Podcast: Manoush Zomorodi on tech, parenting, and a changing world

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

Sarah and I both read Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant book last year and discussed it on the podcast. So it seemed like a great fit to have her on as a guest (plus, Sarah has been a long time fan of Zomorodi, whose journalism career has taken her various places such as WNYC, New York’s public radio. Listen to this episode and you will be treated to a great fan girl moment).

We discussed a lot of important topics with Zomorodi, who recently left her job to start a new media company, which includes her new podcast Zig Zag.

Being bored leads to brilliance. Zomorodi’s oldest son was horribly colicky as an infant. She had to walk for miles with him in the stroller to keep him from screaming. This was pre smart phone, so she had nothing to do but count the miles going by. She was…bored. However, this boredom eventually had her mind wandering to what she wanted out of her future, and led to new projects (like her Note to Self podcast, and the book Bored and Brilliant).

Transitions are tough. This is true in general, but one of the reasons tech is so addictive is that it creates rougher transitions. You go from something that is so perfectly stimulating (exactly tailored to you!) to something that is not. This is one reason kids get grouchy when kicked off the iPad. It plays out in adult lives too! Years ago, Zomorodi tracked her time and shared the log with me. She felt incredibly overworked and tired. I noted that she was working exactly 40 hours. She struggled to figure out why she was complaining about it, and realized it came down to the issue of transitions being exhausting for her. That realization has helped inform some of her scheduling decisions. That said…

Phones aren’t evil for kids, and there’s nothing magic about 8th grade. We recently got our 11-year-old a phone, and Zomorodi is doing so likewise for her 11-year-old, as he is starting middle school and will have to ride the SUBWAY. Frankly, having his own phone sounds a lot better than him having to ask to borrow a stranger’s phone if something happens! Zomorodi confirmed my suspicion that the “wait-until-8th” (grade) mantra is largely about “wait” and “eight” rhyming. There isn’t exactly a bunch of peer-reviewed data on this, because smart phones are so new.

Boredom busters are less tempting when your mind is fully engaged. Zomorodi had a “breakthrough” moment on the podcast when she noted that she hadn’t played Two Dots (a game) since starting her own company. I think there is something to this. Time is malleable. What we choose to do depends a lot on what our options are, and when you are deeply absorbed in something, you naturally look for ways to spend more time on it, and less on other things. If you want to waste less time goofing off online, find a really good book, or find a work project that will keep you in a state of “flow.”

Anyway, a fun episode. Then in the Q&A, we discussed a listener question from an “Obliger” (in Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework) who was struggling to take my advice to “just slack a bit” in an extremely flexible, work-from-home position (rather than ask for an Official Part-Time Schedule). We talked about setting specific goals for each day, week, and month, and considering herself “done” when she’d hit them. We also talked about taking longer breaks during the day as a way to get a bit more work-life balance. Finally, we suggested doing some intel on what her colleagues were doing, because — taking a wild guess — I suspect that her “slacking” would put her on par with some of their most productive days.

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One thought on “Podcast: Manoush Zomorodi on tech, parenting, and a changing world

  1. Um, did I write to you in my sleep for that Q&A? Can’t wait to listen to that part.

    I saw some sort of “movement” that started in Austin about waiting until 8th grade to give your kid a phone, so likely that’s where it came from. IMO 8th grade seems like a weird time because here middle school is 6th-8th. So I’d either do it in 6th or 9th, if you’re looking for a good transition time?

    Also, I wonder about the phone thing in general (thanks Laura for discussing it) — most kids have a personal tablet like a Kindle Fire or an iPad from a pretty young age. Is a phone really dramatically different? We have to limit their screen use on the tablets or they’d never do anything else, and I assume we’d need to do the same with a phone. Our school (K-8) is very aggressive about its phone rules – none allowed in the classroom or breaks during the entire school day and they must stay in backpacks outside, which is a deterrent in itself. I guess I’m not seeing the threat, except responsibility for an expensive device and possible shenanigans involving the Internet/social media. But we’ve already had to start addressing that with my 8.5yo wanting to email her grandparents and friends from our home PC or play networked Minecraft. It’s definitely more of a hassle to monitor social media use but there are a lot of things about parenting that suck 🙂 and IMO this sucks less than potty training.

    As an anecdote, we had friends stay with us this past weekend and not once did I see their outgoing, engaged 14yo pull out her phone. It was kind of shocking given how attached to our devices we all are as adults 🙂

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