Last night at a cocktail party I attended in Davos, the queen of new media, Arianna Huffington, did a surprising thing. She asked people to unplug from their Blackberries and—gasp—slow down. Multi-tasking is ubiquitous at Davos, as are any number of unpleasant behaviors. The 1% (or 1% wannabes) in attendance are well known for looking over the left ear of whomever they are speaking with to make sure nobody more important is in the room. (There usually is.) Staring at peoples’ chests — not salaciously, but in order to check the status of their participant badge — is also common. Overbooking is rife, as are last minute cancellations, since everyone is constantly jockeying for the best possible networking opportunities (Merkel or Soros? Geithner or Jean-Claude Trichet?)
Huffington is, of course, the patron saint of networkers, but at last night’s party, which was to honor female entrepreneurs, she raised an important point. All this scurrying around and being connected 24/7 and talking rather than listening may not be helping the world, which is, after all, the official mission of the World Economic Forum. “We think this is giving us greater understanding,” she said. “It’s not.” In fact, it’s making us all selfish and boring
And it’s men, more than women, said Huffington, who are at fault. She pointed out that she’d been at a dinner the previous night hosted by a VIP who’d boasted about how much he was able to accomplish on only 4 hours sleep. “I thought to myself, but didn’t say, ‘I wish you’d gotten five hours, because this dinner would have been a lot more interesting,’” quipped Huffington.
Her analysis was that the world isn’t suffering from a financial crisis, or a eurozone crisis, or a confidence crisis as much as from a crisis of empathy. Her prescription? Slow down, unplug, and get a lot more sleep. You’ll better understand and really connect with the people around you — and that, more than stimulus of the monetary or intellectual sort — is the key to making the world a better place.
That may be a bit rich coming from a woman who’s made a fortune on quick hit journalism. Still, as I watched the movers and shakers of the world rudely ditch out of a ceremony last night honoring big name artists like the violinist Midori so that they could run to the next career-enhancing networking event hosted by a bank or consulting firm, I couldn’t help but agree.