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We need to stop glamorizing people who are always on their phones, Arianna Huffington says

  • Arianna Huffington wants to help people detach from their phones — with a mobile app.
  • It's time to stop glamorizing people who are always on their phones and embrace switching off, she told CNBC.
  • The growing "techlash" against major social media companies shows that companies should re-prioritize consumer well-being instead of advertising dollars, Huffington said.

It's time to stop glamorizing people who are always on their phones and embrace switching off, says media mogul Arianna Huffington.

Speaking to CNBC at the World Government Summit in Dubai, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global and Huffington Post co-founder discussed her new app, Thrive, which is designed to help people detach from their phones and turn off distractions from social media.

"We launched a new app to help us manage our relationship with our phone better. It's paradoxical — it's basically using technology to help us re-calibrate our relationship with technology," Huffington said, acknowledging the irony of using a mobile app to decrease people's attachment to their phones.

"The end of 2017 was when we realized that there are some really bad unintended consequences about our growing addiction to our phones and to social media," she said, referencing the myriad of studies that have revealed growing anxiety and depression rates among teenagers who are hooked on their devices.

Ariana Huffington
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Ariana Huffington

By using the app and putting your phone on "Thrive mode," she explains, anyone who tries to contact you will receive a message saying you're on "Thrive mode" until a given time of your choosing. Huffington hopes this will help people get back to focusing on their family or work time with less distractions.

"It can help us change the culture, so the expectations change, and we can stop glamorizing people who are always on — instead, we help glamorize people who know what's important in their lives, and who know when to be off."

The app also provides a dashboard that tracks use of apps and games, where a user can set time limits for use of certain apps. So if you wanted to reduce your time spent on Instagram per day, for instance, the app will give you warnings about when to switch off.

"So it's really a coach, a guide, to help us take back control of our time," she said.

Huffington spoke about the growing "techlash" by consumers, particularly parents, against media and large tech firms, stressing that companies should re-prioritize consumer well-being instead of advertising dollars.

"I believe a lot of these companies need to re-prioritize the way the machine learning and algorithms are constantly consuming our attention, and change the incentives — which is not going to be easy, because at the moment they're incentivized to hijack more and more of our attention and sell it for advertising," she added.

"I feel that consumers have a lot more power than we have been acknowledging," Huffington went on. "So our focus is on empowering consumers, on helping them set limits to how much time they are spending online and especially making sure it's intentional. Because so often we just lose ourselves online, and don't even realize how much time we spend on the different apps or social media."