How can we apply screen time minimalism? Author Nate Klemp shares his screen binge journey and how to be more mindful in a distracted world.

Screen Time Minimalism, and Being Open with Nate Klemp

At some point most of us have attempted reducing the amount of screen time we take in in a day, but what would happen if we tried the exact opposite? Instead of screen time minimalism, what if we binged on screens? That’s exactly what author and philosopher Nate Klemp did and he shared his experience with me on the Unstuffed Podcast. Is less screen time the key to freedom? Can we still practice mindfulness in a world that seeks to distract us? How can we practice being open to everything and everyone, even when we don’t like all of it? We’ll dive into these hot topics and more and while we might not find answers to all of these deep questions, we will most definitely gain some insight into new ways of looking at the world around us.

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About Nate Klemp

Renee
Hi Nate. Can you give an intro to my listeners and let them know who you are, what you do and how you got here.

Nate Klemp
Well, it’s been a journey.

This Short story is, I used to be a political philosophy professor. I got a PhD, decided I was gonna learn how to live the good life and ask the big questions in philosophy. And it turned out my life actually got far worse rather than better through that process.

About 15 years ago, I left that career, and got really interested in what I would call practices or technologies of the mind, like learning about things like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. All these different tools we have for actually changing the inner landscape of the mind. So, that’s what I’ve been up to, for the last 15 or so years is mostly writing, about mindfulness and about how we manage our minds in this increasingly chaotic and crazy world.

Most recently, I have a book coming out called Open: Living with An Expansive Mind in a Distracted World, which is really all about how can we shift from our ordinary response of closing down, checking out, being addicted to our screens, being addicted to political outrage, and instead, turn toward life and open up a little bit more.

Renee
Wow, yeah, that sounds very necessary. Very needed these days. That’s something I talk a lot about. I talked a lot about how I used to struggle with shopping addiction. That was just my quick turn to. It’s just a quick fix to kind of tune out from all of the stuff that I didn’t want to sit and face any of the internal thoughts or problems. Is that kind of what your book is about?

About the book, Open

Nate Klemp
Yeah, I think that at their core, shopping addiction is really similar to something like screen addiction, they’re both behavioral addictions. So they’re not about a substance. It’s more about a behavior. So similar to gambling, or some of these other things that that can easily hook us.

I think what I find really interesting about all of these addictions is that they are compulsions. There’s usually an underlying emotional experience that we’re having, that we don’t want to face, or experience, or be with. An easy way out for all of us is to go on Instagram, or to like go on Amazon and start buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need or any number of strategies.

At their core, I think that’s one of the really fascinating things is this behavior of closing, to discomfort. One way that I love to explore how we start to uproot some of these addictions or compulsions is, well, what if we were to move toward those uncomfortable feelings or mind states or thoughts? And just be with them? And see what happens then? Because maybe then there’s nowhere we need to go. Like, maybe that’s all we need to do. That’s that’s kind of what I’ve been exploring and interested in for quite a while

Renee
I love that because I think I’ve always kind of gravitated that way myself. Maybe not always, obviously, there’s been times where I wasn’t great at it. But I kind of felt like, well, if I better understand where these thoughts are coming from, then I can clear through it and then kind of work through this. But I know so many friends and family are like, Nope, I’m good to just run the opposite direction.

I guess my thought, or my question for you is, how do you find the words to encourage people to start embracing those more negative feelings or the things they don’t want to think about? How do you even start mindfulness if it’s something you’re kind of afraid of, being in your mind?

How to be mindful if you don’t like your mind

Nate Klemp
I think it’s a really interesting, complicated question. One thing I think a lot about is, there’s this concept of the pain, pleasure balance. It turns out that our brains are constantly trying to balance the experience of pain and pleasure. Too much pleasure leads to pain, sometimes. Sometimes pain can lead to pleasure, like you go on a really hard run. That’s painful, but it can lead to pleasure.

So what’s really interesting about our predicament is that for many of us, there’s this shortcut we have to pleasure. Maybe that’s shopping, or maybe that’s going on Facebook, or maybe that’s reading the news. But, it’s like a really easy way to get to pleasure. If we keep, like writing that loop again and again and again, the pleasure starts to go away, and it’s replaced by pain at a certain point, which I’m sure you know, from your own issues with shopping.

I know this from my issues with screens that I’ve been dealing with or am exploring that you know, you ride that pleasure train far enough and it, it pretty quickly starts to turn into something quite painful.

There’s something interesting, when I think about, well, what if we were to experience some of these moments of discomfort more intentionally? It’s not pleasurable in the in the moment, but it can lead to a much more pleasurable expansive experience of life. That’s what I think makes this so complicated, the on-ramp isn’t as easy or as fun or pleasurable so it’s harder to kind of get that project off the ground of being a little bit more mindful and that sort of thing.

Renee
That makes so much sense. Like you said, I do I remember getting to that point, where I had just come home, and I had spent too much again, and it was like, I’m not happy at all. It didn’t work this time. It was like the it stopped giving the pay off.

You’re talking about screen time. I was just talking about this not too long ago that I for real remember a time scrolling on Facebook, and I like, threw my phone out of my hand because I could feel my levels of joy, like I just was feeling worse and worse with every single scroll that it’s like, it’s an addictive thing you just can’t stop.

Kicking my shopping addiction

Nate Klemp
Right. Well, I was curious, Renee for you, shopping addiction sounds like it was a big thing in your past. What what was like the key turning point for you, when you were able to just sort of like shut down that habit and create an alternative route in your in your mind and your brain and your life?

Renee
It’s so different from everyone else I hear. I talk a lot on minimalism and decluttering because it kind of went hand in hand, but it was actually thanks to people like you who wrote mindfulness books.

I started reading, I accidentally found like the Self Help section of the library and it was talking about, you know, the bigger things we can do with our lives and what we’re capable of. I just had this overwhelming feeling that I had just been filling my life with stuff that really wasn’t filling me up. Like it wasn’t working.

As you said, you know, it wasn’t bringing me pleasure anymore. I just kind of felt stuck and icky and I just knew it wasn’t working. So I thought, Well, maybe if I get rid of some of my stuff, and I just stopped I went cold turkey shopping. It just was like, it’s not working, I need to figure out what does. I figured I’d rather try to figure out a different route, then just stay stuck where I was because I knew that for sure wasn’t leading me anywhere.

Nate Klemp
I love that story. Well, and it’s so amazing that you were able to see that, but then have the will and the discipline to stay with that commitment. It’s really cool.

Renee
Right and I I know, a lot of people don’t, you know, have that same kind of mindset. It’s one of those things that was just in my mind. So, I guess, you know, for people who have resistance or don’t have it click, what do you what do you do?

Binging your addiction

Nate Klemp
Well, I have experimented with something really kind of radical here that I might not recommend for shopping addiction. Actually, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for shopping addiction.

For screen addiction, it was really interesting, you know, for anybody who’s experienced this, there’s this shaming that happens internally and all of this resistance. All of these control strategies of like, I’m gonna try to limit my screen time, but now I’m on Instagram. I feel bad about myself. There’s a lot of like pushing away of the object of desire or craving.

One of the things I did for my most recent book is I thought to myself, well, what would happen if we flip this strategy on its head? For three days, I just continuously binge on screens?

It’s kind of like, you know, the old school parenting thing where you catch your kids smoking and you have them smoke the whole pack or like three packs and then they never smoke again, because it’s just so disgusting at a certain point. I wanted to see if I could do that with my screens.

The reason I wouldn’t advocate this for shopping, is that you spend every last cent through doing this. Don’t do this with shopping.

With screens what was really interesting is, I mean, first of all, it destroyed my sleep. I woke up every morning at 2:50am. Just like boom, up. Like I had had a shot of espresso. I had all sorts of like headaches and weird things from just like watching my screens all the time. But the most interesting thing is I got to the end of this experiment. I woke up the day after and usually when I wake up, that’s the time where I go grab my phone and go to the bathroom like most of us these days. But the morning after this experiment, that desire just like wasn’t there. It just disappeared.

I realized that the reason we’re so addicted to screens and distraction is they give us this experience of novelty. You know, you check your text messages, and there’s a new one, or your email, there’s a new one, or like, the news feed or social media, there’s something new. By going all the way, for days at a time with my phone, I realized I had destroyed its superpower. Like I saw everything there was to see.

That was kind of an interesting moment where I realized, Okay, well, that’s an interesting alternative strategy that we could use. Also, it helped me understand the nature of these cravings themselves that in many ways, what we’re looking for is just something new. I think that’s probably true of shopping addiction too.

Renee
It’s all it’s never ending. It’s always something. You know, you think it’s gonna be like the end all be all.

I talked a lot about how I did this with home decor. Like, Oh, I just need these three things. And then I’m going to feel so happy and content with my space, it’s gonna be perfect. Then I’d get those three things and then I’m like, One more thing. It was just never ending.

That gets so exhausting. I think I burned myself out like you did, like I got to the point where it was too much. You know?

The Hedonic Treadmill

Nate Klemp
Have you heard about these studies in psychology about The Hedonic Treadmill?

Basically, they, they did all this research on people who won the lottery. These are people who didn’t have much money, they won $10 million, $20 million. Aall of a sudden, they’re rich and their happiness level goes way up for like three months. Then after six months, it goes right back to exactly where it was before.

I mean, that’s an extreme case, but I think it’s a great representation of what happens to us in life, you know? We just have this idea that like, Oh, if I could just get this house or like this car, or if I could afford that really fancy outfit, or whatever it is, then I’ll be happy. We get the thing. We’re happy for maybe two weeks, three weeks, a month, maybe a couple months, and then we totally habituate to that new state. Our desires expand, and there’s some new thing. I think that recognition is so essential for us just to be like, Wait a minute, this is not making me happy.

Renee
That’s what I kind of think. I just read Matthew Perry’s, the actor’s book because he passed away. My mom gave me his book, so I read it and he talks a lot about very openly about wanting the next thing. Wanting that fame. He craved fame, he craved this stuff, and he just was never satisfied.

Like it worked for a while, obviously, like riding the Friends high when you’re super famous, and everything’s going great, but then there’s just that crash.

I think I got to that point where I was like, I need to find something that’s actually going to, you know, be long term satisfying. I’m going to actually be happy. I feel like more internal goals, like emotional goals. Goals for my soul, my spirit, my mind, that kind of thing versus the stuff I can have, or the things I can buy.

Is constant happiness a practical goal?

Nate Klemp
I would say that it’s about the stuff we have. I love that point. But it’s also about this craving, I think that’s that’s emerged for an experience of pleasure or happiness.

I see this a lot in just kind of like the well being, culture of Instagram and social media and podcasts, right? There’s all this stuff about, like, being happy, and living a more optimized life. And, you know, like, having better focus and all these different things.

I think to a certain degree, we’re also experiencing this treadmill, in the in the realm of wellness culture, as well. It’s like, many of us have this baked in desire to achieve a higher level of fitness or mental fitness or focus and it never really arrives is what I’ve found. You know, I’ve been chasing after this Mirage for years and years doing yoga and meditation and all these different things.

They’re amazing practices, but when I’m doing it from that, that place of striving of like, Oh, I’m gonna get to this state where I wake up every day and I feel amazing and I’ve got, pleasure just radiating through my body. It’s like a mildly orgasmic experience of life every day. Then I will have made it. I’m starting to get to the point where I realize like, I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think anybody experiences that. And I think we ought to just give up on that goal. And just realize life can be hard sometimes, you know, that’s fine.

Renee
That’s hilarious. I love being able to get new guests on, because so often, I feel like you’re speaking to everything that’s currently going through my mind.

I’ve been saying for probably the last few years, that I just need to stop trying. I just need to stop trying. When I give up, things work so much better.

I did that probably right along when I started decluttering and stopped shopping. I did what you’re saying where I was meditating all the time, but I always ask, if I talk to someone in the wellness space, you know, Do you feel like sometimes it’s just one more thing we add to like our to do list? Like, oh, and I’m going to meditate, and I’m going to focus, and I’m going to be so great. I’m going to do my yoga…but it’s just adding to the stress of being one more thing we have to do? One more thing we’re going to do, one more thing we’re going to be great at, one more thing we’re going to accomplish. Maybe the whole goal is to, yeah, just kind of let it all go.

Letting go

Nate Klemp
I think letting go is, to me, the most profound practice, but also, it’s the one I understand the least, because I don’t really even think there is anything to understand, you know? Unlike these practices that are based on starting at point A and go to point B, and you’re in control, and you’re gonna do it through your discipline and your will. Those all make sense to me, but a practice like letting go is so paradoxical.

I mean, this idea that, that we’re just totally okay, you know, right now we’re having this conversation., everything is fine and we don’t need anything more than this, like this is this is good. I mean, it just, it doesn’t even make sense to me at a certain point.

I think we’ve all had this experience of trying to control something in our life and in whatever we might do to control it, maybe we take the supplements, or we do the practices, or work really hard on getting rid of it in some way, and it never goes away.

For me I have Chronic tinnitus in my left ear. I’ve had it for 15 years and I spent over a decade, just trying to get rid of it, you know. I thought if I do enough yoga, by meditate hard enough, I’m gonna get rid of this thing and it never went away. I started to realize that this ringing in my ear was actually like, my most profound spiritual teacher in a way. I got to a certain point, and that’s actually what led me to write my most recent book… I got to a certain point where I realized this is never going away and so I can either fight against this thing, or I can just allow it to be as it is, and see if I can become friends with it, as it is. That that was one of those moments in my life where it just felt like, wow, that’s such a more skillful strategy, and so much easier to just allow it to be versus fighting against it, spending all this money trying to get rid of it. So, I agree with you. 100%, about the power of, of just letting go.

Renee
I love that. You’re so right, that it’s something I think we we’ve fight against so much. Rather than just embracing… I think there are times, you know, maybe where we do have to take action, like if I’m sick and throwing up. But finding that balance has been such a tough thing. Even though the concept of like letting go sounds so great, and so easy. It’s not easy. It’s really quite difficult.

Nate Klemp
Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, so there’s a trap. I like to say there’s a trap to every idea or practice. The trap to letting go is this idea of, well, now I’m just not going to do anything. I’m just going to let go and see what happens.

I’ll, stop making money and see how long it takes for me to get evicted or kicked out of my house or the bank is going to foreclose me or whatever. That that’s a trap. I don’t think anybody wants to go there. I think it’s kind of like finding that balance where, yeah, there are moments where you get to the edge of what you can control and letting go is super powerful, and there are a lot of moments where, hey, my, my daughter needs to be picked up at 320 this afternoon. I’m going to control my day, and my schedule so that I can be there. It is not skillful for me to be like, You know what, I’m just gonna let go. I’m sure she’ll find a way home. There’s probably some other parent there who she can talk to and she’ll find her way home. I’m gonna like go on that one.

Renee
That’s a parenting strategy.

Nate Klemp
I don’t think that’s that’s not the kind of parent I want to be. I think it’s like this weird paradoxical dance where yes, we want to be in control sometimes, but then we also want to see when we’ve reached the limit of what we can control. You know, like, I’m not very good at controlling the flow of, of geopolitical events and who our next president is going to be, you know. There’s certain things I could do potentially, but like, that’s one where I probably need to let go a little bit.

Embracing what is

Renee
For your Tinnitus, how did you get to that point where you realized I’m just fighting too hard. I’m trying too hard to stop. You know? Was there like a turning point for you?

Nate Klemp
Yeah, I can tell you exactly. I was lying on the floor of a hotel room in Rawlins, Wyoming. My wife was sick, she had bronchitis. My daughter was like, Why are we doing a road trip? We were driving across the country and for whatever reason, maybe it was the noise in the car, I don’t know, but it was the the loudest and the most destabilizing experience of not hearing that I had ever had to that point.

Not only that, it had come on the heels of a month or two before me being like, you know what, I’m going to figure this out, me just being like, I’m going to, I’m going to put my time and energy toward this, I’m going to see a new doctor, I’m gonna do this! So I was doing all these things, and it was actually getting worse. That was kind of the breaking point. The way it relates to my most recent project around opening is I really got to the point there where I felt just despair. I guess the best way to describe it is hopeless, but in that moment, I thought to myself, Well, what if I were to just open to this sound, and allow it to be? And I just started playing with that experience. It’s not that I was able to stay in that state forever. Maybe it was 10 minutes or 15 minutes and then I went back to my old habits, but I saw something there. The resistance changed. The amount of suffering I was experiencing changed. That really led me on this journey of thinking, How can we open up more to those kinds of moments?

It’s a tricky question, because there aren’t obvious answers to that question in our culture. Really, I started exploring different experiences and experiments and different ways to kind of open to things that are uncomfortable or chaotic or crazy or, you know, make us close down and withdraw.

Opening our mind

Renee
I’m curious some of the things that you found because I know exactly what you’re talking about. I can think of so many examples in my life where I felt like the right thing to do was go all in. I’m going to go hard. I’m going to, you know, give it my all, do my best. Put every ounce of effort I have toward this thing. I think we get that message a lot, that that’s what works. And everything would just work out way, way worse for me. What are the things that you found that kind of go against that?

Nate Klemp
I’ve been exploring a number of different practices. One is what I call Opening to the Enemy, which is more of a political practice. I think a lot of the ways in which we’re closing now, it’s, it’s both to our own minds, but to other people who don’t believe what we believe.

As a left leaning gun control advocate, I got my concealed carry permit with the NRA. I spent a day in rural Colorado, shooting guns, learning about guns, and it was amazing. That was like, its own little amazing thing, realizing there is no enemy here.

I also spent about two years exploring psychedelic assisted therapy. This is just one of the more interesting new approaches to opening the mind, especially around things like trauma.

I had experienced flight anxiety for about 20 years. When I would get on an airplane, I’d feel pretty significant fear and, and so this was another interesting experience or experiment for me was going into these states where I had a therapist who was guiding me, and I was able to just completely re-experience these traumatic events. Really, that was another one of these experiences that just completely opened up the space that I was feeling in my mind.

One other one, just to mention these, and we can drill into any of these if you want, but I’m really fascinated by this idea of, of taking meditation out of these kind of protected serene settings, you know. We think about like, going to the mountain retreat center, or like, putting on your noise cancelling headphones. But, I find it really fascinating to just kind of bring meditation to the chaos of the world.

One of the things I did was I spent a day doing a meditation retreat at my local Costco. I just meditated on the outdoor furniture, chairs, and in the pharmacy department and like walked through the aisles, while I was doing walking meditation, and went to my local ER, waiting room. Did the same thing. That was a place that usually freaks me out, but again, it was like this really cool experience of realizing that these places that are stressful or chaotic, or even terrifying, there’s a way to sort of open ourselves more up to those experiences.

That’s kind of just a little swath of what I was exploring here.

Renee
Are these all in your new book, Open: Living with An Expansive Mind in a Distracted World? I would love to in depth go in and see what you uncovered.

I have like a bajillion questions now, of course, because I’m so interested in all those, but I think I kind of understand what you mean about the Costco or the ER place. I feel like it’s a habit that I’ve worked on unintentionally, just to kind of calm my nervous system where I just work to breathe my way through.

I can feel real feel the internal shift in my body happening in maybe potential high anxiety cases where I work to keep my calm. I largely did that for my children. It was like, I need to be the calm for them. You know, that kind of thing. But explain to me what walking meditation looks like. Because I think that goes against what any of us probably imagine. We think of like the meditation pose. How do you kind of practice it as you’re just going through Costco?

Meditation in chaotic places

Nate Klemp
There’s another distinction that I think would be useful here, which is, what I was just describing is like a more formal practice of street meditation or street opening where you set aside a day and you go to Costco, or maybe it’s an hour and for the purpose of meditating. I am realistic here. I know that none of your listeners are probably going to do that.

What they might be interested in doing is while you’re already at Costco, or while you’re standing in the the 15 Minute line at Walmart, or wherever you shop, maybe using that as an opportunity to pray. Practice, just becoming a little bit more present and aware in the in the moment. I think what we tend to do in those moments is pull out our phone distract ourselves. We’re stressed, we don’t really want to feel it, we don’t want to be where we actually are.

Walking meditation, the basic idea is you can sit and meditate using the sensations in the breath, or we’re just opening our awareness to take in everything that’s happening. Those are classic sitting meditation practices. But you really can also do that while walking. My favorite way to do this, particularly in street meditation, when you’re in Costco, or wherever you happen to be in airport. If you have the time and the space, there’s this practice called aimless wandering, where the idea is that you just kind of wander and let your intuition tell you where to go. Doing this in Costco is just totally nuts. because usually, you’re there and you have an agenda: I gotta go to the meat aisle, now I gotta get my chips and whatever. This would be just kind of like allowing yourself to wander around, wherever your intuition tells you to go. It’s kind of cool to do this in our crazy, chaotic, urban modern world. You start to re-experience where you are totally differently. Like, I left Costco thinking, this place is like a work of art. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. This is just this is amazing. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but But you know, you sit there and you just start to see things you don’t ordinarily see.

Renee
That’s so cool. All I can think is like, I hate when my husband wanders. I’m very much the agenda person. So…

Nate Klemp
he’s probably practicing street meditation, you know? Sure. One of these times, you should just join him. No, just kidding.

Renee
I mean, that would be a practice, on patience and tolerance, maybe? Yeah. I do know what you mean. I’m just working on being a little bit more mindful in my life over the last few years where I think sometimes people must think I’m like, high or something because I really start to enjoy… Like you said, Costco is a work of art. I don’t think anyone’s ever thought that before, but I can see what you mean.

I’ve had those moments where I just begin to appreciate our world on a deeper, deeper level, or certain experiences or certain places. That kind of goes back, to when you were saying, you know, we think we’re gonna wake up with this idea where we’re always happy, we’re always in a great positive mood, and that’s not necessarily true. I think the more you kind of embrace those moments, embrace even chaotic situations or negative things that because you’ve embraced it, even if it’s a bad experience, or even if it’s anxiety inducing, you kind of create a little bit not necessarily, like super happy, but a more mellow state of mind. You know what I’m saying? The more I’ve embraced the bad experiences of my life, the more I accept the negative things. And the less I resist against them, it kind of creates more of a calm flow, where I’m not maybe super psyched, happy, like riding a dopamine high, but I am more content to just be in whatever circumstance I find myself in.

Nate Klemp
For many people I know, we just ride our ordinary habits. It’s almost like we’re just living in this very mechanistic, automatic trance-like state where we’re doing things, but we’re not really even thinking about why we’re doing them, right?

When I was listening to your first podcast episode, and you were talking about your room and how you just wanted to fill it with stuff, you know, that seems to me to be an example of just living without a whole lot of intentionality where it’s just these hardwired habits are just totally running the show.

What I love about what you’re up to is just like, hey, what if we take a step back and ask the question, Is this what I truly want? Or is there some other path that I want to go down?

I think for, for so many of us, like we never even asked that question. I think it’s cool just that you’re providing a forum for people to ask that question. And then there are all sorts of tactics and strategies about like the Do you say yes to that question? Well now when you do, but just even having the question itself posed, I think is a revelation for a lot of people.

Opposing political views

Renee
Oh, thanks. You know, I think you’re right. It’s so easy to get caught up in the processes, what we do without actually asking ourselves why.

I want to go back again, if I can, yeah, because this is something else I want to touch on. You mentioned our different political views. I was just talking about this with my mother in law, and my sister in law the other day. My mother in law said, she never bring up politics, and she never brings up religion. I told her, I would love to bring up politics and religion, if I knew I was in a space where people would speak about it without the judgments.

We see so often people are so quick to hear one tidbit about you and assume that you’re this type of person, and you’re going to fit in this type of political mold. That makes that exhausts me, it makes me so tired, because I think we’re trying to put one another in boxes. I love that you are for more gun control, but you went int an took a gun class.

Nate Klemp
I had never even shot a gun, or really had any interaction with people who were very into guns. It was a really cool experience. One stroy from that: I decided to wear my Denver Broncos hat. I live here in Colorado, thinking like, Oh, everybody’s a Bronco fan. We can find common ground there. So I get to this place; It’s this warehouse full of semi automatic weapons. You know, meet my instructor and one of the other students comes in with the Kansas City Chiefs jacket. I was like, God, I don’t know that we can be friends because you know, Bronco fan, your chiefs fan, third division rivals, trying to make a joke.

Her husband’s like, Oh, you don’t need to worry about that at all. We don’t watch the NFL, not after the kneeling that happened five years ago. I’m like the kneeling? Oh, the Black Lives Matter thing. My instructor who was a former police officer, Sheriff, prison guard in Iraq. He’s like, Yeah, you know, I have watched the NFL and five years after what they did with the kneeling. And so I had this moment of just total shock. Like, wait a minute, we can’t even agree on the Denver Broncos or a modern gladiator sport?

Then somebody asked me, well, you know, they were talking about politics off to the side. They asked me, Well, what side are you on? And I had this moment of like, Oh, my God, how do I answer that question? So basically, I said, you know, I’m on the side of being open, and that’s true. That’s why I was there. Just listening to all points of view, and it was crazy, because everybody in that moment, like the whole energy shifted, and they were like, that’s exactly what we need more of, we totally agree. We need to talk to each other. How are we not doing this? I realized in that moment, that there is a desire to actually connect and have conversation on both sides. It’s just a matter of changing the way we have this conversation. It’s not through all of these, like algorithmic media, things like Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter/X, or whatever it’s called now, but like actually being face to face.

It was a wild experience. And as I said before, what I really got out of it was realizing, I became pretty good friends with some of the people there and realizing there’s no difference fundamentally between us. These are good people doing their best in the world and yet, the way we see the world now mediated through all the screens, we watch, it feels like they’re the enemy.

Are screens creating division?

Renee
How do screens play a role in kind of egging on these differences, these rivalries between different sides of different issues?

Nate Klemp
I think we all know, the way social media works, that things that are more provocative, controversial, get more attention, more clicks, more comments, more likes. The algorithms themselves are built around incentivizing outrage, which I think is a big problem.

I think, you know, like, the, the way in which we consume news, it’s also their incentives running where there are some networks that are incentivized to be super far right, some that are incentivized to be super far left and the further they go, the more viewers they get, and, and so I think it’s really unfortunate.

My hope is that if enough people start to think like, what would happen if I really just listen to the other side, to my neighbor, to my uncle, to my friend to my kid, even sometimes. Maybe there is space for us to shift this underlying culture of polarization because it is crazy.

There’s this study that came up as I was researching for this book. It’s called Lethal Mass Partisanship, showing that 20% of Democrats and Republicans in America believe that the other side lacks the traits to be considered fully human, that they behave like animals. Similar 20% of Republicans and Democrats think that we would be better off if large numbers of the other party just died. That’s 20% of our country! This is kind of like a crisis, I think. As individuals, if we can take steps to sort of break out of this cycle of political outrage, it can be a really powerful thing.

Renee
That’s so disheartening. It’s really sad. It’s really is. That’s what I was talking on recently. It was just this frustration that I felt trying to voice my opinions, you know, during COVID. During all of the different things that everybody has taken so many different stances on that members of my own family, were really quick to hear a decision that I was making, and just turn completely against me and just assume that I was like, backing the the opponent that they hate, or, you know, that kind of thing.

I’m burnt out on it. And I love that you took the opportunity to kind of do something that you maybe were, quote unquote, “against,” or something that you disagree with, and embrace it and understand the other side a little bit more. You’re right, I think so many more people need to do that, beyond just even hearing, listening to another person, and listening to their side of the story. I truly do actively work to do that but I’m finding there’s very few environments where you can openly share, so I kind of love that you just did that.

Intent to understand

Nate Klemp
One practical tip for that, as I mentioned, at the beginning, I used to be a political philosophy professor. So I used to study political rhetoric and how we talk to each other and one of the most helpful tools that I learned, it was actually from a German philosopher named Jurgen Habermas, who has this incredibly dense, complicated theory that I won’t even start unpacking here. He said something that I think is really useful, which is that there’s a difference between let’s call it open conversation and closed conversation. The difference is this: Most of the time, when we’re talking about politics, we do it with an intent to win. In other words, we are trying to show that our side is rights, the other person’s side is wrong. We’re trying to show how we have the better argument we have the better position, we have the better candidate and just win the debate, essentially.

I think there’s a place for that. We need political debates, that’s good, but we don’t need to be debating all the time. So the alternative, if you want to dabble in this more open way of talking about politics, is what he calls the intent to understand. I might think of it as the intent to really listen. That just creates a whole different mindset.

If you go into a political conversation thinking like, what I really want to do is just understand, because then, you know, it can be a more friendly dialogue. Where yeah, maybe it gets a little bit tense at certain points, but, but it’s like, hey, what I really want is just to understand here, I’m not trying to tell you, you’re wrong, or your facts are bad or whatever. That’s kind of what I was up to, trying to figure out if I could actually do that. It was hard to do.

Renee
Like I said, a few years ago when I started kind of learning about self help when I started it was very spiritual and I love the author Wayne Dyer. You know being with his in laws, who strongly disagreed with his beliefs and he would just hear them and listen and say, Oh, you might be right about that. Or thank you for sharing that even if he disagreed. I’m like I’m I love with the idea of continuing to build a world where we are more open to one another. However, I think so many people think I want to fight, you know? I think they think I’m preparing to gear up when really I’m just trying to to hear and understand, which is a bummer.

Nate Klemp
It is a bummer.

Renee
I absolutely love that you did that. I’m curious to learn more. Do you want to share a little bit about your book coming out next month? Do you want to remind us what it’s called? If people want to dive in, because I definitely want to dive in to hear how those experiences went for you!

Nate Klemp
The books called Open: Living with an Expansive Mind and a Distracted World, and it comes out February 13.

The best way to learn about is probably just my website. I’m also on Instagram, so you can find me there. It was quite an adventure. And I think for me, this is a really a deeply personal project to figure out. If, for all of us if there’s a way to just spend a little bit less time caught in the grip of various compulsions and addictions and animosity toward each other, and spend a little bit more time feeling more connected to each other, feeling more connected to the present moment, to our own minds, to our emotions, to our thoughts. I feel like it’s a very idealistic utopian vision, but I think it’s possible. I think we can do this. And I think when we do it, it really can change the world.

Renee
Oh, absolutely. Thanks for being part of the movement to make it happen. Things one step closer.

Nate Klemp
Thank you for having me on the show. It’s been so fun.

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How can we apply screen time minimalism? Author Nate Klemp shares his screen binge journey and how to be more mindful in a distracted world.

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