S2E02: Why is Europe so Far Ahead of US in Tech Regulation? with Matt Robison

Today on the show we welcome Matt Robison, a public policy expert. A former chief of staff and legislative director for three members of Congress and former policy director in the New Hampshire State Senate, Matt holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the host of the Beyond Politics podcast which is available on all podcast platforms.

Today, they will be discussing why it is so hard to get meaningful regulations passed in the US in comparison with Europe. They will be talking not only about EMF regulations but as well as those less controversial policies. The question remains, why is it so difficult to get the US government to address problems that emerge at the inner section of health and technology. Let’s find out!

In this episode you will hear: 

  • Differences in policies and regulations between the US and Europe
  • Scientific and Technology achievements and advancement today
  • Who addresses the EMF problem
  • Public health regulations
  • Four bucket of social problem




R Blank 0:01
On today’s show, I’ll be speaking to public policy expert Matt Robeson getting into the thorny issues of tech regulation. He has a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard University Kennedy School. He has a long resume too long to cover fully here. And it includes serving as legislative director for Congressman John Baldacci and Michael Michaud and Chief of Staff for Congressman Paul Hodes. And running the congressional campaign for John Tierney, and serving as the policy director for the New Hampshire State Senate. These days, Matt hosts several politics and current events, shows on Wk XL in New Hampshire, and also publishes the beyond politics podcast, which you can find on all major podcasting platforms. And that’s just one of the three podcasts that Matt hosts and produces,

Matt Robison 0:45
there are plenty of case studies of successful advancement of ultimately very big societal change, big regulation, big legislation that started small and had some of these key ingredients in it.

R Blank 0:59
So with that, as background, I’m super excited to have him on for a discussion on why it’s so much harder to get meaningful regulations passed in the US, as we see happening in Europe. Obviously, you know, I’m talking about regulations around EMF emissions. But I’m also interested in learning more about less controversial policies, like the right to disconnect, and the right to have a single charge or work on all of our phones, both of which we see happening in Europe right now. So really, the question I want to get into today is, why is it so difficult to get the US government to address problems that emerge at the intersection of health and technology, like the kinds of rules we’re seeing emerge in Europe? Before we begin a brief word, this podcast is brought to you by my company shield your body, where it is our mission to help make technology safer for you and your loved ones to enjoy. Inspired by the life’s work of my father, Dr. Martin blanc one of the world’s leading EMF scientists I founded shield your body in 2012. We provide a ton of great and free resources for you to learn all about EMF radiation, like articles, ebooks, webinars and videos. We also have a world class catalog of laboratory tested EMF and 5g protection products from our phone pouch and laptop pad all the way up to our bed canopy. All of our products are laboratory tested and include a lifetime warranty learn more about our products and why we have hundreds of 1000s of satisfied customers around the world at shield your body calm that shield your body, all one word.com or click the link in the show notes and use promo code pod to save 15% On your first order with free shipping throughout North America, the UK and Europe. Hi, Matt, welcome.

Matt Robison 2:37
Thanks so much for having me.

R Blank 2:38
It’s a pleasure. So before we get into anything full disclosure to everyone, Matt is my cousin and credit where credit is due. I think this is actually the first time anyone said this publicly. But Matt is the guy who actually came up with the name for the overpowered book that I wrote with my father. And I mentioned here because as time goes on, I feel like that name ages really well. It’s more and more meaningful to me every year because it gets it really gets to the heart of the EMF issue in just one word that these devices are literally overpowered. They literally emit more power than is healthy. But even more than that they emit more power than is necessary. So on behalf of everyone, Matt, thank you very much for that title. And and when you graciously had me on your beyond politics podcast, you shared some nice memories of my father, because you knew him quite well, didn’t you?

Matt Robison 3:34
I did. I I felt very warmly toward your dad. He was really an extraordinary guy. And I’m not sure how much that comes through. There’s only so much you can capture that when you talk about someone and kind of their scientific achievements and their career. But he was a really fascinating guy. He actually officiated my wedding I, I’m Jewish, we’re Jewish, I’m married, my wife is Catholic. And so we had a Catholic Deacon. And we had my Uncle Marty as the standard rabbi. And what was so amazing was as we prepared for the ceremony, and we kind of broke it down with him in prep, he could give a full biblical explanation for why something was part of a Jewish wedding ceremony, then he could trace the history of how it evolved across time and in different cultures, and then explain his take and approach on it. So every part of that was sort of like getting a five minutes, Things You Didn’t Know podcast on every topic having to do with a Jewish wedding. It was absolutely amazing.

R Blank 4:39
That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing that. So So because of Dad, you’ve been aware like all of us in the family of the EMF issue for quite a while. And of course you also know about the work I and my team do here at si B. When you combine that with your extensive public policy experience, you also have a good idea of why EMF has been so hard to regulate. Can you? Can you speak a little bit about that?

Matt Robison 5:04
Sure. I think about the challenge of passing anything through our system of government, I sort of think about it in four buckets. So I’ll I’ll kind of try and hit them one at a time. You know, the first one that I think really super applies to EMF is, who owns it? At what level of government? Are you addressing the problem? Because you have federal jurisdiction, you have state jurisdiction, and in some cases, you have local jurisdiction, just at the federal level. The question when it comes to regulating the emissions from electromagnetic sources? Is it the Federal Trade Commission? Because you have a lot of consumer products, obviously, that use electricity? Is it the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission FERC, which oversees where transmission power lines go? Is it OSHA, because people are bathed in this type of radiation in the workplace? Is it a public health issue, as we’ve seen with COVID, a lot of the regulation, mask regulation and distancing has been undertaken by local boards of public health. And so you have this when you have this mishmash, this overlapping set of who’s on first what’s on second type government, it becomes a kind of many hands problem, who owns it, who’s taking charge of it? And that just creates confusion.

R Blank 6:35
So so when you have that kind of that kind of landscape, in terms of managing regulations, you know, ideally, I guess you’d want legislature to to kind of provide some clarity on what needs to be done. Is that

Matt Robison 6:52
That’s right. That’s That’s exactly right. In theory, the the legislature in this case, the US Congress, although in at the state level, could be the state legislature, they’re supposed to be the ones that make policy, they’re the ones that are supposed to make law. And that kind of gets to my second bucket of problems, which is, how do you actually get that done this, this feels like, I’m just a bill sitting here on Capitol Hill. How does a bill become a law? Well, one of the ways that bill becomes a law is it has a champion, because you’re going to have to overcome opposition. And in this case, there are plenty of embedded interests, and they’re not evil. When I say interests, it sounds like I’m saying something sinister. I’m not necessarily but you know, if you’re talking about adding regulation, and potentially cost to everything that we make that runs on electricity, and the entire way we power our society, there are going to be companies and individuals who are upset about that. So you need a powerful champion. Well, you need to get someone on board to do that. But I’ll just, you know, kind of throw in the third bucket of problem, which is, Congress, as I think most people know, is it something of a deadlock, the productivity of Congress has been steadily decreasing. And you can see it in all kinds of statistics that I won’t bore listeners with, but Congress is passing less and less meaningful legislation. It’s finding it harder and harder to just do its annual homework of passing the federal budget, it’s not able to confirm nominees to positions. And so Congress is is kind of at a deadlock. And so even if you have a champion, it’s just at baseline, not easy to move anything through the US Congress these days. It’s a little easier and state legislatures, but that’s not necessarily a cakewalk, either.

R Blank 8:48
So how do you get things done in in Washington or any any state capitol these days? Well,

Matt Robison 8:54
it takes a lot of shoe leather, it takes a lot of hard work. And, you know, one of the keys in the Super partisan political environment that we have created for ourselves is this wonderful political world that we’ve that we’ve all brought our kids into these days, is that it there’s almost a Zen of how to get something done. You have to make sure that it doesn’t end up in the political crosshairs. Anything that gets too much attention that you advocate for too hard, will automatically create sort of an equal and opposite law of thermodynamics Law of Motion kind of an equal and opposite reaction from the other party. And so you almost need to fly under the radar and not turn something into an even then it’s no guarantee. Just take, for example, the infrastructure bill. This is something that President Trump had tried to get passed for four years. It was a widely agreed upon Priority across Republicans and Democrats. And when it came to a vote 13 Republicans voted for it. And they were immediately excoriated by their own party, there were calls for them to be thrown out of the party, including from former President Trump, and to lose their committee seats, and they’re no longer Republicans. And that’s just the level we’ve reached. So it’s very, very difficult to pass things, it’s very difficult if they have any attention. And what it usually takes is kind of the right confluence of ingredients, having a good champion, having some level of bipartisan agreement, either a mutual non aggression pact, we’re not going to fight it out on this one, or just enough bipartisanship that you can get something through, we did sentencing reform that way. And an awful lot of hustle over a lot of time.

R Blank 10:55
That’s interest. So you, I mean, I’m glad that you’re bringing some actual examples of success actually happening. And, but it’s interesting to me the way you talk about the need to, I don’t know, deep politicize or I use the word Zen approach a topic or an issue with that sort of coolness in order to actually see progress. And you mentioned a couple a couple of characteristics in particular, which, which so I mean, the question was originally about EMF, and EMF regulations. But I’d like to pivot that just a little bit, because, you know, I, obviously, I focus a lot about EMF issues. But I and many others, I think a growing number of others believe that there are a whole set of health issues stemming from our relationship with technology. I mean, that’s that’s the entire premise of this healthier tech podcast. So certainly EMF is an issue regarding health and technology. But but there are other ones as well. So with some of these other issues, I think we do see more of a public understanding, a greater public willingness to act. And and I don’t know if you want to say bipartisan or nonpartisan interest. And then the example that comes to mind, which is pretty fresh in everyone’s memory, is, is the one of I believe it’s pronounced Francis Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, Can Can you can you speak a little bit about that?

Matt Robison 12:27
Right. Well, first of all, I totally agree. And I think I think you’re onto something really smart with this podcast, which is, you know, Dwight Eisenhower is famous for a lot of things. He had a he had a saying, if you have a difficult problem, I actually think he said an intractable problem. But that’s a that’s $100 word. If you have a difficult problem, enlarge it. Look at the bigger picture is what he’s saying and deal with that whole context. And you’re totally right, that there is a growing realization, and we see it to some degree, with the Facebook revelations, there’s a growing realization, first of all, that mental health and physical health are part of the same continuum. And so if tech is harming our mental health, then that’s just as deep and profound an impact on us as an effect on our physical health. Actually, that distinction is sort of stupid on its on its face. But there’s also I think, a growing realization in the last five years, especially about this is gonna sound highfalutin, I don’t mean it to but about our societal health, in a very real way, the functioning of our politics, of our of our public discourse of our ability to kind of understand current events and news and what’s happening the world around us is being shaped, skewed, perhaps even warped by our relationship with technology and the filter through which we understand the world which is increasingly technology based and social media based. We’ve seen it in the insurrection we’ve seen it in misinformation. We’ve seen it in vaccine, misinformation, scientific misinformation. And that of course, takes us around the circle back to EMF so that’s a that’s a great point. And I II on to your to your question about the Facebook whistleblower. What that is about is revelations from Ms. Haugen that Facebook knew, based on their own internal work, their own internal research, that their products were causing harm, that they had evidence of that now, it wouldn’t take people much of a Google to find that this isn’t exactly a slam dunk scientific case. Yet. There’s different psychologists different social scientists will say well, the evidence may be a little mixed. We haven’t totally nailed this, but that’s beside the point. The point is, this company was doing its own Research and its own research was coming back and the system was flashing red. It was saying, Look, teen girls are reporting significant harms, especially we’ve seen from 2010 to 2014, the rates of hospital admission for self harm for girls aged 10 to 14 has doubled. And you’re just seeing a major confluence with social media usage, and particularly Instagram, Snapchat, these visual interactive social media that really focus on the face, and the way you look and body image. And so that is the issue that I think brought to the fore some of the some of the deep problems with Facebook and began to forge some of as you put it, that bipartisan awareness. And what you began to see in the whistleblower hearings in Congress was bipartisan awareness, you saw Republican and Democratic senators saying things like, huh, section 230, which is the part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, that sort of governs how Facebook is regulated, and the fact that it’s lightly regulated or not really regulated at all. You saw Republicans and Democrats talking about section 230, you saw members of both parties talking about the Facebook algorithm. I mean, there’s $100 word there, they’re talking about the way in which artificial intelligence baked into social media is warping people’s brains without sort of our full understanding or control of the process. So yes, there is I think it is a great analogy. And it’s a great sort of opening point for a larger discussion about how is tech impacting our individual physical health or individual mental health and our collective societal health?

R Blank 17:05
That was that was, so I have so many questions after that. But what about I mean, because you talk about in particular, this period of time, being a hyper partisan period of time, and this is an issue at the intersection of, of tech and health and, and issues at that intersection of proven sort of challenging to garner public interest and bipartisan support? What what do you think about, about, about the issues at the center of the Facebook leak, make this different make the the legislative and governmental and regulatory response? Different? And, you know, we should point out, nothing has actually happened yet. But even getting this far is different than we’ve seen, you know, certainly on on the EMF fish issue, but also on other issues related to tech health and tech privacy. What What, what, what might be some of the characteristics about what’s happening right now, with the Facebook leaks that that are different?

Matt Robison 18:06
Well, I’m a Democrat. And so I am afflicted by Democrats disease, which is, I feel a deep seated need to try to persuade people on the basis of facts and evidence. And you know, full well, that that’s not how human beings think that’s not how anyone is persuaded of anything. Actually, it’s an open question of whether people are ever persuaded of anything. What people respond to is story. It’s narrative. And I think what you see in the Facebook saga, we can even call it the meta saga. What you really see in that is a story. There’s a narrative, there’s a villain, there’s a revelation, there’s a surprise twist. And that’s what happens with these kinds of whistleblower revelations. And it can be a turning point that can take an issue, especially an issue as you say, that falls at the intersection of science or technology and public health, and has it has it go from sort of a a resting state kind of a acquiescent state, to suddenly exploding into the public consciousness? We saw this, for example, in the case of tobacco with Jeffrey Weigand, the tobacco insider, they made the movie The Insider the 60 Minutes story where he came forward. And he said, Look, the companies know about the science here. They know about the harm they’re causing. That was that was the key. It went from, hey, the jury is still out scientifically. We don’t really know. You know, we’re doing our best. It was sort of a manageable PR thing for the tobacco companies to say what what we’re making a safer cigarette Less tar, all of those kinds of things. You could see them kind of following a let’s play it out communication strategy. We’ll just keep stringing this along. To all of a sudden, this was a totally different issue. You saw it with the Catholic Church abuse scandal. Again, I’ll reference another movie spotlight. The most famous moment of the movie spotlight is Mark Ruffalo, who was a wonderful actor, but engaging in a little bit of overacting and screaming, they knew they knew. Well, that’s that’s exactly the kind of thing that I think, can change an issue can can rip it sort of out of this. It’s in the background. Yeah, maybe it’s something to worry about. Worry about. But look, there’s so many things to worry about in the world, and in modern life, that it’s easy for people to kind of let it settle into the haze. And this kind of Revelation, yanks it to the forefront. And so, yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s not like we’ve quite gotten there. But I would say that the issue of how we regulate social media has profoundly changed in the last year, on the basis of the whistleblower. It’s just a whole different level of consciousness in the public. And, you know, we have the beginnings of, maybe there will be some momentum. legislatively, we don’t know, we don’t know where it’ll go. But I do think that is the kind of turn and I know, I mean, you talk about this on your show all the time with with a public health issue, like seat belts, I mean, not to turn the question around on you. But I mean, is that is that your experience, when you look at this, that, that it kind of takes a revelation or sort of a moment to break into the public consciousness?

R Blank 21:45
Yeah, well, that? That’s a good question. And the tables are being turned. I feel like, I am not an expert on that, on that, on that particular type of question, I feel, I do keep a close eye on these issues. And it definitely feels to me that something has changed in the public approach to the perceptions of technology. I met as you know, and as many of my listeners know, I had a, I had a 20 year career in software development working for companies like Apple and Microsoft. And, and I was firmly entrenched in, in the California tech vibe, where innovation is fantastic. And give me more tech and everything that’s new is great. And even before that, you know, as a child of I don’t know what you want to call it, but you know, the 90s, more or less, when the the web was literally created and released to the world. And it just there was so much promise, and such a positive vibe around all of this innovation. And, and that continued for decades, and there was just this kind of implicit bias, that technology is always good. And I feel like for the first time, really, in the past year, there have always been people who were advocating, you’re talking about the downsides of technology, but they were just such a minority voice. But within the past year, something has changed. Where there is an I don’t know if it’s a tipping point yet, but you know, something like a tipping point where people suddenly can, you know, are capable of thinking that technology can be harmful. And, you know, obviously, I spent a lot of time talking about EMF, and but, you know, the harm can come from multiple, different vectors. And so your mental state because of all of the fear of missing out, or the comparisons, when you check out your, your friends, Instagram walls, the the loss of sleep that you have, just from the attention grabbing addictive mechanisms that are in play here, all of these various factors. And beyond that, you know, going into the issues of pollution and technology waste, you know, what happens with all of all of the devices, once you throw them out. Something definitely has changed in the past year. Now in and we’re gonna we’re gonna, we’re gonna get to this in a second, the differences between the United States and other parts of the world, I feel like while something has definitely changed, nothing has actually happened yet. So there’s been a change in public perception. And I’d say a pretty fundamental one, right? Where one where it’s technology can do no harm. It is only good to wait a second. There are some costs here. There are some real costs here. We need to think about it. But that’s where that’s as far as it’s gone. I feel well in the US.

Matt Robison 24:51
Can I make a point about that, though, because I think that there’s sort of an embedded I agree with everything you’re saying. And I think there’s sort of an embedded good news or bad News version of of that, that we can tell ourselves. The bad news version is that there are certainly cases where science develops or revelations emerge about a public health issue or a technology. And then it sort of wanders in the wilderness for a long time. So an example of that might be sugar. It’s kind of like tobacco in that we know that 40 and 50 years ago, going back to the 1950s, food companies funded science, blaming fat for heart disease and many other health ails. And it was sort of the fat makes you fat theory, which we’ve seen is scientifically not right. And that work may have sent us on a multi decade, decade wild goose chase on fat, when there’s an increasing amount of evidence that sugar added sugar is a big bigger problem for diabetes, heart disease, and, you know, other major physical health ailments. And so, it is possible for things like this, to sort of wander in the wilderness, even as there’s growing public consciousness. And we’ve certainly seen that in the case of sugar. We’ve also seen that in the most famous case, which is climate change, public awareness of how deep a problem, and we should really use the term global warming because climate climate change is a euphemism invented by anti global warming people. But you know, global warming is, again, something where, you know, we’ve made stunning progress. And yet, we’re still kind of stuck in terms of actual accomplishment. But the other side of the coin is, yes, it takes things a long time to develop. But it’s still meaningful to kind of cross the Rubicon in terms of public consciousness and Legislative Awareness. And a great historical example of that was the quest for civil rights legislation. It was a multi decade quest in Congress that was stymied by the Southern bloc in the US Senate, that would filibuster civil rights legislation to death. And so what happened prior to the eventual passage of the landmark civil rights act of 1964, was that under Senate Leader, then Senate Leader Lyndon Johnson, Democrats were able to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It didn’t do a whole heck of a lot. It wasn’t much of an accomplishment. Advocates for a real robust civil rights bill found it incredibly disappointing, and almost a waste of time. But what historians have found is that it created an opening, it created a different mindset. And it showed what might be possible, and it really paved the way we wouldn’t have had 1964 without 1957. So there are certainly examples of that when it comes to public health. And there’s a lot more work to do. But I don’t think it’s entirely a bad news story. When it comes to how long trajectory EMF and social media regulation may be on. We it may be a long journey, but I think there has been a palpable change, and we’ve gotten going. Yeah, no,

R Blank 28:39
I totally. I totally agree. And I appreciate you bringing that note of optimism explicitly into the conversation, because I did not mean to to undervalue the change that that I was talking about having seen within the past year, I think it is major, I think it is significant. I was only, I was only commenting that it has only gone so far. Thus far. Although, you know, to be fair, it has only gone so far thus far. In the United States. The Facebook leaks, like the issues of EMF are about public policy at the intersection intersection of health and technology. And in some other episodes this season, we discuss other issues that exist at the same intersection issues like the right to disconnect the right to be forgotten. And these are issues where I’m bringing them up now, because these are issues that have seen significant traction in the European Union, even while they have seen significantly less traction in the United States. Right. So the right to disconnect is for those who haven’t heard that episode, that is the right to just not be bothered by your employer after work by email or by phone. That is the law already in several EU nations and is highly likely to become the law through out the EU. That is, it might not sound it at first. But that is an issue that is squarely in the intersection of health and technology. What are, Matt, based on your experience in public policy in the United States? What are some of the factors? Why you think some of these, you know, very important issues have had so much more success in Europe than they have in the United States?

Matt Robison 30:32
I, I’m afraid that I’m going to give a bit of a squishy answer to this, especially for a show that’s largely about science. And, you know, again, I, as I mentioned before, I I just it’s in my DNA that I feel like I need facts, figures and statistics, in order to make my case, I don’t really have them in in in this question, because I do think it ultimately boils down to cultural differences. We’ve seen that the European Union, across a whole host of issues, just at baseline, those countries have a culture that’s much stronger on consumer protection, that is much more aggressive about pursuing monopoly, if there’s an embedded skepticism about technology. And there’s a very, in my view healthy, there’s a very healthy appreciation for consumer privacy, and all of those things, there are threads of them in United States political culture. But there are also threads that run the opposite way. And we’ve had we’ve been going through, for example, on monopoly, we’ve been going through a long period in the US have very little regulation of mergers and acquisitions, and monopoly power, especially in the tech sector. There’s been there’s been relatively little litigation or enforcement. And there’s been relatively little policymaking in that area. And of course, advocates, particularly when it comes to social media are very interested in the anti competitive and monopoly aspects of these big social media companies. There’s also you know, you you see, some of these threads play out in issues like genetically modified organisms, the EU just much more comfort with at baseline with being aggressive about regulating GMOs, versus in the US. There’s also a thread of US political culture, that’s more associated with the Republican Party. And I’m not trying to say this as a pejorative, it’s just it’s just sort of a description that is in favor of big business. That is against regulation at baseline. What did Ronald Reagan say? Government, isn’t it government is the problem. And so it’s almost become a way of proving one’s bonafides as a Republican, to oppose regulation. And now even to oppose science. And that’s not all Republicans. Again, I’m not trying to cast any aspersions here to wider net, but it is the case that the Republican Party to sort of prove themselves Republican politicians tend to be against climate science. And they’ve been very skeptical. And we have data on this very skeptical on vaccines and COVID vaccine and the science of mask wearing. And so I do think ultimately, it comes down to some of these cultural differences. And then that translates into political parties and political action, which is why you have a green party, a healthy green party in many of these EU countries, and you have the significant labor movement and or Labour Party, whereas it’s a much more mixed bag in the US.

R Blank 34:12
So okay, so let’s take that, that as a given there, there are these cultural differences. There’s a strong anti regulatory thread running throughout the United States. I take your point that, that you see that in the Republican Party, but I think you also see it in in the Democratic Party, particularly, you know, flowing from, from from who’s, who’s donating to their campaign. So we have this kind of landscape with these, basically a different culture that you talked about. But at the same time, as you noted, we had this these hearings earlier this year, where were members of both parties seemed very concerned about how Facebook was acting, and seemed I don’t I’m interested as the open to the idea of revisiting the safe harbor provision of the Communications Act that you were talking about earlier. And so how do we get, right? Because there’s something happening here, where despite these cultural differences, there seems to be an opening and opportunity for something to happen. So how do we get from where we are now where there’s this potential for something to happen? To actually get in government to help address the problems that emerge at the intersection of health and technology?

Matt Robison 35:35
It’s a long road, as we were talking about earlier, and there are different right answers here. There are different case studies and pathways to success. But I think there are a few ingredients that go into a success story and in different combinations. One is, I do think that at some level, as much as I’ve sort of been

a little negative on the role of facts in persuasion, at some level facts do matter, you do need a case to be made that there’s there’s a harm here, you actually kind of need that, if you’re going to try to get an agency to make a rule to regulate. Frequently, they’re required to do a cost benefit analysis on their rule. And so you need to know what the cost is. And you need to know what the benefit is, you need to know what harm to the public you’re avoiding through the rule, which ultimately comes from the science. So it could be in the case of EMF, it could be in the case of social media and self harm to Team girl, teen girls, that all across the Tech Impact landscape. There is a role for science and facts. There’s also an equal role for having a good story to tell having having harmed people having a poster child, for lack of a better word, to be able to tell your story. And it’s superduper helps if that poster child happens to fall in the state or district of a powerful member of Congress or legislator, if you’re working on the state level that can advance your cause, and be a champion for what you’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes, it can even be a matter of just finding the right language to make legislators feel the impact of the issue you’re talking about. I was working on telecommunications regulation, trying to get more broadband built in the late 1990s. And I was working with an advocacy team, I was more on the sort of statistics and science end of it. And one day one of our consultants had a great southern accent. I think he was a Texan. We you know, we’re talking about all the great facts and figures we had. And he said, Look, what you really need is you need a catchphrase here. What I want you to do is take your bottom least broadband connected states. And it doesn’t matter how many you’ve got, but it’s great if your phrase has if it rhymes, or it has alliteration, so let’s call it the disconnected dozen. And just just say that these states are the disconnected doesn’t put that out, doesn’t matter. The rest of the things you say, well, two years after that conversation, I ended up actually working in Congress. And when I was talking to some of my new colleagues, it turned out that the legislation that we had been advocating for they had all gotten their bosses on to that legislation. Why? Because they heard that their state or their district was part of the disconnected doesn’t. That was something that resonated. So, you know, it’s helpful to have these kinds of ingredients in the case. And then the final thing I’ll say is, it’s it’s helpful to try to make this there’s an old, there’s an old piece of advice, how do you eat an elephant, one bite at a time. And when you have a big, difficult, intractable problem, like EMF, which really does pervade everything we do in in society, it may not be the best strategy to try and tackle the whole darn thing at once. So, frequently, a successful strategy is start at the state level and get a model piece of legislation passed, get a study passed at the state level, the impact of EMF perhaps from transmission lines, get instruction passed in an appropriation bill. That’s how Congress direct how money is going to be spent from the federal budget. Get a line insert into an appropriation bill, forcing the FTC to hold hearings on EMF or the impact of consumer goods that may be at high voltage, you know, find, find small successes that you can build on. None of this is easy. But there are plenty of case studies of successful advancement of ultimately very big societal change, big regulation, big legislation that started small and had some of these key ingredients in it.

R Blank 40:39
Can Can Can you think of, you know, one?

Matt Robison 40:42
Well, you talk about the seat belt example. Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a great one.

R Blank 40:47
Yeah, no, I’m actually that in overpowered that’s what I mean, that’s, that’s the metaphor that we we drew, we drew in that book. Because, you know, when you, I mean, maybe a little less so now, but 10 years ago, when we wrote that book, you talk about concerns about EMF and health. And people sort of assume you’re talking about banning cell phones. And that’s, that’s not the case anymore, then, you know, when you’re talking about highway deaths, you’re not talking, you know, the solution isn’t to ban cars, it’s, you know, a solution looks like something like seatbelts. And, you know, for people growing up today, you know, it might be difficult even to imagine a world in which cars did not have seatbelts. But it really wasn’t that long ago, and it did require a big shift in public opinion. And it was super successful in terms of reducing fatalities. Right.

Matt Robison 41:45
And you see a lot of the ingredients in the seatbelt example that we were just talking about, you know, first of all, you have a long trajectory. The arc of the regulatory universe is frequently long, but it does bend toward justice to really put your Martin Luther King. And so you know, you’re talking about Unsafe at Any Speed comes out 1965, you’re talking about a decade, two decades, and more to really see seatbelt laws, mandatory seatbelt wearing play out across 49 states, it took a long time. But what were the ingredients you had? Well, first of all, you had the science, you had the data, you had the facts. Second, you had poster children, and they were conveniently or horribly located all across the country and in key districts and in key states. So you could get attention and an attachment from politicians to stories that are happening with their own constituents in their own backyard. And then what you saw was eating the elephant a bite at a time, you know, getting the installation of seatbelts to be mandatory, just the fact that you had to force auto manufacturers to just put them in the darn cars. Well, that was a big step. It didn’t force everyone to wear them. But it was it was a necessary first step that paved the way for everything else. So yeah, I think that’s I think that’s a great model. You know, it’s not following this kind of a pathway. Again, it’s not, it’s not a prescription for definite success. You see advocates, and this isn’t an issue that I necessarily myself fully agree with. But you see, people who are worried about genetically modified organisms were sort of following this pathway, starting about a decade ago, and they were bringing up science. And they were they were trying to create examples of, of perceived harms with genetically modified alfalfa and how it meant that all of our milk was eventually going to be genetically modified. Did we want that. And then they were trying what they called the just label it campaign, they were going state to state in state legislatures and trying to enforce labeling. And sometimes that that kind of approach hasn’t worked for that issue. It has worked. In other cases, California Air regulations, which, you know, was a kind of a state by state strategy ended up governing what we do across the country, because auto manufacturers don’t want to deal with a patchwork of regulations. So they just adhere to what’s in place in the biggest market in the country. So yes, I mean, I do think while all of these examples can be double edged, there’s there’s no guarantees here. There are definitely pathways to success and the seat belt examples of good one.

R Blank 44:35
So So, again, it just feels like you’re you’re very optimistic, and I do I do like that to appreciate, especially, you know, in these challenging times, where do you and I hate to put you on the spot but where do you think the let’s just focus again on the issues raised by the The Facebook whistleblower, where do you think that is going to go in a year or two years?

Matt Robison 45:07
That is really hard. That is really, really hard to tell because it is so tied up in politics. It’s so tied up in the run up to the next election, the basic dynamics of we’re talking about the infrastructure bill. I mean, it may be that Congress is unable to pass any significant legislation in the next year. You know, we’re, as we record this, we’re on the cusp of maybe the Biden build back better, Bill will ultimately come together and get passed. But after that, it’s really unclear, we may just be in a period of deadlock. And then if As anticipated, the Republicans win back both chambers of Congress, we don’t know that that will happen. But that’s what’s currently looking more likely for 2022, you would have a whole new set of people in charge in charge of committees and in charge of what makes it to the floor of each chamber of Congress. And so it is, is really hard and almost fundamentally unknowable. I, I do think that we saw the beginning of momentum. And I’m talking to advocates out there, I actually had one of the major ones, Jeff Hauser, is a, he’s a, he’s actually comes out of the labor movement. He was on my beyond politics show and sort of talking about this push, you do see advocates, trying to think about how to break out this issue into manageable bite sized chunks, including going after the anti competitive aspects of the companies, particularly Facebook, trying to deepen the research on harms, especially to young girls. But more broadly, I do think one thing that that is very likely to happen is that Democrats are going to push hard on revelations from the January 6 Investigative Committee. And there is a social media aspect to that that speaks to societal harms. That may be a window into the world of misinformation that will once again raise in the public consciousness, the issue of just how harmful the social media filtration,

R Blank 47:39
I’m sorry to kind of go ahead, no, no, that but that puts it squarely back in the partisan framing, which you said is sort of death to any sort of initiative. It does.

Matt Robison 47:48
It does. And and, and that’s why this may kind of go in fits and starts and advocates have to be super careful, they, especially because Republicans may be in charge. For all we know, not to not to freak people out. I don’t know if they’re Donald Trump fans among your listener base. But certainly are we yeah, we Well, good news for you. We may have Donald Trump back in 2024. So, you know, advocates have to be kind of careful about this. But I I’m sort of doing the same thing that Congress does right now and answering your question. I’m filibustering here because it really is so hard to know. I do think there are some milestones ahead. There are opportunities for advocates to continue to sort of prosecute the public case, I think that the pathway of passing something legislatively, is going to be really, really tricky. And what it will probably take is getting inside the brain and figuring out sort of like with every other question in Washington these days, what does Joe Manchin want to do? What does Susan Collins want to do? What is Mitch McConnell want to do? What is some of these power players in the US Senate want to do? And as you alluded to before, because I don’t want to sound too partisan about this, there are Democrats who are on the other side of this Silicon Valley is predominantly represented by Democrats, and they advocate for these companies. And so you’re gonna, if I had to predict something, I my best guess is you’re not going to see anything legislatively. But what you might see, what you might see is maybe the introduction of a bipartisan bill that steaks out, here’s here’s an approach that we could live with, that would break off a small piece of this problem, that would be a start. And sometimes that in itself, is an accomplishment. It’s enough to continue the progression along the pathway to ultimate success.

R Blank 49:54
Know that. So, again, a note of optimism. I appreciate that. I mean, it’s I hear is in the in the short term, you know, what we can? Well, what we’ve seen so far just in the recent past is significantly different than what we’ve seen before that, in the short term, we can hope to make some intimate incremental progress. And the examples from history show that over time, the types of incremental progress that that you believe are likely in the short term, they add up to eventually seeing the kind of broader change that that I’m talking about this season, you know, in other episodes happening already in Europe, and we can we can we can get to that point in time. Is that, is that fair?

Matt Robison 50:39
I think that’s right. And look, progress in Europe can filter over, it can be a model for what happens in the US. You know, and the other thing is, Donald Rumsfeld died recently. And among his more famous riffs, he was a complicated guy. But among his more famous riffs was, there are known knowns, there are known unknowns, there are unknown unknowns, have I lost people yet? He’s just saying that like in the world, there are things. Not only that, we don’t know, but we don’t even know that we don’t know them. And I think that’s very, very much the case. With this entire world of tech, and social media. And even EMF, there’s constantly science being done. There’s constantly research being done. If at any point, we have a they new moment, on EMF, for example, perhaps on cell phones, because, look, the movie, thank You for Smoking came out 15 years ago, and it was the big joke at the end of the movie was the cell phone manufacturers being advised by the PR consultant. Don’t worry about it, just say the science is still out there. We’re still working on it. Nothing’s been proven bla bla. Well, that’s where the tobacco companies were. And so if at any point, we discover, hey, you know what, actually, this is an unknown unknown. This is something that people knew about, that there are some direct harms, you could see a domino effect, you could see regulation to protect people from that kind of intense EMF right next to your brain. You could also then see, hey, if you’re having this effect, with holding your cell phone up to your house head or keeping it in your front pocket, what about the rest of the electrified world? And you could you could see movement happening that way. And perhaps advancements have right to disconnect? Or maybe even EMF related regulation or legislation in the EU could start to advance that conversation in the US, or it could happen on the state level. So yes, I know, I’m sounding super optimistic about something that like, I want to acknowledge is incredibly hard. I mean, we’ve been at this climate change thing with full awareness of just how bad it is, for 30 years and counting. And, you know, the US remains a holdout. None of this is easy. It could be a long, long road, but I think we’re on it now. We’re definitely on it now. And sometimes change change comes faster than you anticipate.

R Blank 53:28
Okay, well, again, another upbeat note, I really do. It seems odd, Mr. Sunshine, this Yeah. It’s a little bit in contrast to the actual words coming out of

Matt Robison 53:40
I feel like the doctor saying, Look, this is super scary, or diagnosis. But here’s the good news. You know, here’s the lollipop at the end.

R Blank 53:50
Well, thank you so much, Matt, for coming on to the healthier tech podcast and sharing some of your insight on this. On this question, you know, where can my listeners catch more of you?

Matt Robison 54:01
I would urge I would ask everyone to check out the beyond politics podcast, it’s wherever you find your podcasts. We have really interesting guests, including R blank. We have really interesting guests. We we call it beyond politics because we we definitely cover politics, but we cover news, culture and society. We really do try and dig a little deeper like you do on your show. And we have authors and senators and thinkers, you know, really interesting folks kind of looking at what’s going on behind the scenes. We have the author of a great book on the whole 25 year plus history of how we got to marriage equality in the US, you know, fascinating researchers and scientists. So beyond politics is the podcast. We also have some other shows, I mentioned particularly great ideas, which if you are aren’t so much into the politics, you just want to hear about solutions, policy solutions for problems that we face in society. That’s what I cover there. We we work with guests, who run across the ideological spectrum, and offer just ideas. They explain how things work, and how to make them a little bit better.

R Blank 55:19
That’s great. Yeah, we’ll put links to both of those in the show notes. So, Matt, thank you again, for for coming on to the healthier tech podcast, I really enjoyed this conversation and getting a chance to catch up with you. Me too. Well, that was quite an interview. As always, I am happy to welcome my co host Stephanie, Stephanie, you heard that interview? What you what stood out to you?

Stephanie Warner 55:44
Well, first, I want to say, Wow, I love this. I love this topic. So much. It’s, you know, kind of scary to think about how difficult to do is to get public policy change around anything related to tech, the biggest takeaway is even just the concept of not just the challenge that that we have to get to take to make public policy, but also the concept that there is this intersection between health and tech. And we we see it, but you know, we see it play out. And we have the example of the Facebook whistleblower, giving examples of how our tech and social medias is harming our health. I have not thought about the concept that that phrase is a perfect way to describe, you know where we are now. And the concept that there is this intersection between, you know, health and Ted, you also talked about, you know, Matt talked a lot about, you know, this, this recipe for success. And part of it. And what struck me is that it’s a marketing campaign. It’s like, actually getting public policy change is not only a political task, but it’s also a marketing task. You have to have, you know, facts aren’t necessarily they’re important, but they’re not, you know, the most important thing really need the poster child and you need the narrative. Yes, are necessary, but not sufficient. Exactly, exactly. So it struck me as you know, in marketing campaign, and I feel like the tagline to, to think about intersection of, of, you know, health and tech is, is part of that bit that recipe that he was he was talking about,

R Blank 57:35
I think one of the things that stood out to me is I and Stephanie, you know, from what we’ve been doing it si B, that I’ve been saying this, but I don’t think it really kind of hit home to me the way until this this interview, which is that thing there is there has definitely been a shift in public perception of technology. That doesn’t mean everyone’s against technology certainly doesn’t mean everyone’s giving up their air pods or shutting down their Facebook account. But there is there is something big has changed in that people can now easily conceive of tech as being harmful in a way that they couldn’t or just didn’t. Until now, except for for small segments and small niches that and Matt was I think, appropriately optimistic about that. He he wanted to emphasize how important that is. Because without that crack appearing in in public perception, the rest of it is almost hopeless. And having achieved that really does alter the landscape of future possibility.

Stephanie Warner 58:45
Yeah, I absolutely agree. And, you know, one of the thoughts that I had and listening to the interview, is, it’s hard for me to believe that it could potentially take decades for public policy change, because people are so hyper aware that this stuff isn’t good for them. They I think, you know, when you especially when you look at social media usage, gaming, even Netflix addiction, I think people are aware that this is not good for them. It’s they’re not willing to take the personal action yet. And it’s hard for me to believe that this is going to take decades before people say hey, you know what, I need to cut back on this. I we need, we need public policy change, but we need personal change as well.

R Blank 59:29
Yeah, no, I that that I think is key that I don’t think I really covered it explicitly in the interview, but I think it’s obvious in the subtext, which is in the face of government inaction. Personal action is what we all have the power to do. And we all have the power to stop using Facebook or use Facebook last. We all have the power to turn off our cell phones when we don’t want to be reached. And so until there’s a right to disconnect, you know, the or until Facebook’s data management, and advertising platforms are better regulated, right, there are things that we can do as individuals, that that really help us personally and also helped move the ball forward.

Stephanie Warner 1:00:20
Yeah. And I think in this case, I, you know, I feel optimistic that, unlike our the example of seatbelts, I think people are going to probably take more personal responsibility faster than public policy can catch up. i Or maybe I’m maybe I’m more optimistic, but I feel like we’re, as a culture going to move faster than public policy. And the irony of this is, I feel, I feel that social media and our ability to communicate is what is going to make the change happen faster than public policy, unlike things that we’ve seen in the past, like with cigarettes and seat belts.

R Blank 1:01:01
Another thing that stood out to me, and I guess it’s a little ironic that it took a strong partisan to, to really underscore for me, but is the need to deep politicize the issue. Yeah, especially in the United States right now. Everything is basically everything is politicized. But even before we got to this current situation, I have long sought to have si B’s messaging be as as de polet or deep politicized, as possible to be as, and I’m not even talking about issues of, of left and right, I’m talking about not getting into any other issue. Because when you get into any, you know, when when you’re trying to talk about an issue, you know, especially one is complicated, and sometimes controversial is EMF, you want to really just focus on the message and not bring in tangential issues like technology waste, or tech addiction, which which we’re now talking about on this podcast, but which we hadn’t been talking about it si B historically, because I really do see the value in trying to keep politics as out of the conversation as much as possible, which is funny. When you’re talking about ways of enacting public policy. You know, politics is supposed to be about enacting public policy, but we’re saying the best way to achieve better public policy is by leaving politics out of the whole equation.

Stephanie Warner 1:02:37
Yeah, well, I think that that we, you know, that’s, that’s, you know, what we learned in this, you know, we probably know this from looking at the political landscape in the United States now, but but also, after listening to this interview, it’s more and more clear, that anything that we want to get done has to be de politicized, if we want, and we need to focus in on the state and local level to make change. So we have the recipe that Matt talked about, but also part of this is is really thinking is a long term strategy, and incremental progress and change and starting on the local level, which when he was talking about that made me think about our advocacy materials, regarding EMF on our on shield on the shield your body website, the strategy that that you articulated in, in those materials is very similar. It’s, you know, be very focused in your message, don’t get emotional, and IE don’t get political. And, you know, stay very focused, and work locally to get those small successes, and that that message resonated with me a lot in this interview as well, because it is what you know, something that we have talked about, and creating materials for, and how to try and get change locally. And how to advocate for yourself. Yeah. And and we can those materials also work in, you know, this scenario, as well as advocating for better tech help.

R Blank 1:04:13
Well, I think, Rob bringing it all together, I think the key point that I want to take out of this is really just appreciating the sea change that has happened in the past several months, particularly with the changes resulting from the Facebook whistleblower, and seeing the public response that the public had now has openness to thinking of tech as having the potential for harm. And that is really vital as we strive for ways to help people live healthier alongside modern tech which is the whole purpose of the healthier tech podcast so in glows uh, you know, I just feel like despite it all little details that maybe weren’t so uplifting it was it was actually kind of an optimistic takeaway from from that from that conversation. I

Stephanie Warner 1:05:07
agree. I absolutely agree. I think he definitely made me think about some things in a more positive way. And yeah, I definitely am leaving the interview feeling feeling more positive about this. Like there’s there’s action there are things that we can do we have some some control in in our crafting public policy.

R Blank 1:05:36
That does it for today’s episode. Remember, if you like this show and want to hear more, please subscribe the healthier tech podcast available on all major podcasting platforms. And if you have a moment please also leave a review reviews are really critical to help more people find this podcast and learn about the important and undercover topics that we discuss. Also, you can learn more and sign up for our mailing list to get notified when we have new interviews, webinars, ebooks and sales at shield your body calm. You can also just click that link in the show notes. While you’re there at shield your body calm you can check out our world class catalog of laboratory tested EMF and 5g protection products. Don’t forget to use promo code pod to save 15% On your first order from shield your body calm with free shipping throughout North America and Europe. Until next time, I’m R blank. And I want to thank you so much for tuning into the healthier tech podcast. Always remember to shield your body

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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R Blank

R Blank

R Blank is the founder of Healthier Tech and the host of “The Healthier Tech Podcast”, available iTunes, Spotify and all major podcasting platforms.

R has a long background in technology. Previously, R ran a software engineering firm in Los Angeles, producing enterprise-level solutions for blue chip clients including Medtronic, Apple, NBC, Toyota, Disney, Microsoft, the NFL, Ford, IKEA and Mattel.

In the past, he served on the faculty at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering where he taught software engineering, as well as the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He has spoken at technology conferences around the world, including in the US, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and he is the co-author of “AdvancED Flex Development” from Apress.

He has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and received his bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Columbia University. He has also studied at Cambridge University in the UK; the University of Salamanca in Spain; and the Institute of Foreign Languages in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Connect with R on LinkedIn.

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