Acknowledge that you want to change the behavior. It could be using your phone less, an app less, or not at all. Whatever it is, you have to acknowledge what you want to change before you can do it.
As a part of my series about 5 Things We Can Do To Create A Healthier Relationship With Screens and Technology, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Hassett.
Matt is the founder and CEO of Loftie, a New York based company dedicated to creating better tech-life balance for people everywhere. Matt began working on the project that eventually became Loftie at the design firm IDEO where he was an Entrepreneur in Residence. Before founding Loftie, Matt worked in communications, policy, and program design at the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Morgan Stanley’s Global Sustainable Finance group, and the City of New York. Matt is a graduate of Brown University and the Harvard Kennedy School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
Thanks for having me! This is my first consumer product and first company, but I’ve always been an entrepreneur and creator. In high school, several friends and I created a student newspaper, raising the money to print it ourselves through car washes and ads. In college, I started a student restaurant where students worked together to prepare a meal for their peers. In what I think of as my previous career(!), I started several new programs and initiatives at what was at the time a startup of a nonprofit. First, a loan program backed by the City of New York and the Ford Foundation that helped homeowners at risk of losing their homes in the wake of the housing crisis avoid that crisis. It later scaled statewide with the support of the New York Attorney General and has kept thousands of families housed. Working for the Attorney General’s office, I also led a statewide awareness campaign warning homeowners about scammers looking to steal their homes or their money.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Another project sponsored by New York State, this one by the Governor’s side of things, FloodHelpNY.org, brought me into the orbit of the renowned design firm IDEO, which I brought on to figure out how to explain this insanely complicated problem of flood insurance (don’t get me started) to homeowners. We helped homeowners near the coasts understand the risks they faced, both from the flooding itself and financially. Because flood insurance costs are going up nationally, many homeowners are at risk of losing their homes even without another catastrophic storm. Working with IDEO was a pivotal experience for me and changed my career trajectory. I spent three summers at IDEO (in the New York office), the iconic design firm that pioneered the notions of design-thinking and human-centered design. Among the many blessings of that time are the people I met, including several members of our team: Lindsay Rodabaugh, our co-creative director, George Hastings, our design director, and Greg Wolos, our industrial designer.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! I’m launching a consumer brand called Loftie. Right out of the gate, for those who don’t know, Loftie is a totally new take on the alarm clock that’s been designed to help people break up with their smartphone alarms and get a better night’s sleep. These days we’re sure of our mission and our product roadmap and all that good stuff. But it wasn’t always like that! Ours has been a journey with a lot of twists and turns, starting with the fact that when we began, we had no intention of creating an alarm clock. What we did have though, and still do to this day, is a desire to help people create a better relationship with technology. And specifically, their smartphones. So the seed idea, the germ, for Loftie came about three years ago. I had a crazy idea to create a cryptocurrency (later, a little simpler: a point system) that rewarded you for spending less time online. So essentially, the more time you spent IRL, the more you earned. But there was a hitch in that we were still encouraging people to monitor their progress via an app, which felt like it discouraged our main goal. So we took a step back. We realized that people’s issues with tech addiction really start at home. From this insight, we were able to make the connection that, while many people revert to their smartphone alarms to wake up in the morning, this seemingly innocuous behavior comes at a cost. We end up exposing our brains to blue light, stress, and getting drawn into email, our work lives and everything else, when what we need to be doing is winding down. At this point, the science is really pretty clear about how much this hurts the quality of our sleep, and by extension the way we feel in our daily lives. So we hit on the humble alarm clock as a subtly powerful way to break the tech addiction cycle and help people sleep better at the same time. Many iterations later, we’ve had a successful Indiegogo campaign and are currently in production on the first round of Lofties, launching in November. Overall, it’s been really interesting to see how an idea can start in one place and come to life in a totally different one.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?
Technology is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s really gotten out of balance. I have personal convictions about this — I have struggled with checking my phone way too often, losing time to social media that would be way better spent elsewhere. Who hasn’t? Besides that, there are so many studies on this issue. For example, even after just one hour of use, screen time is correlated with lower psychological well being. We feel less curious, have less self control, are more distractible, feel less emotionally stable…the list goes on and on. So you can imagine that after 11 hours our sense of well being is put under some serious duress. When it comes to sleep, blue light creates a whole host of health problems, beginning with delaying the release of melatonin that tells our body to wind down. When we don’t sleep adequately, we very well may set ourselves up for serious health problems from diabetes to heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Our phones make it harder for our bodies to listen to their natural daily rhythms. Think about it. This is a tool that has been designed to be used for as many tasks as possible. So it’s no surprise that we feel compelled to check it basically all the time. There’s a subtle but meaningful loss there — smartphones pull us out of whatever we’re doing, and bring us somewhere else. It’s hard to quantify that loss, but it’s very real. Without getting grandiose, I do believe this lack of presence is helping accelerate some of the larger issues we face as a society, from political division to environmental destruction to mental health crises. It’s hard to know how you really feel about something when there’s a device in your pocket constantly asking you to bring your attention somewhere else.
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
- Acknowledge that you want to change the behavior. It could be using your phone less, an app less, or not at all. Whatever it is, you have to acknowledge what you want to change before you can do it.
- Create new boundaries that you can actually respect. Set yourself up for success by starting small and building up to larger goals.
- Put your phone to bed at night and don’t wake up to it first thing in the morning. Can’t say this enough — out of sight, out of mind.
- Choose three things that you can do when the urge to check your phone hits. Reading, exercise, cooking, staring at a wall. Okay not that last one but you get the idea.
- Get a Loftie 😉
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
There are many experts more equipped to answer this specific topic than I (and we’re proud to be partners with many of them through the Digital Wellness Collective), but really it boils down to using these apps less. Go into your phone’s settings. Do not let any apps that aren’t absolutely essential to your daily functioning send you an alert. Spend more time away from your phone each day. Do things that don’t require social media. Invest in your creativity. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, said that he will focus his children’s education on “soft skills” — meaning creative ones. Because by the time they grow up, they will never be able to compete with AI on science, technology, engineering, and math related tasks. It’s hard to imagine this now, but our creativity really is our future. It says something that the founder of one of the world’s largest technology companies takes this position on technology and the future of humanity.
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
It really starts with having a place to store your phone for the night that’s out of sight. So when you wake up in the morning, it’s not right there waiting for you. There’s a study I paraphrased above that shows a crazy thing –even having your phone in sight makes it harder to complete a linear task.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
Here’s one from my favorite writer, Henry David Thoreau (and I’m shortening it because H.D. can be a little verbose): “Our life is frittered away by detail…I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail…Simplify, simplify.” Thoreau “went to the woods to live deliberately” at Walden Pond in the 1840s. The railroad, the telegraph, daily newspapers — they had him up in arms. Imagine his reaction to Facebook. People talk today about the attention economy; Thoreau was acutely aware of it in his time when the forces of distraction were far less invasive. But because he was so personally alarmed by these forces, his words resonate just as powerfully today.
The more we focus on our screens, the more our lives come to resemble what happens on these devices. We feel distracted, pulled in 50 different directions, less able to be present to what we’re doing.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Loftie! It’s a humble alarm clock with a big goal: To help people live more present lives by creating better tech life balance. I believe we can course correct from the path we’re on now. As a company, we hope to inspire people to find their own way of doing so.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Ha! This is a tough one for us because of our mission, but we do post pretty exclusively about ways to create more balance and healthier sleep routines. We’re @byloftie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Happy dreaming.