Why would the president of a social media company leave to run a company that combats smartphone addiction?

I interviewed the new CEO of Moment last week. In case you don’t know, Moment is an app designed to combat smartphone addiction by measuring your usage. It tracks the amount of time you spend on your phone, the number of times you pick it up and which apps you use the most.

I’ve been using Moment for almost 2 years now. A few weeks ago, I received an email announcing Moment’s new version, subscription service and CEO – Tim Kendall, formerly of Facebook and Pinterest. I was intrigued by their new CEO’s career path. How does one go from heading up companies that encourage people to spend time online to running one focused on helping people reduce the time they spend online? I decided to ask him that question myself.

I found out that becoming a parent was the catalyst for Tim’s career about-face. “I started getting personally affected by this issue of phone and device addiction about 2 to 3 years ago,” he said. “I was President of Pinterest so I was working at a pretty intense job. I had a lot of trouble coming home and getting off my phone, both because I was distracted and sucked in with work but also because the phone is incredibly effective at seducing you into spend(ing) time on it.” Tim continued, saying “…it became evident to me that this was going to become and had already become, for me, a problem. That it was absolutely impacting the quality of my life, the quality of my relationships.” 

At that point, Tim started looking at the problem of device addiction. He started giving talks about it at Pinterest. His interest in and passion for the topic grew, and he thought there was an opportunity to build a company around it. Finally, he decided to leave Pinterest to pursue that idea. Tim had used the Moment app and loved it, so he arranged to meet with the man who created it, Kevin Holesh. Tim ended up buying the company.

Tim and I discussed a dilemma we’ve both run across in trying to help others combat device addiction. Although 70% of people acknowledge they spend too much time on their phones, most don’t do a thing about it. There is lots of research that shows the serious behavioural health ramifications of device addiction, which leads to both physical and mental health issues. It’s also clear that those who successfully tame their device addiction will enjoy significant personal and professional benefits. And yet, people just carry on, letting their devices dictate when, where and how they invest their time and attention.

Tim has an interesting perspective regarding this contradiction. He recently read Michelle Obama’s book, “Becoming,” and she talked about something that resonated with him. She said systemic change at the level that the POTUS and she could create doesn’t happen in 8 years. All they could do is plant seeds that may shift the way things are going, but they won’t really know if it shifted meaningfully for a decade or two. Tim thinks device addiction is like tobacco, sedentary lifestyles and global warming, and that we’re at the beginning of another shift in societal perception and behaviour. After all, the smartphone is 10 years old and the idea that device addiction is a health epidemic only started to take hold about a year ago.

I agree with Tim’s assessment and share his desire to create a societal shift in how we interact with our devices. If we all keep working toward that goal, we can make a difference. It will take time so we must be patient, yet determined. And if that sometimes requires a career change, so be it.

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