Arianna Huffington on the dangers of technology, and why everyone needs a ‘digital detox’

Zillow CMO Amy Bohutinsky interviews Arianna Huffington

Zillow CMO Amy Bohutinsky interviews Arianna Huffington

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington recently took a trip with her family to Hawaii for a weeklong vacation. But it wasn’t just fun in the sun for the media entrepreneur.

The vacation was also part of a self-prescribed “digital detox” in which Huffington stepped away from the day-to-day grind, unplugging from her laptop and smartphone.

huffington1111-photo.jpg“Did you know that you can have a meal without Instagramming it? I discovered a lot of things,” said Huffington of the trip. “You can also watch a sunset without Instagramming it.”

That line drew huge laughs today from the staffers at Zillow, where Huffington spoke as part of the company’s speaker series. Huffington is in town as part of Microsoft’s annual CEO Summit, taking place this week in Redmond.

But she’s also promoting her book “Thrive” — which is designed to inspire people to live with “well-being, wisdom and wonder.”

The 63-year-old Huffington hasn’t always worked that way, noting how her hard-charging early years cost her relationships and led to bad decisions and poor health.

Seven years ago Huffington collapsed from burn-out, exhaustion and lack of sleep, something she now describes as a “wake-up call. ”

Most of her advice today at Zillow centered around how to balance family life with career, also a core message of Thrive.

Huffington is dead-serious about one of the contributing factors to overwork, stress and lack of sleep: Technology.

She encourages people to walk away from their laptops and disconnect from their smartphones, following in her footsteps with a digital detox every so often. Your family, employer and body will be thankful for it.

“We’ve reached the moment of the perfect storm, when we are more aware of the dangers, including the dangers of hyper connectivity to technology,” she said. “We take better care of our smartphones, than we do ourselves.”

Huffington said she even recalls the moment when she stopped walking and texting on the streets of New York, realizing some of the “beauty around us.” Seeing parents wrapped up in their cell phones, rather than interacting with their children is depressing, she said.

At Microsoft CEO Summit this week, Huffington told executives that the one technology they should be working on is something that “helps us disconnect from technology.”

“If you spend your days just in meetings and responding to email, you are not going to come out with the great game-changing ideas,” she said.

“At the end of the day, look around and see, is there something that no longer serves you that you can drop,” she said. It can be a project or hobby, and in Huffington’s case it was the realization that she was never going to be a great skier.

“It was very liberating to realize that you can complete a project by dropping it,” she said.

Employers who create a hard-driving, always-on culture are missing out and actually losing productivity from workers. Staffers at the Huffington Post start with three weeks vacation, and aren’t expected to be on 24-7.

thrive44“At end of day, you pay people for their judgment, not their stamina,” said Huffington, adding that we “are all learning how to master technology, rather than be mastered by it.”

The culture of work also needs to change, and people no longer should wear their relentless focus on work as a badge of honor.

“I had dinner with a guy recently who bragged that he had only had four hours of sleep the night before. And, I thought to myself, but I didn’t say it: ‘You know what, this dinner would have been a lot more interesting if you had gotten more sleep,” she said.

Huffington went on to note that Bill Clinton once remarked that the worst decisions he made occurred when he was tired. “He did not specify what mistakes,” Huffington quipped.

Huffington was later asked by a Zillow employee what would have happened if she didn’t work the hours she did earlier in life. Would she have achieved the same level of success?

“1000 percent yes. I would have achieved just as much, if not more,” she said. “I would have less worry, less damage to my health and my relationships, and made fewer mistakes.”

Correction: This post has been updated to properly reflect who attended the Hawaii trip with Huffington.

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