I don’t get frustrated by a robocall. There’s a lot. But I tried to go to some really common things that would be practical and have impact right away.
RICARDO SIGNES: What do you like getting a notification for? What do you find is actually helpful to you to get your phone to ping?
BJ FOGG: Dad texting me or my mom texting me saying, “Hey, we want to chat.” Or my students, I mean, that’s how I tell my students to reach me. I say, “Hey, text me to see if I can talk in the next 30 minutes.” And if I can, I will. So, to set up a human-human conversation or experience that matters to me, I think that’s the best use of notifications for sure. Let me see, I’m going to look at my own phone. What else? I missed the boat on the little red circle with the number inside and people were talking about a few years ago, and I was like, “What are you talking about?” They pointed it out, and I said, “I’ve never even noticed that before.”
RICARDO SIGNES: You’re better off.
BJ FOGG: I know, right? Because I guess some people just have this compulsion. I’ve got to get rid of all those little red circles. And I was like…
RICARDO SIGNES: It’s easy to get rid of those. You just hit read all, and you’re done.
BJ FOGG: Yeah. You know what, you made me, helped me see, there’s almost nothing that we need to be notified for that’s really worth it. Except for bringing humans together.
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah. I’m pleased to hear that. That’s also my policy. Now, the other thing, and I don’t know if this is a topic that’s worth getting into, but on this topic, I know that the behavior lab was doing a project on screen time reduction, and are there things that have come out of this that are interesting?
BJ FOGG: Yeah. So if people want to find it, it’s at screentime.stanford.edu.
RICARDO SIGNES: Great.
BJ FOGG: Well, what the students and then the researchers in my lab pulled together is the largest set of techniques and products to help people have a healthy relationship with their screen, which mostly means reducing screen time, the largest set. We have over 150 different solutions and techniques and products, and then what we built on the front end is this little cutesy character that we call ScreenTime Genie, and she asked you a few questions, like what device are concerned about? And you might say mobile phones. Well, what is it that you’re doing on the mobile phone? Is it YouTube, video games? Oh, it’s video games. And then we might get a little more granular. And then based on your answer, it says, “Bam, here are three things to try, either techniques or products to help you with that kind of screen time.”
RICARDO SIGNES: Okay. That sounds good. Honestly, what I need to do is take the phone out of my bedroom. That’s obviously step number one. The book told me and you told me, and so I’ll just, I’ll go ahead. Okay, so we’ve talked about removing bad habits from the garden and what good ones we want to establish. Today, I was thinking about the question of my phone telling me that I’m doing a great job by doing something that actually doesn’t benefit me at all, and ask myself the question, “If we have a boundary, how do we know when we’ve crossed this?”
BJ FOGG: Yeah. If this technology is helping me do what I already wanted to do, then it’s probably taking us in the right direction. If it’s getting you to do something that part of you wants to do, but the more noble part of you says, “Maybe not,” then it might be taking you in the wrong direction. And for some people, maybe TikTok is a great thing to do. My partner uses TikTok to de-stress. He’s in his seventies, and I actually introduced him to TikTok, and I said, “Okay, I may regret this someday, but pandemic, you are stressed out. You don’t have a great way to decompress. Here’s TikTok.” He loves TikTok. He does it every evening. It helps him wind down. It makes him laugh. It gives us something extra to talk about, and so on, but he’s not on TikTok for hours and hours. So, a solution like TikTok may be taking hours and hours away from teenage lives. It may be distracting college students from studying.
BJ FOGG: So, it really is the person, the action, and the context, all three of those things we have to take into account. But if being on TikTok is getting in the way of you connecting with somebody in real life, of being productive, of getting sleep and so on, you’ve got to step back and go, “Well, maybe TikTok is kind of a bad thing in my life, and I need to uproot this, and get rid of this weed.”
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah. If we can simply reflect on what’s the actual practical effect this has on me and people talk about gamifying things, which turns into, “Oh, gamifying is how we change people’s behavior.” What’s really going on here?
BJ FOGG: I help a lot of industry innovators. I never suggest to gamify it. That is certainly not the golden ticket to change behavior. And maybe others would disagree with me, but that’s never what I suggest. But when you look at games, I mean, these kinds of dynamics of competition and cooperation and recognition have existed long before video games. And then video games came along, what, in the seven days with pong and stuff like that. And so they’ve evolved. So it’s not like they’re something entirely new, there’s been an evolution, but it does feel different today because now you have these social games that go on and on that are very consuming.
BJ FOGG: And you do feel like you’re connecting socially with people and you do feel like you’re part of a tribe or a team. And so it’s really reached into certain people’s lives in a much, much deeper way. I’ll just say it this way, maybe, and you can follow on is: so many people say, “Oh, this person’s addicted to their phone.” No, they’re not addicted to their phone. There are certain apps or experiences on their phone that might be super compelling to them, but it’s not the phone. And I think that’s important. And here’s why, because when I see headlines like mobile phone addiction, blah, blah, blah, when you don’t define the problem clearly, it’s very hard to solve the problem. It’s not the phone. It’s the experiences we have through the phone. And some apps are terrific. I’m using Notion. One of my students is the CEO of Notion and another one is BizDev director. I love it. Am I addicted to Notion? I don’t know. I use it every day. I would be very sad if it went away.
RICARDO SIGNES: The notes for this call are in Notion.
BJ FOGG: Yeah, Notion’s awesome. And so if they’ve made that easy to use and they’ve made it so I feel successful using it.
RICARDO SIGNES: How much of this is about games and how much is about the idea of something competing to get your time, or your time is a resource that it can benefit from consuming, and free games want to do that.
BJ FOGG: I’m going to answer it in a way you don’t expect, but I think it’s an important answer. Maybe it’s the most important thing that I’ll say. We humans seek to be successful, and anything that tells us that we’re succeeding, we’re going to do more of. Whether that’s using Notion to help me feel like I’m succeeding and managing my information coordinating, or whether it’s a video telling me I’m succeeding at getting faster to the next level, and what people are seeking in playing those games or doing TikTok or whatnot is they have a need and they want to feel successful in some way to achieve the need.
BJ FOGG: So it’s that feeling of success, and that, I would wager, now I haven’t studied this scientifically, but let’s stereotype, and there’s a 12 year old boy who’s very much into VR and is getting deeper and deeper into VR. It’s not the headset. It’s not VR necessarily that’s pulling that boy in. It’s that VR is giving him the feeling of success faster, deeper, and more on demand than anything else in his life. And if there was something else in his life that was helping him feel successful, faster, intensely, and on demand more than that VR game, that point would be doing that other thing. And so it really comes down to understanding that people are compelled to succeed, to feel successful. And that’s what these games are doing in spades. And that’s the essence of it. And so I have a project where I’m exploring if we help people feel successful in other ways, does it then reduce their drive or dependence on getting that feeling of success from digital technology?
BJ FOGG: In terms of video games, I think it’s nuanced. Some people just want a break from reality. Some people want to connect socially with others. Some people want to see that they are getting more skilled at something. A video game can deliver on all three of those and probably a dozen other things, and so I don’t think it’s the same for every person who plays a lot of video games. I think it’s going to different needs or aspirations that they have. This is why in the book, Tiny Habits, that emotion of feeling successful, I gave it a name. I call it “shine” because there was not a word for this emotion, but now that we have this word, what I’m hoping is we can talk about it more specifically, and we can recognize how we receive shine, whether it’s through technology or other people, but especially how we can give other people shine.
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah. The concept of shine is really interesting to me, but going back to what you mentioned earlier, we have all this technology now that connects us in lots of new ways and we don’t want to stop using it altogether. What are some healthy ways that we can use technology on a daily basis?
BJ FOGG: Yeah. I mean, if we just want to talk about the mobile phone, there’s so many great things the phone does. I call my parents every day. You can probably hear that’s a theme. I mean, to manage our closest relationships and strengthen our closest relationships is probably the most noble use of the mobile phone. We take pictures with it, and for me that’s important, not only to connect with people, but for my own memory. A colleague came over to our home last night and her daughter played violin for us. She played three or four songs, and it was so great.
BJ FOGG: And then as they were leaving, I went out and I took a picture of them with my partner, because I wanted to remember that moment. Because without that, I know I’m not going to remember it, but with it, I’ll remember the feeling and everything else that goes along with it. So at least in those two ways, bringing us together and helping us, I guess that’s kinda specific, recall wonderful times of our lives through pictures.
RICARDO SIGNES: I mean, you’re absolutely right. I mean, we’re old enough to remember what film was. Taking a picture of anything you pleased wasn’t an option. You had to decide, is this worth one of my 24 slots? And now, I take dozens of pictures a day. You’re absolutely right. It’s specific, but terrific. Let me ask you if people want to look into this five day, the free Tiny Habits program, where can they find that?
BJ FOGG: Tinyhabits.com, but specifically it’s tinyhabits.com/join, so that you can join the five day program.
RICARDO SIGNES: Thanks a lot for your time. It’s a great conversation that’s left me with a lot of things.
BJ FOGG: Well thank you for asking those questions, and you got me talking about some stuff that really I haven’t talked about lately, but I think they’re really important issues.
RICARDO SIGNES: Well, I know your work is centered around behavior and behavior design, and our podcast is focused around digital citizenship. So, I was wondering if you’d leave our listeners with a few practical steps they could take towards becoming better digital citizens.
BJ FOGG: I don’t have them in mind yet, but I’m going to come up with them. They’re all going to have to do with habits or helping other people with habits with technology. I do think there is at least one social networking platform that exploits people and is ultimately not good for people. So for me to call that out, at least my colleagues and my friends, it’s being a good citizen to alert people of dangers in certain social platforms. It’s being a good citizen to help people understand that certain web browsers track so much of what you do and are gathering so much information about you and helping people use perhaps a browser that does less of that. That’s being a good citizen.
BJ FOGG: That’s point number two. It’s being a good citizen to sit down with somebody who may not know how to change his or her notifications and do it with them or do it for them, serve them by using your skill and your insight to do that. So that’s number three. Another way to be a good digital citizen is to speak up when something is exploitive, and that might be through reviews, that’s being a good citizen. And then the last one, I’ll do a positive spin. Just like you would in your community, if there is something good and worthwhile and worthy going on, helping others get involved. If there’s a good digital experience, that’s ennobling and helpful, and we’ve used Notion as an example, so going to go with that, and being a good citizen it’s to share that with other people, just like you would share a wonderful resource in your community with other people. So I do think it’s not just about the dangers or the problems, but it’s about promoting and sharing those things that make/help us be happier and healthier.
RICARDO SIGNES: Well, that’s it. That’s the conversation. I had a great time recording. I hope you enjoyed listening to it. Hope you got something out of it.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Are you actually going to make any habit changes to your digital life after talking to BJ?
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah. Now you got to hear me say, I’m still struggling with the idea of how do I take the goals I want to achieve and boil them down to tiny habits, but he definitely, there are some, and the one that he called out to me specifically is move your phone out of your bedroom. It’s great advice. I got to buy an alarm clock and then the phone can sit in the next room. And if I need the phone in the middle of the night, I can decide whether I need it enough to get out of my bed. I think that’s a great one. I’m going to give it a go and report back in a couple months, see how it went.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Can we get a report on all your other habits, Rik? I know that you actually, I thought this was so interesting because of course you are a habitual tracker of your habits, and I think that’s incredibly admirable. And so your takeaways from a conversation like this are much more meaningful because you do use habits to move you towards a lot of your goals.
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah. And I’ll say one thing about that, and it’s the interaction with the things that BJ talked about. I do track my habits and I used to do a much better job than I do these days, but I do have a lot of technology that I’ve made to help me track my habits, and it’s worked off and on, depending on my mood and, I don’t know, other things that seem out of my control, but what BJ has talked about is the way that these habits are reinforced not only through repetition, and he says it’s not grit. It’s not, if you do this for 30 days straight, it’s going to stick around forever. It’s the positive, emotional reinforcement from the feeling of success in doing the habit, and something he mentions is if you do the habit that you want to reinforce, when you’re done, feel good about it. Tell yourself you did a good job, pat yourself on the back.
RICARDO SIGNES: Say, “I just did that thing.” And I think that might be something that’s been missing from my own habit tracking, that I’ve done a lot of work to give myself the prompt to do things. I have motivation to do things, but if I don’t… If I come out of it only feeling like, well, I got that done, I’m not sure it’s going to reinforce itself. And so that’s something else I’d like to in take and try to build into my daily practice
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: Made me feel a lot better about always going to get a coffee after I finish a run.
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah, there you go.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: And why it’s very important to listen to the ta-da sound when you finish the crossword puzzle. Well, so what do you think the key takeaways from the conversation are, Rik?
RICARDO SIGNES: I think we spent a lot of time interacting with computers. It’s in our web browsers, applications on our phone, video games in our living room. BJ says nobody gets addicted to their phone. You get addicted to maybe a specific application that gives you specific feelings that give you something you need. When we are doing something with technology, we should think about, what are we doing and why are we doing it? And are those reasons that are going to help us achieve our real goals? So if I was going to name another tiny habit, and maybe I should ask BJ what he thinks about this one, it would be that when I sit down to use my computer, when I turn on my Nintendo, when I unlock my phone, maybe especially, I’m just going to say what I’m doing. Maybe I’ll say it in my head, if I’m on the bus, I just don’t want to feel a little too weird about it, but just, I’m unlocking my phone to look at the weather, that’s it.
RICARDO SIGNES: And if it goes, well, maybe when I’m done and I put my phone away, I’ll say, “Good job, you checked the weather.” And if it’s been 30 minutes since I unlocked my phone, and I don’t remember why I opened my phone, maybe I’ll learn something about the habit I already have and figure out how to make changes and put it away as soon as I accomplish what I wanted. That’s my takeaway, and I think that might be a good one for some other people to try, too.
HELEN HORSTMANN-ALLEN: All right. I feel like my takeaway was, all that time I spend helping my parents with their devices, helping my friends, telling people about the value of password managers, or explaining two-factor authentication, that’s actually really valuable, and it is putting some good digital citizenship into the world. I think a lot of us end up having these conversations because we’re just the local tech guru, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it does feel more meaningful to me to think about that being something that’s going to help their lives be better and help their online life, which is becoming so much of our everyday life, better.
RICARDO SIGNES: Yeah, that’s right. And what I like about the two different things that we’ve chosen is that I’ve named something that I would like to change for my own benefit, for the benefit of me and my life and my happiness. And you’ve talked about the habits that you have, the behaviors that you have to help other people with their engagement with online life and with the internet. Both of these are important. They’re both part of citizenship. Being a citizen means being part of a group, and it means being an individual in the group.
RICARDO SIGNES: Thank you for listening to Digital Citizen. Digital Citizen is produced by Fastmail, the email provider of choice for savvy digital citizens everywhere. Producer is Paul Colligan. Our assistant producers are Haley Hnatuk and Lenore Hart. Special thanks to the incredible team of people behind Fastmail. Digital Citizen is hosted by me, Fastmail CTO Ricardo Signes. You can subscribe to our show in your favorite podcast player. For a free one-month trial of Fastmail, go to fastmail.com/podcast. And for more episodes, transcripts, and my takeaways, you can go to the podcast website at fastmail.com/digitalcitizen.