Arianna Huffington Has Advice for the New Year: Unplug

The HuffPost founder and Thrive Global CEO is putting a pause on digital communication with a new app that encourages healthy breaks from a non-stop buzzing world.

Arianna Huffington is no stranger to information overload. As co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, she spent years creating a company where the news never stopped. Now, she’s the CEO of Thrive Global, a lifestyle company that focuses on encouraging healthy behavior changes — ironically, including unplugging from technology.

Her company’s new app for Samsung Note 8, the THRIVE App, can block your calls, apps, notifications and even your texts. If someone texts you while you’re in THRIVE mode, they’ll get a message saying you’re taking a healthy break from your device and when you’ll be back in the digital world. It can also let you know how much time you spend on specific apps, like Facebook and Instagram, and help you set usage goals.

The app is meant to tackle some of the growing problems in American society: information burnout and device addiction. Huffington believes society’s relationship with technology has become unhealthy and it’s only hurting our ability to have full, productive lives.

What experiences have you personally had with technology overuse this year that influenced your decision to launch the THRIVE App?

Too numerous to name! It’s about pulling my phone out when I didn’t need to, interrupting some work task to check it or even just being distracted by the temptation to check it even when I didn’t check it. And of course, we’re not aware of what we’re missing when we’re looking down at our screens.

Our desire to launch the THRIVE App came from the feeling of being controlled by our phones and that our technology is growing and becoming unsustainable.

How is this app different from existing products, such as phones’ built-in “Do Not Disturb” modes already used in iPhone and Android operating systems?

It’s very different. First of all, it’s bidirectional. Unlike existing apps, while you’re in THRIVE Mode, anybody who tries to contact you who’s not on your VIP list will automatically be notified that you’re in THRIVE Mode and told when you’ll be available again. This allows you to unplug in a deeper way.

THRIVE also provides you with a detailed analysis of how you’re spending time on your phone and gives you a dashboard to set specific time goals for specific apps.

Why did this mission resonate with you? Given the fact that your role as founder of The Huffington Post was to increase the amount of information online and to get that information to as many eyes as possible – essentially to get people to plug-in – why are you now advocating people unplug more?

Being able to help people connect with themselves and the world has always been a passion of mine, and that was a big part of HuffPost. It wasn’t just about time, but also about the quality and depth of our audience’s engagement.

The real swing in our relationship with technology came with the smartphone and social media. That’s when our time spent with devices and our addiction began to become more costly in terms of our attention, and our abilities to focus and connect with others and ourselves.

What did your time at The Huffington Post teach you about the way 24/7 access to information affects people?

At HuffPost, there were obvious challenges in running a 24/7 newsroom. What it taught me is that you have to be deliberate to prevent burnout, which means building time to unplug into your schedule.

If you don’t, the time will never magically make itself available. But really, with the way technology has advanced, what we were dealing with at HuffPost 10 years ago is what everybody is dealing with now. We’re all in a 24/7 newsroom now. And so those lessons apply to everybody.

How has your relationship with technology changed over the past year?

In launching Thrive Global and developing the THRIVE App, I’ve read practically every study on how technology affects our physical and mental health. And so I’ve been able to see how the science is validating what we all feel, and this has made me much more aware of how unsustainable our growing addiction to technology is, and also much more passionate about changing it.

How are you personally setting boundaries with technology?

One thing I do is to make sure I don’t begin and end my day with my phone. At night, I charge my phone outside my bedroom. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep – our to-do lists, our in-boxes and our anxieties. And in the morning, instead of reaching for my phone right when I wake up, I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful and set my intention for the day. We also have device-free meetings at work, which I highly recommend.

Who is this app built for? Who do you think could benefit most from unplugging?

It’s for everybody who feels perpetually behind, stressed, distracted, unfocused and constantly at the beck and call of their phones. Which is to say, there’s an almost infinite accessible market.

What do you think should people do with their extra time? Work more? Work less?

Really, they should do whatever is most meaningful to them. That’s the point of the app — to give people a real choice over their time, instead of the semblance of a choice given to them by increasingly sophisticated technologies.

If they want to use the app for work, what it will do is allow them to work smarter, so they don’t have to work longer. We’re also hearing from people who are using it to spend quality time with their children, who, while Thrive Mode is on, no longer have to compete with a screen for their parents’ attention. Others are using it just to give themselves some time and space to unplug and recharge.

Meredith Rutland Bauer is a freelance technology and science reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the founder of Forefront Freelance and has written for WIRED, The Atlantic verticals, Newsweek, The Weather Channel and other publications. She primarily covers how emerging technology affects the way people live and work. Follow her at @merebauer.

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