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Digital Natives- Are They Getting Restless?

John speaks with digital sociologist, author and USC professor Julie Albright about the importance of computing on society and how the new norms of “digital natives” are at odds with the traditional model of the American Dream.

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INTRO: You're listening to BIGcast, your source for financial technology innovation with John Best.


Glen Sarvady: Glen Sarvady here for the BIGcast, and before I turn things over to John Best with this week's fun and games, I just want to make sure that you're aware of a couple of things. We've mentioned them earlier, but I think they deserve a little bit more attention. Tuesday, October 29th, if you find yourself in New York City or would like to get yourself to New York City, the Voice of Money conference is coming up. John Best will be one of the keynote speakers about the whole voice banking revolution. It is being held in downtown New York City in a conference facility called Subculture, which looks very cool, from what I can tell, and may or may not be named after a Pixies song. I'm not certain. If you go out to their website - it's a little bit of an unusual address - and use the code "big2019" you can get 20% off of your registration. That's the Voice of Money conference in New York City on Tuesday, October 29th. We also announced recently that the Credit Union Voice Registry, or CU Voice Registry, is now officially open. I think I used the phrase "land grab" last time, and it comes down to that. If you think about the way all of the good names are taken for URLs on the web these days, this is a  similar situation. Now, if you want to be dealing with voice technology and being recognized on Google Home, Alexa, etc., John Best and the Best Innovation Group folks have put together a wonderful opportunity in a way for you to reserve your name there. All you gotta do is go to You can search and see if your credit union's name is still available and stake your claim. It's out there now, so check it out. With that, on to John Best and the episode.


John Best: Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of the BIGcast. My name is John Best, and I am the CEO of Best Innovation Group. I'm also the author of Breaking Digital Gridlock. If you haven't picked it up, you should pick it up as soon as possible. Otherwise, your whole world may explode. You can buy it anywhere that they sell books. You can find me on Twitter at @JBFinTech, and you should also check out the CU Voice Registry. If you don't have a voice website out on Amazon or Google, you're missing out. It is the future. Speaking of the future, I have a really incredible guest, someone I had the pleasure of meeting on Breaking Banks with Brett King. She fascinated me with what she had to say and I reached out. I asked her to join us because I know that many of you are trying to crack the code on how to market and do business with this next generation. I think a lot of things have been tried, but there isn't really a recipe for it out there quite yet. I'm not saying that this book is a full recipe, but I think it gets you a lot of the way there, and so I would like to welcome Julie Albright to the show. She's a PhD, a digital sociologist - not a regular sociologist - at USC Dornsife Applied Psychology and Viterbi Engineering, and a board member of Infrastructure Masons. Welcome, Julie.


Julie Albright: Hey. Thank you for having me.


John Best: Oh, no, it's my pleasure. I'm super excited to have this conversation with you. Julie has a book out called Left to their Own Devices: How Digital Natives are Reshaping the American Dream. It also has the coolest forward ever by Thomas Dolby. How did you manage that? He's a hero of mine.


Julie Albright: Oh, I know. He's a hero of mine as well. It's unbelievable. Someone had met with me to make a film or a streaming series about the book, and he said, "I've got an idea for someone to blurb the book. Now hear me out-" I'm all, "Okay", and he says, "Thomas Dolby". I thought, "Oh my God, I love this idea." I ended up reaching out to him, and he was so intrigued by the idea of the book that he said not only does he want to write a blurb, which comes on the back cover, but he said, "Julie, I'd like to write the foreword", which puts his name on the cover. He opens the whole book. It was just a dream come true for me.


John Best: And he does it wonderfully. He does a great job of opening and he sets a very good stage.


Julie Albright: He's so funny.


John Best: By the way, your writing is just beautiful. For me, a lot of times when I read these sorts of books, and particularly sociology books, they can be, for lack of a better word, a little dull or dry. That's not to say that they can't have humor, but they sometimes fall into that dryness. This is just beautifully written. The prose here is really nice, it reads well, and I enjoyed it. I'm probably going to roll through it again. My assistant actually asked for it today. She said, "Hey, could you lend that to me on Kindle when you're done?", and I said, "Well, we could buy it for you. How about that?". So, let's talk about it. How did you get here? How did you wind up writing this book, and in your mind, who was the target audience of this?


Julie Albright: Well, when I came to USC originally to do my doctorate - I've been here a while - I said, "I want to study the impact of computing on society", the sociology department fellow said, "What does that have to do with sociology?", and I thought, "Oh my gosh." What I saw was going to be one of the biggest changes and impactors of social behavior in our society that has ever been. As big as the printing press and the Industrial Revolution. You could easily argue that the digital revolution has had as much or more of an impact on society. In fact, I would argue that it’s a quicker sort of transformation of society in the digital era. So, I've been looking at it right along, and I ended up doing some research and helped build some products with E-Harmony. I had been thinking about these issues for a while and been in discussion with the CTO of Chevron here at USC about this. We started talking about this notion of coming untethered and ended up writing a whitepaper for the USC Energy Institute about the changing energy consumer. I realized at that point that what we had was not a whitepaper, but a book.


John Best: Yeah. It's funny because I completely agree. I'm not huge on labels, but you do need some sort of terminology. We've always said "millenials", right? The problem with using the term "millennials" is it boxes people in, and that's really not what's happening. This can, I think, happen across a lot of demographics. It's really about this idea of being untethered, which is funny because you can almost think of yourself as tethered. Like, for example, one of the notes that you made, and I thought this was a fascinating statistic, was the number of kids that sleep with their cell phones next to them. So to me, that's pretty tethered, right? But really, that's not the point. They want to be untethered, and as I read your book, I started thinking about other things that we're seeing happen, like tiny homes. To me, that's a symptom of being untethered.


Julie Albright: Exactly right.


John Best: And then there are other things around that. So you think, as you said, "Hey, I've got this idea. I can scientifically lay out the values of these folks", right? We can talk about what they're really looking for and how they view the world through their lens, which is super important if you're a bank or credit union trying to figure out the products and services that you need to be working on to service this very different group that has, as you put it, a sea change. Let's talk about that a little bit. What is that sea change? When you're in that position, how do you figure out how to shift? I can't turn the ship 100 degrees. I can't throw everything overboard because I still have baby boomers and other people I have to do things with. But what do I do to sort of start turning the ship that way and to really understand these people and provide products and services that they need?


Julie Albright: I think that's the key here. I'm contextualizing the social and behavioral impacts of digital connectivity, and I called this idea "coming untethered". Originally when we got into the digital era, people were going beyond mainframes and all that, but when we got into personal computing, people were on a desktop computer plugged into the wall, right? And when you walked away from that, you walked away. Over time, we developed the iPhone and the ability to have constant internet connectivity that goes with us in the form of mobile devices like cell phones, tablet devices, iPods and laptop computers. That changes everything, and that's really the notion of coming untethered. I think one of my greatest skills is that I see the constellation in the stars. I'm able to discern patterns across disparate fields. I started seeing all of this research coming out about different things that were happening, and by the way, just some context for yourself and your listeners, I not only have a masters and PhD in sociology, I also have a masters and PhD in counseling.


John Best: Oh, wow.


Julie Albright: So what I'm doing is I'm looking at the large social patterns that are happening, and then I'm thinking about what the impacts on the ground are for individuals, families, businesses, workplaces and things like that.  I'm sort of shifting back and forth between the large trends and then on the ground. I noticed across these various studies that young people that grew up as what we call "digital natives" in an environment where there always was an Internet are drastically changing their behaviors compared with that of prior generations. For example, they're not getting married like prior generations. If you look at the silent generation between the age of 18 and 32, which is the key age that you get married, 65% of them were married by age 32. Now, if you look at millennials, it's only 25%.


John Best: I've seen that same behavior with cars.


Julie Albright: Yeah. I would suggest that the constellation of behaviors of coming untethered is things like not getting married, not having kids like prior generations, not buying the home of the American dream. Not buying the car, not having a career for 30 years, not taking part in community organizations - things like church, Rotary, the yacht club - any of these kinds of community groups that you could think about. Young people are just simply not joining to the degree that their parents or grandparents did. So, when you think about that and you think about traditional marketing, as you alluded to earlier, or serving these customers, if you're aiming at the traditional nuclear family, you're going to miss the mark.


John Best: What's fascinating to me is that I think you characterized all of those things like not getting married and not buying into these ideas as this adulthood concept.


Julie Albright: I use the shorthand for that: digital natives are unhooking from the American dream. If you asked someone a few years ago, "What's the American dream?", most people would say getting married, buying a home, having children, going to college, etc.


John Best: Picket fence, dog, cat.


Julie Albright: Yeah. 2.5 kids and the dog in the yard with the white picket fence. People had a sense of that, and there is research out there where they call this the "transition to adulthood" in which you have these milestone markers in life. As I said, when you look back to, let's say, the baby boomers and the silent generation before them, many of them routinely reached these milestones into adulthood in their early twenties. At this point, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that even into their forties, millennials will be the most unmarried generation in history.


John Best: That's amazing.


Julie Albright: These are significant changes, and I think what's interesting about this book is that you can find these bits and pieces of information from studies about these changes, but what I'm doing is trying to put it in an analytical framework so that the lightbulb comes on, so to speak. You can see the overarching pattern of what's going on, and then it will suggest to you some of the changes that you might need to affect in your business. For example, as behaviors and values increasingly orbit around digital device connectivity---


John Best: You actually called it the double helix of technology and behavior.


Julie Albright: That's right. It's like the DNA double helix that I'm sure you and your listeners have seen. The idea is that behavior and technology are now intertwined, such that behavior is shaping technology and technology is shaping behavior, and they're never going to be sort of torn asunder again. That is the social, technical DNA from which all these new values and behaviors are emanating in society.


John Best: It's interesting, too, because you opened the book with an incredible scene on the subway, which I loved. I want to share the same story so that people who haven't read the book can still get it, but I'll give it in a different context. My mom and I were once traveling from Germany to England. I don't know if you're old enough to remember, but there was a pretty famous band called Styx at the time. Somehow, we wound up in the same row with them on the plane, and this was during their disastrous Mr. Roboto thing. But, there weren’t cellphones to bug anybody. So Styx is trying as hard as they can to get my mom to recognize them. They're singing incredible songs like Renegade, which is pretty recognizable with that big opening three-part harmony thing. My mom's like, "Nope, don't know you."  Meanwhile, they're giving her picks and it's just kind of funny to them. Anytime my mom traveled, she would get on a plane and make 50 friends, sometimes forever, right? Now you get on a plane and we're all trying to ignore the person next to us. Everybody puts in their headphones, and you referred to it as a "digital bubble". I believe the bubble relates to one of the core tenants of the untethered, which is: I want it, I want it now, and whoever is next to me will not be as entertaining or as valuable as whatever it is I'm listening to or doing digitally.


Julie Albright: I'll tell you a little example right here at USC. I did a panel recently with our dean of religious life, Varun Soni. He's kind of a rock star here and just a fantastic guy. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama. Deepak Chopra, all of these incredible leaders. We were at the L.A. Times Festival of Books and we did a panel talking about this notion of coming untethered. He said a student came up to him, and at USC, we have this brand new dining hall that looks like Hogwarts. It's like a replica. The student came up and said, "Dean Soni, could we set aside one table in the new dining hall for no devices so we could talk to each other?". Dean Soni said, "What are you talking about?", and the student said, "Have you been in there?", and he said, "No." The student says, "If you go in the dining hall, you're going to see that at every table, the students are on their devices and no one's speaking to each other.” Dean Soni was stunned. Then he said to the audience and myself, "What am I going to say? I'm going to set aside one table so people can talk to each other? Am I then condoning the 95% of the rest of the tables where no one is talking to each other?"


John Best: Yeah. "All of you put your headphones on and ignore each other.".


Julie Albright: Exactly. He was sort of saying, "I'm in a moral quandary here because of this.", but that's the state of being untethered. Your airport example was a good one. Next time you're in an airport, look around. Everyone you see will be on a device.


John Best: Oh, it's the loneliest crowded place you'll ever be in.


Julie Albright: Ever! I remember meeting a fella on the plane who said to me, "You've got to join up with my speakers bureau. It's great and there are all of these stars there." I looked at it and it was fantastic. He said, "When you're ready and you have a reel, I'll introduce you." This came out of a conversation I had with a stranger in an airport, and those conversations are simply not happening now because people are in those digital bubbles. They may be missing out on that kismet moment in life where you happen to be sitting next to someone. It could be life changing, but it just slips away because you're not engaging with those around you.


John Best: Yeah. We're meant to be a community. They [digital natives] are a community, just their own community that they've chosen that is separate of ours. All right, I want to pass something around with you. This is something I started to discuss with you on Brett's show, but I didn't get a chance to finish the thought.


Julie Albright: Yeah?


John Best: Here's the story. My daughter was just out of school, probably 18 or 19 at the time. We're having a party at the house and we run out of those little plastic lemon juice bottles. Christie, my wife, and her whole family are big iced tea drinkers, so we have to have that. So, we send my daughter to the store because we're all running around and cleaning for a graduation party for my son or something. 45 minutes go by, and that's a pretty long time to be at the store. She comes back and goes, "They don't have it." Now, you and I as adults know that, if she went to a Safeway, which is where she went, there's lemon juice. I will agree that it could be a little tricky because you ask yourself, "is it over there with the fruits?” Where do you really look for it? So I ask her, "Abbie, did you speak to someone at the store?", and she said, "No. I looked on my phone and there isn't a place for it." I had always had this idea - and you don't promote this in your book, but I want to get your thoughts on it - that the reason she didn't ask is just because she doesn't want to talk to this guy. I asked her, "Why didn't you just ask someone?", and she said, "Because they're busy, dad." It dawned on me that, "Oh my God, I've been wrong about this all along." It's not that they've gone so far into their devices that they refuse to speak to other people. They actually believe it to be a social faux pas. Why would I interrupt this guy who is stocking this shelf to find something that I can look up myself on my phone, right? That was a mind-numbing thing for me because I went from this belief of, "They're all just hermits that are living behind their electronics" to, "This is a new social norm", just like you were saying.


Julie Albright: That's it. The social norms are changing. It's the same thing with a telephone call. A lot of young people feel that a telephone call is intrusive.


John Best: Yes! It interrupts you.


Julie Albright: Right. So they're texting or emailing rather than calling, and in business, there are a lot of times when you have to make that call. A friend of mine that's in the book a couple of times is a historic preservationist, and he talked about some of his employees. They have to raise money to support these historic homes, and he had some young employees that he had the darndest time getting to make a phone call. I think that's another sort of thing to think about. Amongst these digital natives and increasingly other people that didn't grow up with an Internet, there won't be this desire for a digital interface or a mediated communication to the world. Take your example of the market and this idea that the market needs to give you the ability to get on the phone, look things up, download a coupon, etc., and some markets are starting to do that. But on the flipside, your daughter walked out without the purchase because she wasn't able to find it on the phone, which is huge.


John Best: Right. If you go to Home Depot now and you look something up, it says, "Yeah, we have it. Here's the bin and the aisle number." But what's interesting is that, to your point, she saw that as the failure of Safeway.


Julie Albright: That's the thing. Let me just make an important little bracket around this conversation. We're in a transitional moment in society, so we're not all in on digital, and we need to understand that. Particularly when you're talking about older people, they're not going to be looking on their phone for the lemon juice in the market. They're going to ask the guy, they're going to look around, so we need to have multi channels going on. It could be everything from a phone call to television advertising to some role that starts up before your YouTube video.


John Best: Right.


Julie Albright: It depends on who you're trying to target, so that's a very important thing to think about. Also pertaining to phone calls, younger people don't necessarily want to have to call in for customer service. They want to be able to do it on their phone and can actually drive to another company if you're forcing them into that decision.


John Best: Right, because if she had gone to another website that said, "We have it here. It's in this aisle" - maybe Walmart or something -  she would've gone and got it had she thought to do that.


Julie Albright: Exactly.


John Best: The most interesting thing to me that I learned from that experience was that I have to keep myself from acting like my dad or something, judging me for my rock and roll. "Whatcha' doin' over there, you rock and roll hipster?" I'm judging her by saying that the reason that she doesn't go and ask somebody is because she's just lost those skills. Absolutely not. Just like the reason they don't want to call somebody is because they see it as rude. Understanding that as opposed to thinking it's just a deficiency in their communication skills helps you to understand how to market to them and how to how to create a channel that they will be interested in and that will engage them.


Julie Albright: I think that's right. In the case of young employees, there is some lack of skills. I had my graduate students call a "potential client" for our class, which was a major car manufacturer. This is one of their heads of marketing, and I talked to the guy for about 30 minutes on the phone and he was jovial and funny. He's a marketing guy, so he's all about communications. Nice guy. I said to myself, "Let me have the students call him up. They're going to pitch this guy their idea for a project at the end of the semester." I came into class and I said, "Hey, you're going to talk to this guy. He's great. Here's his email. Set up a group call with him and hammer out a project for the semester, and at the end, we'll pitch your ideas back to him.” Next week, I come in and ask, "How'd the call go?" "Not very good." I ask, "What happened?" "There was an awkward silence." I just searched my mind. Was there an awkward silence? Did I notice anything weird about it? No. And then I realized, "Oh my God, these students don't know how to make a phone call." They did not know how to break the ice, how to start a cold call, how to begin a business call with someone, the point being that not only is it rude, which is part of it, but there is also a lack of practice or skill set around these things that you might take for granted. I didn't even think to say, "Here's how you make a cold call to a new client. Potentially you do this, that and that." So I had my brother call in, who's like the number one sales manager in the world, and give them a little primer, a little one or one on how to make a cold call, and it was great. He had some great tips like go on LinkedIn and see where they went to college. "Oh, you went to USC? So did I." Finding ways to break the ice with people that you don't know, and it was very practical and fantastic. The idea is that, if you're running a business and you have young workers coming in, they may resist making these phone calls, but they also may need training that you wouldn't have needed going into the workplace. It's something that I was just blindsided by, even though I write about this stuff and study it. To see it in action like that is really kind of stunning.


John Best: You're so right because you don't think about that. For example, they're getting so good at the voice interfaces that when regular interfaces on websites come up, they're confused by it.


Julie Albright: Right.


John Best: Let's talk about that for a second. So, first of all, there's a great quote in the book here where you talked about the guys who made the iPhone and the "had we known". Could you talk about that just for a second?


Julie Albright: Yeah. What do you want to talk about with that?


John Best: What was the quote? They said they wanted "a kick-ass phone that would play music and let you surf the web", but they didn't realize they were creating a social monster or something.


Julie Albright: Oh, yeah. That quote is Andy Grignon. He was on the original iPhone development team. The first call that was ever made on an iPhone from Steve Jobs went to Andy, so he was there on the ground floor of all this. What prompted that was, I'd seen him post a picture of his family at dinner on social media, and it was a picture of the kid's table. Every kid was on a device and ignoring every other kid there, about four kids sitting at the table. Everyone was glued to and mesmerized by their device, and he posted it completely unironically. Completely like, "Oh, here's a picture of our family dinner."


John Best: *laughs*


Julie Albright: I said to him, "Andy, can I use that photo in a presentation?", because it was so insane.


John Best: So ironic, right?


Julie Albright: Yeah. No one was speaking to each other at all! He goes, "I know. I've actually used that photo in a presentation before", and that's what he was really saying, was this idea. I'm working on the next book about the builders of the digital age and our increasing reliance on digital infrastructure and data centers that people don't even know about. It's kind of like the man behind the curtain.


John Best: Oh, yeah.


Julie Albright: Back to this idea of "had we known what we were creating", the iPhone wasn't meant to be that. It was meant to be a kick-ass web browser, let you make a phone call and listen to music. So I'm going to talk to some of these other original builders of some of these digital technologies and not only ask them what it was like back when, but what it's like now and what their thoughts are in terms of what's developed over time. I think some of these guys are going to react similar to Andy and be surprised by it. I mean, depending on the study you look at, it's the number two or three way that people meet their partners now. It's so unbelievably mainstream. I can look out the window here at USC and see students walking and using their devices. I think that's the world now.


John Best: Oh, you want to mess with a little kid or something? Take their phone. I think you have a story about that in here.


Julie Albright: Think about when you were a kid. What was the punishment? Go to your room, right? Well, kids now want to be in their room. In fact, a study in the UK found that when they asked kids what they did over the summer break, 65% said they spent it in their bedroom alone.


John Best: Yeah, I saw that. That was insane. But they were playing video games with their buddies.


Julie Albright: They're playing video games. They're texting. They're socializing. The problem is that this is not simply a substitution. I think it could be argued that people will say, "Well, you're just saying, 'Kids, get off my lawn!'" Like you were suggesting earlier, is this just your dad criticizing the rock and roll era, the hippie thing, etc.? "You kids and your hip-swivelling Elvis." Is it that? I would suggest that right now, we have skyrocketing rates of things like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Suicides are at an all-time high amongst young people. 25% of kids at the university are on some kind of psychotropic medication for a mental disorder like anxiety or depression. What I'm suggesting is that, although it's fun to play online and do these things, I see a growing mental health crisis because we're disconnecting from each other. We're more connected, but paradoxically less connected than ever before.


John Best: I would say we're quantitatively more connected, but quality-wise, we're less.


Julie Albright: That's the difference, and there is something to be said about connection. We are a social species. Now, I've never claimed to be an evolutionary psychologist, but I will tell you that we've evolved this social dance of being together, and that's how we've survived through the eons. This sort of lonely bubble world that people are immersing themselves in goes against these eons of our psychological and physical development. Things like going out in nature, for example, are not only good for you physically, but also lift your mood and alleviate these anxieties and depressions. Physical activity, for example, is more effective than pills a lot of the time.


John Best: You talk about a concept that I've actually been interested in, which is brain plasticity. That's something we've seen too. We look and can see addictive behavior, right?


Julie Albright: Yes.


John Best: What you just said is interesting because I saw a great TED talk featuring a guy talking about alcoholism, and he said the opposite of being an addict is not sobriety, but connection.


Julie Albright: That's exactly the problem, and we're paradoxically more disconnected than ever before, you know? I talked to a fireman on a flight lately and did a TED talk---


John Best: Which was wonderful, by the way. We're going to post a link to that in the show notes here. We'll make sure everybody has that because it was fantastic.


Julie Albright: It was super challenging. I mean, it's hard to do that.


John Best: I actually got offered to do it and I looked into it. They said, "You have to say the exact same thing over and over", blah, blah, blah. Now, I speak a lot, and with every one of my speeches, who knows what'll happen? They go in all kinds of different directions. I'm not sure I'm capable.


Julie Albright: It's so hard, it's not even funny. My first attempt kind of fell flat, so I had nothing. I actually did it in Boulder, and I think you might be near there somewhere.


John Best: Yes, I'm not far from Boulder. That's where my daughter went to school.


Julie Albright: Yes. So I was praying for divine intervention at that point, and divine intervention came in the form of this handsome fireman that sat down next to me on the plane. We started talking and I told him about my book and these ideas of coming untethered. He was just recently retired and working for the airlines as a flight attendant, and we laughed about some of the stuff he was doing because he was doing it to be entertained, you know?


John Best: Yeah.


Julie Albright: I asked him, "what did you see over the course of your career? Did you see changes?", and he said, "Julie, it's unbelievable." He gave some examples of physical changes like kids getting tired more quickly than he and his guys, things like that. But then he says, "Most of all, it's social." He says, "I went back to my old fire department. We used to sit around the table, and we'd laugh, talk, play cards, eat dinner, and be together as a group, and it was a real bonding experience." He says, "Julie, I came back to that fire department and there was nobody at the table. Everybody was in their own rooms on a device, eating and doing something in their own world." Then he turned right to me, pointed at my face, and he goes, "Julie, it's not the devices. It's the table", and I thought, "Oh my God, he's right." It's not the devices, per se. It's not that we're on social media per se, or that we're texting or whatever we're doing. It's that we're not coming together socially, face-to-face and without these devices and connecting with one another in the ways that are so important to our mental and physical health and our relationships and that feeling of being connected. That's what's starting to be replaced by this connectivity that is driving some of these negative impacts that I talked about earlier.


John Best: With that mind, we're getting to the end here, so I want to make sure I ask you this question. So you started off by saying, "John, we are not very far into this untethered era",  as you called it. I'd like to try to get some kind of comparison. An example I use a lot for the blockchain world is, right now, I believe we are in the Napster version of the blockchain world. We haven't quite hit iTunes yet. Everybody sees the value of it, but nobody wants to be doing something illegal, you know? So somebody comes out with the legal version, which I think is happening, but that took some time. You look at televisions in black and white and consider how long they took to get to become pervasive and support color. So I want you to fill that in a little bit. There's a couple of technologies that I think have the ability to make it worse. One of them is virtual reality, and I want to discuss what you're thinking is on that because now we can fully immerse ourselves. If you haven't already, you should try out an Oculus Rift S or any of those technologies.


Julie Albright: I'm looking at one right here. I'm actually in the VR streaming room at USC, and I have all of that equipment sitting in front of me on the desk.


John Best: And now, you can buy a Quest, which doesn't have wires so you could take it on the plane.


Julie Albright: They're checking those out on planes. I don't know if you've seen that yet. I saw a kid put one on and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I don't know if I want to be moving and immersed in something." I think I'd feel nauseated, you know?


John Best: Right. But this new generation of kids, their physiology has changed, to your point with the brain plasticity. Stuff that would make us throw up, they're not even going to feel it because of what they've been through. But if you were to take those ideas of the future and then take some sort of comparison, whether it be color TV, Facebook, whatever, where are we to the best of your ability? Are we at the ATMs and we haven't quite made it to the home banking? Where are we?


Julie Albright: In terms of blockchain, fintech, and things like that?


John Best: In terms of this movement. For example, I showed this incredible video when I was speaking about four years ago. It was a little three year old that has an iPad, and she's just cooking on it, right? Then they give her a magazine, and the first thing she does is try to pinch a picture in the magazine to try to make it bigger. She looks up and basically says, "This doesn't work. This is a broken iPad. Why would you give me this?"


Julie Albright: I've used that video in my talks as well. I know exactly what you mean.


John Best: With that in mind, you have this new generation of kids that have never known what it is to not have a Siri that you could ask any question or call out a hypocrite anywhere you want. So, what does that look like, what's its shape, and where are we in that progression?


Julie Albright: Right. Well, that's a lot of questions packed into one. That's about four hours worth of discussion.


John Best: That's another book!


Julie Albright: That's a whole other thing.


John Best: I agree.


Julie Albright: I'll tell you one thing based on some of the things we've been talking about today and my thinking. Going back to the anecdote about your daughter going to the market, you're right that we do have a generation of infants with a different type of brain. You talked about brain plasticity during that story. I have a chapter on the untethered brain in children growing up now.


John Best: Is that the one that starts with the Pooh quote? That was awesome. It's something related to how Rabbit has a brain and he's clever, but is that what makes him so stupid? It's pretty cool.


Julie Albright: I was inspired by a lot of literature for this book.


John Best: It's so beautifully written. I can't say that enough.


Julie Albright: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. It's a real work of art and a work of science, I think. I wanted to say that when you've got kids, and as you mentioned, the voice assistance and growing up with that now, we're going to get into these virtualized beings that kids will interact with routinely.


John Best: Avatars. Yeah.


Julie Albright: Yeah, these kind of assistants to their lives. I saw a study that came up yesterday that said students aren't learning history now. In my book, there's a lot of history to contextualize how we got here, and in fact, the editor said, "Who's going to wade through all of this history?", and I fought for the history because it contextualizes things. I think what's happening now is that, when you talk about information flow and understanding, when you're just kind of plugging in and plugging out in an untethered way, kids are living in the now. It's an a-historical moment, and the problem with that is there is no past, but then there's also no future if you're just living in the now. Without a past, you don't have an idea of the progression of how we got here and the fact that people matter and people can do things to change the stream and course of history, right? The other thing is, you don't have a future. For example, the CTO of Chevron here at USC asked his students in class, "What's your five year plan?" That used to be a routine, you may remember. You had to have a five year plan, and they always used to say that to young people. Well now, the students looked at him like he was nuts. What are you talking about, five year plan?


John Best: Five minute plan. That's as far as I go.


Julie Albright: Yeah! A five minute plan, maybe a couple of day plan. But a five year plan was just beyond their ability to conceptualize. The problem with that is that the future acts as a kind of North star to pull you forward, and I've been thinking a lot about this. We have Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is food, shelter, clothing, then you move up to love, and at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization. I've been thinking lately that the digital era questions a lot of that, and maybe we're starting to prove that wrong. Perhaps self-actualization is not the top of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid is hope and the idea that you have to have something to draw you forward. That's what a future does. So the idea now is that we're so unplugged from both the past and the future, that kids are untethered from any sense of the flow of life or progression. That data and meaning is all disconnected from any of that. I think it's important to begin contextualizing how we got here for young people and how their futures can make an impact on the world. It's very important to instill hope in young folks, and we have to somehow contextualize ourselves again. I would argue that colleges should make history mandatory for students for that reason.


John Best: I think what you're describing is a term I use. I was talking to one of my really good friends, Kevin Jay Anderson, who is a pretty famous author. We talked about how science fiction creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Julie Albright: Yes. That's right.


John Best: That becomes the future, right? You look at something like Star Trek and the communicators, which are clearly predecessors to the cell phone, and that was during my dad's generation. Some dude from ATT went, "I'm going to figure that out. I'm going to build it."


Julie Albright: That's exactly right.


John Best: It gives that striving that you're talking about, and maybe they don't get there, but the next person does. But if you are intent on just imbibing this and being a passive user, then you aren't thinking about the endgame. You can be a passive user and use that for self-actualization, but that isn't necessarily the end of the rainbow, to your point. I think what you're saying is that self-actualization doesn't always contain purpose, and purpose is probably one of the most important things in order for you to drive forward. When you ignore purpose or let something else determine it for you, you become what I call a “leaf in the stream”.


Julie Albright: That's right. You get that.


John Best: The leaf in the stream will get hung up on the rock and it just can't get by, whereas a stick will bounce off of it and keep going. I think right now, we have a lot more leaves.


Julie Albright: And relating to the leaf in the stream, there is a phrase from psychological terminology, which is "learned helplessness". So here's the point. If you don't understand the history, including how we got here and that people did things to get us to this point, you lose that agency. We talked about Andy developing the iPhone. They did that. Steven Jobs and Woz making the Apple computer and changing the world. They did that. If you lose track of that, this idea of agency and that you have control over your life, there's something that kicks in called learned helplessness. It means that you perceive that nothing you do is going to make a difference, and that's what drives depression.


John Best: And it also drives victimhood. "I'm just a victim of all of this technology."


Julie Albright: That's right. And again, we have these escalating rates of mental illness and things that I worry about with these kids. This idea that you can grab hold of your life, you can make a difference, you can make an impact on history and shape the world that you live in is very important. It's important to have that hope for the future. I think that the de- contextualization of information is driving some of that leaf floating in the stream mentality that you mentioned before.


Julie Albright: I could talk to you all day. I'm so glad that you came on. We're running out of time here and I want to make sure that people know where to find you and where to find your book. I will also say that after speaking with Julie for some time even prior to this, if you are a credit union looking for an engaging speaker for your board meeting or for any of your events, I cannot recommend Julie enough. Watch her TED talk and you'll see what I'm talking about. This will be engaging for the board and engaging for the staff. Everyone needs to understand what she's talking about because it is the future of your organization. So, Julie, how can people get in touch with you if they're interested in reaching out?


Julie Albright: We've got a website, It's got my tour schedule on it and it's got ways to get the book. I'd love to talk with your audience and get involved, and thank you so much for having me today. It was a great conversation.


John Best: My pleasure. And we'll make sure and your Twitter handle are out there. Let me just say the title of the book again. I love the title, by the way. Pretty awesome. Left to Their Own Devices: How Digital Natives are Reshaping the American Dream. I think this is a must-read for anybody running a company, but more importantly for anyone looking to understand financial behavior. That's probably a whole 'nother episode if you ever want to do that with me. We'll talk about saving and spending, and I'd love to talk to you a little bit about how the Great Depression impacted that generation and how this generation are non-savers. I feel like there's a pendulum there. I'm actually working on another book about that and around this idea of what happens when we don't have a generation of savers, what does the new liquidity look like, those sorts of things. In any case, there is this idea that we're going to be moving into this new world and we need a guide, and for me, this book has been fascinating. When I heard you on Brett King's call, I thought, "I'm going to go buy this book right now", and I did. I didn't get through the first two chapters before I went, "Man, I really wish she would come on my show", so I e-mailed you, and here we are. Thank you again. We'll make sure we get this out, and I appreciate it.


Julie Albright: Glad to have been here today. Thanks for the great conversation.


OUTRO: Got a question or want to join the conversation? We'd love to hear from you. Tweet us at @BIGFinech, email us at, or visit our show notes and comments at

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