Exclusive: Arianna Huffington Adds a Do-Not-Disturb Sign to Your Samsung Phone

October 19, 2017, 4:09 PM UTC

There is nothing radical about most digital media or technology—at least in the sense that it doesn’t make us do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. It just helps us do them better.

Facebook didn’t invent making friends. It just does a good job—or, rather a comprehensive one—of letting friends (and bare acquaintances) keep track of one another’s lives, thoughts, and high school crushes. Twitter didn’t invent news or gossip or puppy videos. It just spreads them faster. Airbnb didn’t invent sleepovers. It just helps us have them at strangers’ homes instead.

And Thrive Global, the wellness-crusading company that new media czarina Arianna Huffington founded nearly a year ago, didn’t invent downtime. But a new app the startup has created makes that precious commodity much easier to secure.

The app, with the eponymous name of “Thrive,” was designed for all Samsung devices and will be available for download, starting in December, exclusively through the Samsung Galaxy Store—an announcement Huffington made onstage today in front of a sold-out crowd attending the Samsung Developer Conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

So what does this app do? It helps you turn off your phone. Now, if that sounds minor, just ask yourself this: “When was the last time you did it?”

The Thrive app has several “modes” to help you disconnect in different ways. Switch into “Thrive Mode,” for instance, and your phone will thoughtfully lock you out for whatever amount of time you choose—squelching notifications, text messages and phone calls, except from the loved ones you preselect to be on your “VIP list.”

If you want, you can end your nirvana session early—that is, unless you opt for “Super Thrive Mode.” Here, there’s no going back. Essential for true work addicts who don’t trust themselves to turn off, even for a few minutes. There’s a scheduler, too, where you can set up regular daily or weekly bouts of quiet time. (The whole thing is rather elegantly designed, I might add, in a soothing moon glow sort of way.)

Among Thrive’s scariest modes, though, is its “App Control” setting, which reveals how much time you actually spend on Instagram, Twitter, or “Clash of Clans.” And, yes, Thrive lets you set time limits here as well—or block some games or social media drugs altogether.

Huffington has been on a holy war to end our aching emotional, physical, and spiritual burnout. “And one of the big accelerators of burnout is our addiction to our cellphones,” Huffington told me in a recent interview at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. “We need to address that. Because the truth is your day, my day, most people’s day never ends. You have to declare an artificial end of the day and the symbol of that is turning off your phone.”

And given how addicting our personal, always accessible technoceuticals are, that ain’t easy.

Tristan Harris, the former Google “Design Ethicist” who once worked as a magician, wrote a compelling essay last year on “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind…” He argues that our phones, social media, and games use a psychological lure called intermittent variable rewards. He writes:

“If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable.”

“That’s why we need to set boundaries,” says Huffington. “The Thrive app is designed to help us monitor our addiction.”

We can do that by descending into silos, perhaps. Internally, in fact, Huffington and her team called the app “silo” for a while, she says, but the word has negative implications.

“We had lots of back-and-forths on whether the app should be the same name as the company,” Marc Mathieu, the chief marketing officer of Samsung Electronics, tells me in an interview. “But what Arianna has developed is not just a trick—it’s a philosophy, it’s a point of view, it’s a platform.” And “Thrive” is what that philosophy-pov-platform is. (For more on that, see “Dream Catcher,” the story I wrote on the day of Thrive Global’s launch last November.)

Indeed, as I think of it, there is something “radical” about Thrive. That’s because it does, in my view, have the power to get us to do something we wouldn’t ordinarily do—and that’s brag about resting.

As Huffington says, so many of us in the modern age seem to compete to see who can keep their engines revved the hottest, longest, and most intensely.

That’s why my favorite setting in the Thrive app is what the programmers modestly call “Bi-directional Communication.” That option tells anyone and everyone who texts or calls you that you’re busy unplugging.

It’s a subtle message, yes. But with those few words repeated millions of times, Huffington hopes to foment a revolution. God bless her.

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