Pico Iyer Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: A study by Harvard University found that 67 per cent of its respondents would rather face electroshock treatment than be put in a room without their technological communication devices.

This revealing fact was narrated by international essayist, novelist and travel writer Pico Iyer to the attendees of the World Government Summit today (Tuesday) while holding a session on ‘Stillness in the Digital Age’.

Iyer offered a seemingly simple solution to issues of stress and the overwhelming nature of connectivity in the digital age: stillness.

Speaking about his own experiences as a travel writer who is constantly globe-trotting, Iyer said, “I find that the more I move, the more I need stillness, just to make sense of my movements.”

Iyer thanked the organisers of the World Government Summit for inviting him and including a session on ’stillness’ in a summit otherwise filled with issues of global urgency. He said, “I am impressed that the World Government Summit understands and acknowledges the value of inner resources and the invisible self-government inside us that is just as important.”

He reiterated that most humans today face an information overload, which he believes is making people feel overwhelmed and causing them to suffer from ‘data obesity’.

Commenting on the stress that this information overload is causing people, Iyer said, “Humans were never meant to live at a pace determined by machines. We were meant to live at the speed of life, not at the speed of light.”

He acknowledged that machines and technological devices are here to stay and that it is not the devices that are the problem, but the inability of humans to step away from these devices that is causing stress.

Iyer acknowledged that human beings do not necessarily have a choice about remaining connected, calling it “a rollercoaster you never asked to get on, but you can’t get off”. He went on to argue that people can take control of their own circumstances because “the one good thing about stress is that it is caused by ourselves, so it can be cured by ourselves”.

Citing the example of China, he said 400 internet rescue camps have been instituted to help kids who are addicted to their devices to get help. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the health epidemic of the 21st century is stress. Stress is draining $4 billion (Dh14.69 billion) out of the United States economy.

Concluding his session, the writer urged attendees to take time out of their days, even 30 minutes, to be still and take a break from their jobs and their devices. He said, “I do suspect that all of you probably don’t need more movement, more distraction in your life, but much less. To begin to do your jobs, you need to step away from your jobs.”

Iyer pointed out that stillness did not necessarily have to include meditation or yoga, but could be observed through taking a few days’ break every year to places less connected by devices, playing golf, listening to music by oneself and being mindful of bringing some amount of quiet and peace into one’s life. He posited that this would make people not only more successful and productive but also happier and kinder throughout their lives.

In his wrap-up remarks, Iyer said, “We rightly think and talk a lot about making a living, but really what we should be thinking about is making a life.”