Arianna Huffington Wants You to Unplug

The HuffPo editor also invited 800-plus guests at last night's Drexel talk to blog for her empire.

A popular feature on the iPhone 5 (also available as an app on older models) is “Do Not Disturb,” a program that blocks texts, emails and phone calls. Yes. An app that does the same thing that, well, the user can. My friend Janel said they should have called it “Will Power.”

Of course, it’s complicated, and that’s where the “app” comes in. One can block certain people from “getting in at you”—though really it just stops the alerts, so you don’t even know how many times your mother/boss/guy you need to break up with are calling/texting/emailing, until you check. I’m not sure what happened to the pleasure gained from pressing “reject” instead, but this popular blocking app must make people feel all-powerful.

Speaking of power, Arianna Huffington spoke at Drexel last night. She talked a good deal about our culture’s over-connectivity, sleep deprivation and constant stress. She also talked about HuffPo’s expansion to Germany (this past Monday), and how thrilled she was that the site has hit 250 million comments. She gave the room of 800-plus listeners her direct email address and personally invited us all to become bloggers for HuffPo. Apparently, we all need to relax, and we all need to do more.

About two-thirds of her very funny and interesting lecture was about what she sees as our society’s need to unplug and reconnect with the self. Huffington discussed what she sees as our changing relationship with technology and new media, offering the hypothesis that we used to search for information and now we search for meaning.

And—are you sitting down?—Huff Po has an app for that! “GPS for the Soul” (also a large section on the Huff Po site). It measures your stress level via your heart rate via the phone’s camera lens, and lets you quantify just how stressed you are.

Then, you “course correct” and choose poetry, music, photos that you’ve uploaded as your own guides, or you click on experts like Deepak Chopra.

Of course, all of this takes, wait for it … only one minute.

If you like, you can log in via Facebook and share your guides with friends. You can also check your activity feed, which tells you how your friends are feeling. Sounds really relaxing, right?

Should I tell you now that as far as mine own eyes could see, to the left and right of me, people in the Drexel audience had their iPhones on and running, frequently tweeting, frequently checking their messages. I didn’t see anyone watching movie trailers, but multitasking ensued. Would you be surprised if I tell you that Arianna’s phone rang while she was on stage at the podium, and she had to ask one of the event coordinators to go in her purse to silence her own phone?

Johnson & Johnson is probably the forerunner among corporations who have integrated stress reducers into their work environment. Cornell University recently reported that their meditation program saves Johnson & Johnson about $8.55 million annually in sick days and loss of productivity. General Mills offers things like on-site yoga and guided meditation. Huffington Post provides nap rooms, which sounded like a good idea, until Huffington mentioned how booked up they’ve become. I imagined myself, racing to work to get my name on the nap room schedule, signing up anyway when the only time I could get was 9:15 a.m., and then lying on a cot, eyes squinched shut, thinking, “I’ve got 20 minutes. Nap!!! Nap!!!!”

Alll of this carving out of a few minutes in which to unwind, “course correct,” de-stress, sounds, well, stressful, and only makes me think of Holly Hunter’s iconic five-minute cries in 1987’s Broadcast News. And then I think, “1987? Wait a minute. Working hard isn’t new?”

Last night, the house was clean(ish), the dog was walked, my son was showered and homeworked. I nuzzled up to my peacefully sleeping boyfriend in my favorite place in the world, my tranquil blue bedroom. Content. I realized that though I had downloaded the GPS for the Soul app, I had not had time to play with it. I turned it on and checked my stress levels. The camera’s flash illuminated the room so brightly I worried that it might wake up the boyfriend.

The reading of my heart rate took so long I was getting frustrated. Little insipid pop-ups of “stress tips” like “women have more heart conditions than men” and “sometimes a few minutes of focused breathing can ease a stressful situation” and “every stressful reaction triggers over 1400 biological changes in your body” popped up to entertain me as the bar moved across the screen. My “test” result: “You may be experiencing some stress.” This solid information I had just gathered made me wonder whether the stress tips were ways to create it or ways to abate it.