Max Stossel

To kick off the Centennial Speaker Series, The Hun School welcomed Max Stossel, an award-winning storyteller, poet, and the youth and education advisor for The Center For Humane Technology. The CHT, featured in The Social Dilemma, is an organization dedicated to realigning technology with humanity’s best interests. Prior to the work he is doing now, Mr. Stossel was a media strategist with an extensive background running social media for multinational brands. Mr. Stossel spends his time presenting to schools and organizations around the country on the impact social media has on our lives and offers participants resources to help manage technology in our day-to-day lives. 

Here are 10 things that Mr. Stossel taught The Hun School: 

1. Notifications are intentionally designed to grab our attention. 
Have you ever unlocked your phone only to be greeted by several missed notifications on your home screen? You know, the red bubbles that tell you you have thirteen emails, one missed call, four new Snapchats, and one system update?  Mr. Stossel notes that the color of the notification was chosen intentionally. “The color red universally symbolizes something urgent, like the red stop sign or red traffic light,” he said. “Which is why when we see these notifications, we feel the need to open them immediately.” 

2. Using social media is like playing a slot machine.
“When we post on social media, it becomes a gamble of whether or not our picture is a hit,” he said. “If your picture got a bunch of likes in just a few seconds you start to feel like you’ve just hit the jackpot, you’re on a high. But what happens when your post gets no attention? How does that make you feel?” Mr. Stossel notes that the highs and lows associated with posting on social media can begin to take a toll on a person’s mental health. 

3. Snapchat is not a true measure of your friendships. 
Mr. Stossel points out that with just a few tactical updates to the app, Snapchat has convinced users that something as simple as a Snapchat streak can determine the strength of a friendship. “Who here has ever sent a picture of a blank wall to a friend just to keep a Snapchat streak going?” When he polls audiences most of them affirm that they have streaks going and then subsequently admit to not liking the feature. “This is not a measure of your friendship. Snapchat streaks are not a validation for your relationship with someone. Friendships are made based on real life connections and not Snapchat streaks.” 

4. “Drug dealers and technologists are the only two industries who refer to their customers as 'users.'” 
The goal of a tech company is to keep people using their product, hence the term “users”. Mr. Stossel said that tech companies often have the mindset that your time is their money and if a company can keep your attention for just two minutes then they are considered valuable to the industry. So, Mr. Stossel poses the questions to the audience: “Are we using technology or is technology using us?” 

5. Social media does not equal real life.
To prove this point, Mr. Stossel played a time lapsed video of a slice of pizza being photoshopped into a girl in a bikini. This showed students that through apps and filters, nothing is actually how it appears in real life. In accordance with that, he also reminded the audience  that social media is simply a highlight reel. A person who may be struggling with their mental health could post a picture of themselves smiling and although they might be suffering, viewers would have no idea based on the picture. 

6. You can turn off auto-play and auto-recommendations 
Mr. Stossel addresses the familiar concept of going down the rabbit hole on social media. You know, when you find a YouTube video to watch and next thing you know it’s been two hours and you’ve now watched so many videos you don’t even remember what you searched in the first place? Mr. Stossel credits that to auto-play and auto-recommendations and shares with the audience how to turn these features off. “It’s so important to watch things that align with your intentions.” 

7. “Communication is hard, digital communication is harder.” 
Mr. Stossel explains that not every conversation should be had over the phone and that texting is a “recipe for miscommunication.” When texting, there are no visual or auditory cues that provide context to the message, meaning that oftentimes what you really mean may get lost in translation. He stresses the importance of face-to-face interaction. 

8. We should unfollow accounts that have a negative impact on us.
“Purge your social media accounts,” he said. “Unfollow the accounts, people, and pages that don’t make you feel good. Only follow and surround yourself with things that make you feel happy.” Similarly, he states that people should also delete apps that may be toxic for them. Mr. Stossel understands that this may be easier said than done, so he suggests doing it with a group of friends. 

9. Get a physical alarm clock.
Think about it, your phone alarm goes off in the morning and when you open your eyes you are immediately bombarded with missed notifications, alerts, and text messages. “All this does is immediately introduce stress into our bodies the second we open our eyes.” Mr. Stossel suggests that it would be most beneficial to keep our cell phones out of our bedrooms at night. 

10. Our phone isn’t listening to us, it just knows us that well.
It’s a common occurrence: you’re talking with your friend via text about a new product you want to try. Next thing you know, you see an ad on social media for that exact product. You think to yourself, “Is my phone listening to me?” Mr. Stossel says, “your device isn't listening to you. The truth is even creepier; your device just knows you that well. It knows what you are most likely to be talking about and because everything we type and everything our friends type is tracked, technology can predict your behaviors.” 

See Mr. Stossel's presentation here.

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