Why We Need to Disconnect From Technology, with Arianna Huffington

No one should be plugged in 24/7, says Arianna Huffington. A commitment to mindfulness as a life strategy requires an easing away from our devices, especially before bedtime.

Maria Konnikova: You’re someone who runs a media empire and when we think of journalists, when we think of media, when we think of news, you know, we’ll always think of you have your Twitter feed open. You have this open. You’re trying to figure out what’s happening, what you can write about. How does one accomplish something and be successful in careers like that while at the same time trying to balance the ills, so to speak, of multitasking.

Arianna Huffington: Well I think without question that if you are running a multimedia company the most important thing you can do is set the editorial priorities and make sure that you have people that you really trust and believe in running different departments and reporting to you, of course, and you being completely involved. But you don’t have to be on 24/7 and nobody needs to be on 24/7. The media operation has to be on 24/7, but not the same people. And that applies whether you’re running a media company, whether you’re running an investment bank with clients around the world. This is the era of collaboration. We need to recognize that if we work in teams, then somebody from the team will be on at all hours, but not the same person.

Maria Konnikova: I see this tension between multitasking and kind of the rise of technology and how tethered we all are to our phones, to all of these things going on. But at the same time a lot of the solutions are also technologically based so you have appendices in your book about all the ways that our phones and our computers can actually help us be more mindful. And I just found that a fascinating tension and I’d love to hear your thoughts about what the role of technology is in all of this.

Arianna Huffington: Yes I found it fascinating too. But then truth is paradoxical and one of the paradoxes is that we are now increasingly using technology to help us disconnect from technology and reconnect with ourselves. And some of the most successful features, like the Apple feature do not disturb, or wearable devices that are related to our growing recognition that we need to learn to disconnect from technology in order to actually nurture our humanity. Our relation with technology has led to an enormous amount of behavioral addictions. And we need to treat them seriously in our own lives. For me, it starts with the first step, which is picking a time at the end of your day.

Preferably at least half an hour before you’re going to go to sleep when you turn off all your devices and gently escort them out of your bedroom. This is paramount. And my nightstand is a completely device free zone that has spiritual books, a candle, a flower and water so that before I go to sleep I can really disconnect from my life and recognize that there is another dimension to who I am beyond being the editor of The Huffington Post or the author of Thrive or the mother of these two children.

Maria Konnikova: What would you say though to someone who’s at a different stage in their career who say, "Well I just can’t afford to do that, you know; I need to get this promotion or I need to get my paycheck and not get fired. And to do that I need to be connected. How do I then become mindful if I can’t take the space and time in my job?"

Arianna Huffington: So a lot depends on obviously where you’re working. There are 35 percent of American companies now, mid-size as well as large, that have introduced some form of mindfulness into their workplace. That’s a phenomenal amount of companies. And there’s also a new listening in the air. I was talking to two young women exactly at the stage you are describing. It was their first job at a company, at McKenzie actually. And they decided to go to their bosses and say to them that, you know, we’re going to work really hard, get everything done during the week, but we take our weekends off. Obviously if there’s an emergency here is our cell phone but we’re not on email. That was a risk, right, especially in companies which are seen as the boiler room of burnout.

Three months later their boss’s boss came to them and told them that they had been identified as leaders in the company because not only did they do a great job, but they had set boundaries. They had the guts to set boundaries for themselves. Now I am pretty confident that if that conversation had taken place two or three years ago, the reaction would not have been the same. But now this conversation that we are having here is part of business magazines. It’s part of the Harvard Business School and the Stanford Business School. So bosses are not so surprised if they hear that from new employees and provided they do a good job, talent is the hardest thing to find at the moment. And increasingly companies are going to recognize that if they’re going to recruit and retain talent, they need to make sure that they provide conditions which are humane.


In conversation with How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes author Maria Konnikova, Arianna Huffington explains that no one — not even the head of a 24/7 multimedia company — needs to be plugged in all the time.

This is the seventh in an exclusive video series of today’s brightest minds exploring the theory of genius. Exclusive videos will be posted daily on youtube.com/bigthink  throughout 92nd Street Y’s second annual 7 Days of Genius Festival: Venture into the Extraordinary, running March 1 to March 8, 2015.

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