S4E4 Transcript: How to Thrive in the Digital World with Susan Reynolds

Cathy Curtis: Susan Reynolds, thanks so much for joining me on my podcast. I’m excited to talk to you about LookUp.Live.

Susan Reynolds: It’s great to be here, and chat to a different audience. Because I’m usually speaking to teachers and students themselves. But I think speaking to those in the workforce, but as well as any parents or people that work with gen z. It’ll be really relevant.

Cathy Curtis: Susan, you’re making such a good point, thank you for bringing that up. So my audience is other financial advisors like me, mostly independent advisors who run their own businesses. And then also, my clientele is mostly women.

Cathy Curtis: And I have to say that a lot of us advisors use social media in a big way, including me. I started using it back in 2008 to market myself, that was important for me because of my age. It wasn’t to connect with my friends necessarily, it was to market myself.

Cathy Curtis: And I have to admit, as I was getting ready for this podcast, I can relate to so many of the things that those kids are talking about. Because I’ve been using social media for so long. So I know my audience is going to have a genuine interest in what you have to say.

Cathy Curtis: So with that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How you founded your nonprofit? And I think it was with your mother, is that right?

Susan Reynolds: Yes. So going back quite a while, I was a middle school English and social studies teacher for 20 years. And sort of, I mean I started self-admittedly my age, but I started teaching in 1986, and ended teaching in 2006. So if we look at what happened in the middle there, technology came on the scene. And I had never really known anything about technology, but I was a curriculum developer.

Susan Reynolds: And so when the headmaster said we hired this director of technology, he’s crawling around in the attic, wiring the school, I need a tech plan. And I said okay, what’s a tech plan? He said go talk to Michael. And Michael was the director who was crawling in the attic. He said go on the internet, and I literally said, and this is 1997, what is the internet? He sent me to the internet, and the interesting thing that happened was I actually felt my brain speed up. I felt this change. So I dug into all this research, and the research literally was saying that, was predicting internet addiction. It was predicting the promise in peril in education for youth. So right off the bat.

Cathy Curtis: This was 1997?

Susan Reynolds: 1997.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: Tapscott wrote a book growing up digital.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: So right off the bat. I worked with it, I watched the change as technology came on the scene and the distractibility of it. And I would say that really started watching my students use AOLIM. So they were working on a computer, a word processor, writing a paper with the little box in the corner. And kids weren’t doing their homework. So that gives you a framework of the longevity of this.

Susan Reynolds: I ended up leaving teaching. I wrote a young adult novel, I became a yoga teacher, I became very interested in mindfulness. And I noticed that when I had my phone in my hand, I was not mindful, right? So I started digging in, what is going on? Like why can’t I teach yoga and meditate? But then if my phone is around, I’m totally out of focus, not in the present moment. And at the same time, I learned about the mental health crisis on college campuses.

Susan Reynolds: And for whatever reason I’d sort of missed it. And this was in 2014, and there was a sentence from the Stanford provost that said, college students have never been more anxious, depressed, addicted. I mean self-harming, lonely, isolated, I mean this really tragic sentence. And as I began to dig into this, no one was really talking about what it meant to live in the digital age. No one was really talking about the impact of social media in any causative way.

Susan Reynolds: There was correlative data out there, but there wasn’t anything specifically targeting it. It was just noticing patterns. And so I started how I think a lot of people in my field who were working on these issues start. You start talking to teachers, you start talking to parents, and you start talking from an adult perspective, what students, what youth should be doing.

Susan Reynolds: And I went along like that until I started really talking to college students themselves, and what I recognized is their lives on social media are really very different than our lives on social media. And the reason for that is as they’re developing their identity, their digital identity is woven right into who they are, and I’ll give you an example.

Susan Reynolds: A young woman at Princeton, she’s an athlete, she said Susan I’ve had my Instagram since sixth grade. And so if you tell me to put my phone down, I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself, right? Like I’m somewhat invisible, and that was this recognition of wow, adults are trying to solve the problem for youth, but who’s asking youth about their pain points and what their solutions are?

Cathy Curtis: She was a gen z age person, right?

Susan Reynolds: Yes, this was in 2018. I’m trying to think when I started really working on lookup gen z was really kids born after 1997. So 1995-97. So these youth are now out of college, so around 25. But at the time, it was really focused in on college students and high school students. The only reason I focused in on college students first was I felt like at least high school students had some sort of gatekeeper of their technology, whether parents, whether teachers, the structure of school with such that they could be told you can’t have your phone in a classroom, a parent could take a phone away to sleep.

Susan Reynolds: Now this is not across the board, this is not all parents, we are all teachers. But I felt like if students hadn’t had any sort of training or even thought about regulating their own technology. We were seeing at this time a lot of college students weren’t making it out of freshman year. So it wasn’t really common, but boys might play Minecraft and stay up all night and not do their work.

Susan Reynolds: And I heard about boys in that category coming home, not having have made it through the freshman year. Girls on the other hand, and these are very stereotypical but very general. Social media tended to be what captured girls, and so they could stay up too late. I mean, it interfered with sleep, and then we can get into all of the things that can happen on social media. But just the fact that there was this distraction that was very hard to control.

Cathy Curtis: And this is college-age students like you’re saying, they grew up with it. Maybe they had some parental control maybe as teenagers. But then they get to college and there’s no one supervising them. It’s almost like an extension of themselves, and they’re full on into it.

Susan Reynolds: Right.

[12:04] Why technology is so addictive and how it’s contributing to our mental health crisis.

Cathy Curtis: And it is addictive, right? I mean, if there’s research science whatever that says yes this is an addictive behavior.

Susan Reynolds: Well, and it’s an addictive behavior because more and more research has come out of the algorithmic design of it. And this is a big piece of the whole issue around this is tech companies concerned more about profit than the impact on people. And the algorithms being designed by brilliant neuroscientists.

Cathy Curtis: Right.

Susan Reynolds: But it’s just gotten more and more, the algorithms are smarter.

Cathy Curtis: Well yes, and there’s been leaps and bounds made in brain research in the last decade or two as well. And all those firms are appropriating research to create profit.

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely.

Cathy Curtis: I mean, wouldn’t it be great if they could turn the algorithms around where it created a good healthy environment, instead of the environment we’re in? And I’m sure that’s possible too.

Susan Reynolds: There is a call for it. There is. I don’t think a profit-based model, which I think is why regulation is so needed. Because I mean, tech companies well, any company, right? I mean, any public or private company needs to have earnings. And so the problem, there’s that conflict between the business model. And it’s become, some people call it the attention economy, where our attention is actually the commodity.

Cathy Curtis: So yes, and unfortunately us humans are attracted to scary, sensational things more than we are happy, benign things. Look at the evening news, why did they do that? Ten stories about crime and bad things, before they ever get to one good story, there’s a reason for that.

Susan Reynolds: Right, absolutely.

Cathy Curtis: That’s the way our brains work, and how detrimental when it comes to young people who’s they don’t have the maturity level. But I have to say it’s not just young people, I think older people can get just as addicted.

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely. And I think the question, I mean in looking at the mental health crisis, I mean there’s a mental health crisis across the board, so it’s not saying just youth. But the specifics and the statistics of the mental health crisis among college students is really frightening, and it was frightening in 2014, it was frightening in 2018, and now, this was all before the pandemic. So the pandemic just added to an existing problem. But it also raised the awareness around the impact of living in the digital world, and digital overload was not something I needed to explain. Whereas before, I might need to explain what digital overload and digital addiction was.

Cathy Curtis: Right, no, everybody knows that now. When did you start your non-profit then, in what time frame?

Susan Reynolds: So the example I gave you of the young woman who said Susan, our identities are woven into our phone, it isn’t. It isn’t sort of something outside.

Susan Reynolds: And because if you think about all the socialization in the community and everything that teenagers go through to create a network, to create their friends’ groups, peer pressure and their self-esteem all woven into the digital. So that was a big clue to me. And at the same time my mom, Anne Reynolds have been very involved in non-profits in the bay area around education and mental health.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: And we have many conversations about this, and so when I said I think I have this idea that what I’m doing educating teachers and parents isn’t really what I want to be doing, I want to be working directly with college students. And I went to Dartmouth college, and Dartmouth’s entrepreneurship center, the Magnuson center for entrepreneurship at Dartmouth, they are open to alumni as well as students and faculty.

Susan Reynolds: And so I spent some time there talking about the issue, talking to students at Dartmouth, hearing their pain points of what it was like living in the digital age, as well as framing it around the mental health issues that they saw on campus. And it was then that Jamie Coughlin, he was the director, he said well, we give founders grants, why don’t we give a grant with a specific question around solving this problem.

Susan Reynolds: And so it all sort of came together, and we used human-centered design and design thinking, and actually ran a design-a-thon at Dartmouth, which asks for identifying the problem and creating solutions. And that’s really where it came about that we offered a grant to students who could solve for digital addiction, digital overload to create more tech life balance.

Cathy Curtis: Oh, that’s fascinating.

Susan Reynolds: Yes, really fascinating. And then we reached out to other universities, and we ended up working with university of Arizona and San Diego University, and the universities worked with us, ran this different design, challenges. Had this big plan to bring all the youth together at BlackRock in San Francisco, because I had given a talk there and voila, the pandemic hit. So we did what everybody else did, right? We brought the whole idea of look up to the digital world.

Cathy Curtis: Okay. And now you have a summit in October, right?

Susan Reynolds: Yes. So it was one of these, I mean it’s sort of any career path or any company or decision you make, all these things just lined up. So the pandemic hit, which made our plans to do everything in person impossible. But we could reach a lot more youth being virtual and we could bring experts and sort of what we call adult allies together with the students, to hear their ideas and give suggestions.

Cathy Curtis: Because the positive side of the internet and digital connection.

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely. And there’s this promise in peril and tech life balance, and it’s not all bad, right? I mean, there’s so many positive aspects of social media and living in the digital world. And I think for students themselves, that was a really important point for us to make.

Cathy Curtis: Yes.

Susan Reynolds: We’re not saying it’s bad. But it’s this constant message and task of how do we take advantage of all the positive aspects, and mitigate the negative.

[20:04] How digital wellbeing relates to self-care.

Cathy Curtis: So, it’s kind of like defining what is digital well-being.

Susan Reynolds: Well, I think it’s in multiple arenas if we just take sort of the work environment right now, the virtual work environment. Digital well-being is managing the digital world in a balanced way. And I mean, it can fold over right into self-care, right?

Susan Reynolds: Some people schedule meetings where they have a 15-minute break. And they don’t use that 15-minute break to check up on emails or check their phone. But they get up and they walk outside and do all these things that boost resilience, boost happiness. And actually, in the long run, make you more productive. So that’s an example.

Cathy Curtis: You can turn on your internet. You can tell your phone let me know if I’ve been on here for too long.

Susan Reynolds: Exactly.

Cathy Curtis: There are tools, I want to tell you a little personal anthem here. So I use Instagram, I have a personal account and a business account. I didn’t know there was an upgrade, because I guess I don’t pay that much attention. So I was using the old version of Instagram for a long time. And I noticed the app got kind of funky, it was hard to use. I thought there’s something wrong here, there’s got to be an upgrade. So I upgraded. And I upgraded to this weird new format that you click on something and then you get all these videos all of a sudden.

Cathy Curtis: And I said oh my gosh, this is what everybody’s talking about. The old platform all you saw was who you wanted to see, this new platform you see who and also all these other people and it scrolls and scrolls and scrolls, that’s done on purpose, right?

Susan Reynolds: Oh, absolutely.

Cathy Curtis: And probably the other app didn’t work, because they really wanted you to switch over to the new app, and now I’m wondering is there any way to turn that off and I just found out there is from another Instagram user that’s frustrated by this new interface. So I mean, I’ve personally experienced this, and I found myself watching these videos, just getting entranced by them. Some of them are really funny, and you it’s an addictive thing, there’s no doubt it.

Susan Reynolds: Well, it’s interesting too, because this is where the profit model comes in. So Instagram is miming itself after Tik-Tok. And one of the problems of these videos is they’re getting shorter and shorter and shorter, and so we’re not able to attend to lengthier videos conversations, right? Because the brain gets trained in needing to switch all the time. So that knowledge of what you can do, what?

Cathy Curtis: Do kids read books anymore? I mean, do they have the attention?

Susan Reynolds: It’s really hard, it’s really hard. And then yes, and if you think about everything being online, your textbooks and reading. I mean, one of the common digital well-being tasks is print out a reading and pick up a pencil and take notes on that hard copy, because that physical act increases your comprehension and ability to focus.

Susan Reynolds: So part of digital well-being is knowing these strategies that help with attention and focus and productivity, so that’s one whole side of digital well-being. And then there’s the whole mental health aspect of it, is not just how long you’re on social media or Netflix or whatever is grabbing your attention, that you don’t intend to be grabbed, I think is one way to think about it. But then what you’re actually seeing on Instagram and Tik-Tok and social media.

Susan Reynolds: And I think for youth, the comparative culture is huge. And even thinking about comparing a curated, right? Totally altered photo of a friend, because a celebrity is one thing, but if it’s of a friend. And then if someone just turns around and looks at themselves in the mirror no makeup, right? No curation, that just that feeling is, so youth don’t feel as good about themselves.

Susan Reynolds: Their self-esteem is really severely impacted. And the other piece that’s really very interesting and probably we haven’t heard of before is quantified personality. So quantified popularity and personality. So what you think is you’re popular by how many likes and followers you have, which is going to lead to more comparison culture, right?

Susan Reynolds: And more not feeling good enough, and FOMO and fear of missing out, keeping you on the devices longer. So that all of the things that you would be doing if you weren’t on the device that would make you feel better is not really happening.

Cathy Curtis: Right. And then the influencer culture, which I’m sure a lot of you think that’s easy to get to and it’s not, and it takes tremendous amount of hours online. But everyone’s following those people.

Susan Reynolds: Right. So what’s been interesting for us with, because this is our third year. The first year, we worked specifically in colleges and then we had sort of an open call for solutions from students, and during the pandemic, it was a little different. We still had digital overload and tech life balance as a question, how might we solve for. But we really asked the other questions where how might we solve for social isolation and loneliness.

Susan Reynolds: Because of the pandemic, so much of this was such a big problem, but also digital activism. So more on that positive side of how might we use these devices, and this was really during the whole Black Lives Matter movement and youth were really feeling very empowered. Because you could be a change agent and you didn’t need transportation, you didn’t need funds necessarily.

Susan Reynolds: So really, listening to students and what they saw were the struggles, and then also talking about what they were doing. And I think it’s very interesting if we look at gen z as a group, they’re very committed to social change and political change, and creating solutions for climate change.

Cathy Curtis: In my work, they’re ESG investors, environmental social governance investors almost 100 percent, they really care.

Susan Reynolds: Right. And gen z is really, they’re also growing up in an era where there are a lot of problems to solve. So it’s so many choices, and they really feel committed to do that. And some leaders, because it’s not everybody, but these amazing leaders out there say it’s really not cool if you don’t have a cause. So there’s a positive, it’s always this positive and the negative.

Susan Reynolds: So the new change agents because we’ve really seen is a potential for regulation and legislation. Because when I started this work, people would sort of say oh yes right. Legislation, you’re not going to get in, that’s not possible.

[28:33] The pending legislation around digital wellbeing at the state and federal levels.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. Didn’t Francis Haugen cause a big shift in that? Because I know legislation has been proposed for years, and there’s been some past, but nothing about this issue. But since she testified, it seems like there’s more and more, and there is a bill pending right now. I would love you to talk a little bit about the legislation that’s pending in California and at the federal level.

Susan Reynolds: Yes, absolutely. So what Francis Haugen’s research did, and the research all the way up into that point. There was a lot of correlative data. But there was arguments or disagreement on whether it was really truly causative. Like whether social media was actually causing harms.

Susan Reynolds: Francis’s data because it was research done by Facebook secretly within Facebook. Where they came out and it was a direct causative relation, that a third of teenage girls were suffering from self-esteem issues, and body image issues from Instagram. So there it was, it was directed. And I think the other thing that happened was in the UK, they passed a bill, an appropriate design code, which I can talk about.

Cathy Curtis: Yes.

Susan Reynolds: They passed it in the UK, the arguments from tech companies was always or often number one, it won’t make a change, and number two, it will take away innovation.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: What happened in the UK was they found that it did not take away innovation.

Cathy Curtis: In what way? What did they mean by that?

Susan Reynolds: So that those regulations and those strict rules around design, would sort of hamper technological process, and would actually hamper the ability to create better platforms for people’s well-being.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: But in the UK, they actually saw that it increased innovation, and the changes were having an impact. And so Google let’s say would have to change something, the way they designed it for the UK. But it would fold over into the other design aspects.

Susan Reynolds: And one of the big things is, social media let’s say is designed for a 12-year-old the same way it is designed for a 40-year-old. And so if we think about other products and other regulated laws in the U.S or in the world, that’s not the case. And so the call really was to change the way things were designed for children.

Cathy Curtis: Under the age of?

Susan Reynolds: Under the age of 18.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: It started with under the age of 13, and these bills are calling for under the age of 18 saying they’re still minors. And a lot of it is privacy, children’s privacy. And what they call the dark box of the algorithm, that there’s no transparency, the companies don’t say how these algorithms are working it.

Susan Reynolds: So the baroness diver came to the U.S herself and helped write a California bill, it’s called the California age appropriate design code. Based on the same issues of designing technology that a child would be likely to use. So likely to use, so even though a 12-year-old is not supposed to be using Instagram, because it’s 13 and up, they are. So how might we design these platforms to be safer.

Cathy Curtis: So let me ask, so in the UK, 12 years and under aren’t supposed to be using Instagram?

Susan Reynolds: That’s across the board, social media is 13 and up.

Cathy Curtis: Okay, that’s it.

Susan Reynolds: I mean, that’s the rule, it’s not followed. And it’s becoming increasingly younger and younger, I mean eight and nine-year-old are on Instagram and Snapchat, and they’re not designed for youth brains. So that’s a big piece of this.

Susan Reynolds: So the California age-appropriate design code has made it through the assembly, two committees in the assembly, the assembly floor, and it just passed through the senate judiciary, and is on its way to the senate appropriations, and then the floor. And this was the first time we as LookUp was asked for youth advocates.

Susan Reynolds: So in our third iteration of the work we’re doing with LookUp, we now have a question about advocacy solutions. And some of the student’s advocacy solutions are involved with storytelling and filmmaking and podcasting, to raise awareness and reach forward. But we actually had youth testify in committee, as well as write petitions and get their peers to sign petitions. And recently, so that’s one California bill.

Cathy Curtis: Is that called the kids online safety act or is that different?

Susan Reynolds: So that’s the senate bill, that’s the federal bill.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: There’s another California one called the social media platform duty to children act. I mean, we walked around calling them 2273 and 2408.

Cathy Curtis: I bet.

Susan Reynolds: But that one’s very different, that one allows parents to sue the companies for the addictive nature of social media.

Cathy Curtis: That is a very serious bill, isn’t it? Will that pass? I just can’t imagine that, but what are the chances.

Susan Reynolds: Well, they both made it all the way through senate judiciary, and now they’re going on to appropriations. I think they’re both going on to appropriations. But the interesting thing about these bills, not in the assembly floor, but in committee, they’ve passed unanimously. And they’re bipartisan bills as well, that’s really exciting.

Cathy Curtis: Authored by both republican and democrats initially, right? Yes.

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely, yes. So it’s not a polarized issue, it’s coming across both parties. The big opponent is the tech companies themselves, because they don’t want this. But from LookUp’s perspective, it’s a whole new arena for us that youth are really powerful.

Cathy Curtis: It must be so exciting, for you, your organization and everyone else involved in this.

Susan Reynolds: Yes, it is.

Cathy Curtis: It must be, because it’s kind of coming to a head in a way.

Susan Reynolds: We think it is, and the idea of California, is if California passes these bills, it just leads the way, not only for other states to pass it, but internationally. Because a lot of countries the European union, Australia, a lot of countries have bills pending. So all it’s going to take is a certain amount, and then the tech companies it’s just going to make sense to just do it across the board.

Cathy Curtis: Right. Going back to the California bill, describe it briefly the main points in that bill. If it passed, what would happen? What would change?

Susan Reynolds: So it would require tech companies to design social media differently.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: It would, to work on the algorithmic design and explain, to work on taking away some of the addictive nature. Not to save data of youth, not to provide, to keep adults who youth don’t know away from them. So it’s really thinking about the health and safety of children

Cathy Curtis: Okay. So taking an example of a young girl for example, that in this Instagram thing, where their self-esteem gets affected by what they see. Will anything in that bill help that situation? As for in the algorithms or what would happen then?

Susan Reynolds: Well, I think the first thing they would have to do is be transparent about how the algorithms work, and change what youth see. So more body positivity. But also, I mean there’s a whole sexuality piece and sextortion, and the ability for adult predators to contact youth. I can’t tell you how many, particularly young women say they have been propositioned or contacted by men seeking.

Cathy Curtis: If you don’t have a private Instagram account as a woman.

Susan Reynolds: It’s shifting those things and putting pressures on the companies.

Cathy Curtis: Okay, gosh and August 1 is the vote, is that correct?

Susan Reynolds: The appropriation, it might be next Tuesday, for the appropriations.

Cathy Curtis: Could be in August one, yes. Could be August on the articles, but that’s already passed.

Susan Reynolds: Yes. Up until appropriations Cosa, the kids online safety act, that’s the national bill with similar privacy laws. Again, from my perspective, the fun thing was there were 28 senators, so 28 states. What we’ve started to do is build a database of youth in California, trying to figure out what counties they’re in. So that was a piece of it. We as adults learned this whole legislative process, but youth are learning it too. And seeing that it matters and that they can actually make a difference.

Cathy Curtis: And when you say youth, these are your staff [Inaudible 00:37:21.06]

Susan Reynolds: So youth I would say is anywhere from 13 to 25. I think in some situations, an op-ed written by a 16- or 17-year-old is even more desirable. But a 24- or 25-year-old talking about their former self, and talking about the harms to them and mental health issues or other issues that have come up is very powerful.

Cathy Curtis: It is, I’ve watched several of them. I’m really intrigued by this your staff, your executive director is very young, right?

Susan Reynolds: She’s pretty young, she’s in her 30s.

Cathy Curtis: Okay, she looks younger than that, okay. But still, you have an extremely youthful stuff.

[41:38] Susan Reynolds describes some of the work her nonprofit LookUp.Live is involved with.

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely, and that’s really a real mission of ours. My executive director before was a friend, we’ll just say in the baby boomer generation. And what we really see look up is this infrastructure to empower, embolden, support financially and with mentorship their innovations, their advocacy, their campaigns for a healthy and safe digital world. I mean, that’s sort of the framework we really look at. And actually, all of their innovations are advocacy. A lot of, well, when the Netflix documentary the social dilemma came out, we were really lucky to have a contact and partner with them.

Susan Reynolds: So our first as we were mentioning our youth for youth summit, we’re coming up our on our third one in October, was partnered with the social dilemma. And so the social dilemma was one of the, was sort of the precursor to Francis Haugen. It revealed a lot of the harms in a documentary that just in a viral way went all over the world. And in our summit, we had the director, Jeff Orlowski, he was the keynote and he really spoke specifically to the youth, and really talked to them about how important they were to the movement, and how to be a change agent.

Susan Reynolds: So it’s been this constant life events happening that really coincided with what we were doing, and brought us in many ways to the next level, [Inaudible 00:40:02.09]

Cathy Curtis: You’re really focusing on that now.

Susan Reynolds: On the advocacy?

Cathy Curtis: Yes.

Susan Reynolds: I think in the beginning, we had a lot of students from an entrepreneurship standpoint create an app, a digital well-being app. We have moved, it’s very difficult to get a startup like that off the ground, and our programs are.

Cathy Curtis: Nobody would know about that have got off the ground, that were developed?

Susan Reynolds: By us, no. What ends up happening is, so we have had this amazing group of young women at Stanford, they created an app called ASMBL, they created it during the pandemic. It was to be a non-addictive platform for all types of social change agents. So they worked on it, got their MVP, their most viable product out.

Susan Reynolds: And just they were going to Stanford, they were competing tasks. And what ended up happening to two of these young women is they said we have to put ASMBL on the shelf, but they are advocates for the movement. And Chloe Schrager was able to go to class with Barrack Obama. So Barrack Obama came and spoke at Stanford and he really spoke about the digital movement in general, and Chloe was able to sit in a class with him, they chose 10 students.

Susan Reynolds: And so she is still a spokesperson for a safer and healthier digital world. So from an app perspective, I don’t think any have really gotten off the ground. And one of the problems with it as well is there are companies working on these digital well-being platforms, and they’re having a hard time as well, right? Just from again because you’re in that profit model.

Susan Reynolds: So an example of an innovation that’s continuing to grow is a young woman Maddie Freeman interviewed Jeff Orlowski, she made her own 15-minute documentary and tied it to a digital detox program called no-so November, so no social media in November, she’s in Colorado. She started this because she saw so many friends and peers die of suicide, so it’s a very mental health focus. But she has developed this campaign that she is promoting and schools are taking it on.

Susan Reynolds: And she learned very quickly that no so November doesn’t mean no social media November. You could take the whole month off from social media. But she gives tips for different ways to take a break from social media. So that’s an example of yes, it’s using a technical platform in the sense of she’s made a film that’s embedded in a website. So it’s a digital solution to spread the message, but it’s not a specific app.

Cathy Curtis: Right, yes. I can imagine developing an app will be tremendously hard.

Susan Reynolds: Well, and I think the other thing they’re finding is, particularly the students that started during the pandemic, that all of a sudden, these apps aren’t needed as much. Because they were developing them for a need that was occurring because we were living through a pandemic.

[47:29] The effect the pandemic has had on technology and social media habits.

Cathy Curtis: Now that the pandemic is waning a bit, what do you see trends changes happening? I’m sure kids were on social media more over the last few years, right? I mean, it didn’t spike in some tremendous amount, thirty percent usage or something?

Susan Reynolds: Yes, and so the problem is changing that habit, getting back in person, getting back outside. I do think one of the debates has been what do you do about schools? Like do you allow phones in schools, how do you do it? How do you regulate it? And I was just speaking with a school in Massachusetts, who it’s a K through nine school, five through nine, has some boarding students, and they’re actually instituting the yondr pouch, which is way y-o-n-d-r.

Susan Reynolds: Which is a pouch that you put your phone in and it locks it up during the day, and then it unlocks it when you leave school. And I was speaking to another middle school teacher, which is really interesting the way it circles back to teaching middle school. She said Susan that is so draconian, don’t you think that they should be learning to regulate it, and I said not in middle school, no. Because if nobody has their phone, no one has their phone, you’re not missing out on anything. One person has their phone and is checking social media, then the rest of them, you’re missing out.

Susan Reynolds: And I also think one of the reasons this is so powerful is when kids go to camp, they go to camp and there’s no phones, many camps say just absolutely no phones. I asked a group of seventh graders, and have any of you gone to camp without phones, a bunch of them raised their hand and tell me about it, oh so much better, so much less stressful. I had so much more fun with my friends, I had better relationships with my friends, and this is middle school and high school.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, so I believe that.

Susan Reynolds: I mean, we can’t live like that, so the trick of digital well-being so to speak is how do we create an environment enough, so that we don’t lose those in-person activities, right? The things that actually boost our mental health I mean.

[50:08] Susan Reynolds shares her vision for the next five years.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. And you don’t develop those addictive behaviors where you don’t even want to talk to your parents at night because you have to be on your phone, I’m sure that happens in a lot of families, very painful. So well, a lot of what you’re saying is very positive. What do you see, I mean as far as the work being done. What do you see, like what’s your vision for the next five years, and what could change and happen?

Susan Reynolds: Well, someone had said what’s your vision for LookUp? I mean it’s not very realistic, one of them is that they don’t need us anymore, right? I mean, I think it’s growing a movement, and allowing more youth, when I say youth, really we work with 18 to 25. High school is just more difficult, because under 18 requires different types of parental permission. And so we’re working, actually we are, youth catalyst is another nonprofit in Oakland, and seven of their youth from actually seven bay area high schools have an internship with us, and they are our marketing company. Are the marketing firm so to speak for the youth for youth summit, that this will be October 15.

Susan Reynolds: And the youth for youth summit is a great way for adults to see what youth are doing, because it’s all run by youth, moderated by youth, youth panels. And it’s really exciting to hear what they’re doing around advocacy, their solutions for mental health. And so one of the things that’s really new that we’re doing this year is we’re bringing in speakers, these amazing sort of awarded mental health advocates in high school and college, to have them discuss the mental health issue, introduce the concept of digital well-being in the digital age, to this group of youth, bringing in that perspective.

Susan Reynolds: Because mental health advocacy has been around longer than digital well-being advocacy, or just because. And so what can these youth learn? What can our youth who are just beginning this advocacy work, particularly when we think about legislation. What can they learn from the mental health advocates? So as we move forward, I keep coming back to my original concern, right? The mental health crisis among college students.

Susan Reynolds: The only reason I say college students and not middle school and high school students, is that’s a population that we can work with in providing solutions and innovations. And they are the biggest speakers for high school students.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Susan Reynolds: Sort of this trickle down the peer mentor, right? Just a couple years younger is easier to listen to than someone much older.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, that makes so much sense to me. So how do you define the mental health crisis with college students, talk about that just a little bit.

Susan Reynolds: So it was interesting. I was just listening earlier today to a webinar by Laurie Santos, Professor Laurie Santos who has the happiness lab, that some of you may have heard of, she’s out of Yale. I hadn’t heard statistics recently. But the concern is that, many colleges, I mean over 50 percent, I didn’t write down her current statistics, feel stressed and overwhelmed. Many feel depressed and anxious so much that they can’t get up and do their work.

Susan Reynolds: One in 10 college students has contemplated suicide. So there’s just a trend of having a really hard time in day-to-day life. And so Laurie’s came from college students from schools like Yale, but it’s not specific to high-powered universities, it’s pretty much across the board. So this sort of lack of hope, and I do find in working with students who are working on a problem, they are more hopeful. But all of the self-care processes of exercise, right? Spending time face to face with friends without devices, spending time in nature, right? All of these things that we know we’re good for us, they’re really good for us.

Susan Reynolds: And so youth and adults who spend time on technology, we sort of like we still have this human body. We still have the ancient brain, we still need people. We still need our tribe, we still need our in-person community. And keeping that alive for the next generations and providing that is just so important to being a human being. Because interestingly enough, our brains have not really changed. We still live in, with the sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system, and our sympathetic nervous system goes into fight, flight or freeze. Technology creates fight, flight or freeze.

Cathy Curtis: Well, what you just said was so beautiful. I think that’s a good time to end our podcast, that statement about how to live life with friends, nature, giving attention to things that make you feel good is so important.

Susan Reynolds: Yes, it’s so important. And so people who say what do I do first? I said well, I just call it the three S’s. Can you study without your phone? Can you sleep without your phone? And can you socialize without your phone and try one. Like the sleeping without your phone just changes everything, especially for kids.

[57:30] How people can get in touch with Susan Reynolds and become more involved with the digital wellness movement.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, that’s good. The three S’s. I like that, perfect. Share with the audience, well, how can we as adults help your advocacy in this movement for digital wellness.

Susan Reynolds: Well, I mean, right here with this group, I mean mentorship for, because each team that gets a grant from us, we provide them with a mentor. And it’s interesting, one of our mentors is a life coach, and it’s been really helpful for her to help them prioritize, they are working on an advocacy campaign, and organizing youth that are interested in working with them. Different types of financial support, project management support. So mentorship is just a one-on-one.

Cathy Curtis: Okay. So tell us how that would work, what would someone need to do to become a mentor?

Susan Reynolds: So they would just reach out to me, Susan@LookUp.Live. I mean, we have a newsletter. Our website is LookUp.Live, which was interesting when you’re getting a website, I mean LookUp is the white pages and the yellow pages, right? So it was hard to get a URL for that. But it really sort of is Look Up and live your life. I mean, it’s the first step of looking up from your phone or your device, or your technology.

Cathy Curtis: Okay, excellent.

Susan Reynolds: And I think the other, we have been really lucky in getting grants from some family foundations.

Cathy Curtis: When you say lucky, I bet it’s not all luck. I bet it’s not all luck, I’m sure you write a really good proposal with really good reasons why you should have grant money.

Susan Reynolds: Well, I mean, we got a grant for advocacy and it just coincided beautifully that we could articulate a real need for it, because of these bills in California. But introductions in knowing organizations that give out grants for youth mental health. The digital piece is new, but it coincides so beautifully with any organizations that support youth, underserved youth just example of providing internships for high school students in the bay area from under-resourced schools.

Cathy Curtis: Right. And then the summit, talk about how you can attend the summit.

Susan Reynolds: So I believe the registration link is live on our website, it’s the Y for Y summit, and it is on October 15th. And it’s a great event that you can come to for one panel or you can hang out all day.

Cathy Curtis: Okay. Do you ever think you’ll go back to live, have you talked about that?

Susan Reynolds: The summit, probably not. But we did have an event in June where we brought five of our leaders together in the bay area, to meet other advocates. And then they spent the day lobbying in Sacramento together, meeting with different senators. So face-to-face is the best, I mean it’s absolutely the best. And so working on more local regional meetups.

Susan Reynolds: It’s amazing though when you bring youth together virtually, and it doesn’t cost any money. I mean, probably across the board for companies finding the profit margin, right? I mean, a virtual versus in person, because if you think about it, we flew five youth to the bay area. We had two others who lived here, but flew them to the bay area and housed them, and so really figuring out how to create more in-person events and locally.

Cathy Curtis: You mentioned BlackRock, were they going to sponsor?

Susan Reynolds: They were going to sponsor our collaborative summit. Yes, you’re right, that’s another example that we, I gave a talk to the women of BlackRock organization, and her name is Diana Angelini.

Susan Reynolds: She invited women from other companies, and I spoke in, they have a, BlackRock in San Francisco and maybe in New York too has as a floor that is like a WeWork. And so it was a perfect collaborative space to bring youth together with mentors, and have them share their ideas. So that’s another great, right? Providing a meeting space.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, I know that space in San Francisco, that’s a great space. Good for them for sponsoring.

Susan Reynolds: I know, unfortunately, the date was April 2020.

Cathy Curtis: Oh dear, well, maybe next year, right?

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely.

Cathy Curtis: We don’t know, we still don’t know when this thing’s going to stop.

Susan Reynolds: Exactly.

Cathy Curtis: It really would be nice to have a live event, considering what you do.

Susan Reynolds: Very much so.

Cathy Curtis: Well Susan, thank you so much. Fascinating topic, and thank you for what you’re doing. I know my listeners are going to just enjoy this so much, and hopefully, sign up for the summit or somehow otherwise get involved.

Susan Reynolds: Yes. And if you have a 16- to 25-year-old that’s really fascinated with this topic, we would love for them to join. I mean, and our grant applications will be up soon and so there’s a lot of ways to get involved.

Cathy Curtis: Okay. Now what does that mean to join for our youth?

Susan Reynolds: So coming to the youth for youth summit, definitely. And we will be opening the 2023 applications to come up with solutions, we’ll be opening that up in September.

Cathy Curtis: Okay, good to know.

Susan Reynolds: And we are also building an advocacy branch that’ll be on the website probably in the next month, to create a database of youth who say I want to participate in the advocacy, I’ll write a letter to my senator, I’ll sign a petition. I want to do a little thing, maybe not a big thing, to be part of that.

Susan Reynolds: And the other thing we’re adding is community service hours for high school students, any work done with Look Up. So there’s another avenue as well.

Cathy Curtis: Perfect. By the way, I was on your website and there was a pop-up to contact your senator, you could fill out a form to contact your senator about this coming up bill in California. So that’s another way.

Susan Reynolds: Yes, that’s another way, absolutely.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, okay great. All right Susan, I could talk to you all day about this, we had a lot of things, but hopefully we got the message across odd and clear about what you do, and frame the problem and hopefully solutions will come.

Susan Reynolds: Absolutely.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. Okay, have a good.

Susan Reynolds: Okay, you too.

Cathy Curtis: All right, bye.

Susan Reynolds: Bye.

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S4E4 Transcript: How to Thrive in the Digital World with Susan Reynolds Read More »