FRANK KANE | ARAB NEWS DUBAI: Arianna Huffington, former publisher turned lifestyle counsellor, shook the World Government Summit in Dubai out of its technology-inspired dreams with a call to disconnect — at least temporarily — from the digital world “in order to reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones.”
She startled the audience, which for the past 24 hours had been hearing about the beneficial power of technology, digital communications and artificial intelligence, with the warning: “We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence, how it will become more intelligent than humans. But it will never be more creative, compassionate and loving than we are.”
Some technophiles in the audience even looked away from their screens to listen to her.
Huffington, who left the news and opinion website Huffington Post in 2016 to concentrate on her health project Thrive Global, was just as concerned about the medical implications of technology overuse, especially for women and children.
“We take better care of our smartphones than we do of ourselves. We know exactly how much battery is in our phone, but do you know when you’re running on empty?” she asked.
Huffington listed the negative implications of over-dependence on modern technology, including stress, anxiety, heart problems and diabetes. All were worsened by overuse of phones and other electronic devices, she said.
Modern connectivity causes stress because people never switch off — literally as well as metaphorically — leading to cases of “burn-out” in office workers and others, she warned.
“Burnt-out workers are 30 percent more likely to lose their jobs and to suffer diseases that make them less efficient.
About 70 percent of health care issues are related to stress. The way we are working is not working.
The implications of technology overload are most serious for children and for women, Huffington said.
“Children who spend five hours a day on social media, as some studies suggest, are much more likely to be depressed, and women face greater risks from heart disease and diabetes,” she said.
She warned people against sleeping with their smartphones near their bed, claiming that the habit leads to less and lower-quality rest.
She quoted Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who recently wrote an article entitled “Why my getting eight hours’ sleep is good for Amazon shareholders.”
Huffington said: “Machismo burn-out leads to terrible business decisions. The world of work was designed by men, and it is not working. Women have to redesign it.”
She also levelled criticism at the tech giants. “We are addicted to devices, and the social media companies know how to capture and monetise our addiction. We are drowning in data and starved of wisdom,” she said.
It was the second time at the summit that an on-stage speaker had attacked modern smartphone practices.
Earlier, Richard Quest, anchor for CNN International, asked the audience to hold up their phones screens facing the stage, and turn the devices off for the duration of his session.