Disconnect — or risk ‘digital addiction’, summit told

Arianna Huffington says it is more important to take time out than to brag about working long hours (File/AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Disconnect — or risk ‘digital addiction’, summit told

DUBAI: Arianna Huffington, former publisher turned lifestyle counsellor, shook the World Government Summit in Dubai out of its technology-inspired dreams with a call to disconnect — at least temporarily — from the digital world “in order to reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones.”

She startled the audience, which for the past 24 hours had been hearing about the beneficial power of technology, digital communications and artificial intelligence, with the warning: “We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence, how it will become more intelligent than humans. But it will never be more creative, compassionate and loving than we are.”

Some technophiles in the audience even looked away from their screens to listen to her.

Huffington, who left the news and opinion website Huffington Post in 2016 to concentrate on her health project Thrive Global, was just as concerned about the medical implications of technology overuse, especially for women and children.

“We take better care of our smartphones than we do of ourselves. We know exactly how much battery is in our phone, but do you know when you’re running on empty?” she asked.

Huffington listed the negative implications of over-dependence on modern technology, including stress, anxiety, heart problems and diabetes. All were worsened by overuse of phones and other electronic devices, she said.

Modern connectivity causes stress because people never switch off — literally as well as metaphorically — leading to cases of “burn-out” in office workers and others, she warned.

“Burnt-out workers are 30 percent more likely to lose their jobs and to suffer diseases that make them less efficient. About 70 percent of health care issues are related to stress. The way we are working is not working.

The implications of technology overload are most serious for children and for women, Huffington said.

“Children who spend five hours a day on social media, as some studies suggest, are much more likely to be depressed, and women face greater risks from heart disease and diabetes,” she said.

She warned people against sleeping with their smartphones near their bed, claiming that the habit leads to less and lower-quality rest.

She quoted Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who recently wrote an article entitled “Why my getting eight hours’ sleep is good for Amazon shareholders.”

Huffington said: “Machismo burn-out leads to terrible business decisions. The world of work was designed by men, and it is not working. Women have to redesign it.”

She also levelled criticism at the tech giants. “We are addicted to devices, and the social media companies know how to capture and monetise our addiction. We are drowning in data and starved of wisdom,” she said.

It was the second time at the summit that an on-stage speaker had attacked modern smartphone practices.

Earlier, Richard Quest, anchor for CNN International, asked the audience to hold up their phones screens facing the stage, and turn the devices off for the duration of his session.


Jordanian cabinet approves new IMF-guided tax law to boost finances

Updated 21 May 2018
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Jordanian cabinet approves new IMF-guided tax law to boost finances

AMMAN: Jordan’s cabinet on Monday approved major IMF-guided proposals that aim to double the income tax base, as a key part of reforms to boost the finances of a debt-burdened economy hit by regional conflict.
“When only 4 percent of Jordanians pay (personal) income tax, this may not be the right thing,” Finance Minister Omar Malhas said in remarks after the cabinet meeting, adding the goal was to push that to eight percent. The draft legislation was submitted to parliament.
The IMF’s three-year Extended Fund Facility program aims to generate more state revenue to gradually bring down public debt to 77 percent of GDP in 2021, from a record 95 percent.
A few months ago Jordan raised levies on hundreds of food and consumer items by unifying general sales tax (GST) to 16 percent — removing exemptions on many basic goods.
In January subsidies on bread were ended, doubling some prices in a country with rising unemployment and poverty among its eight million people.
The income tax move and the GST reforms will bring an estimated 840 million dinars ($1.2 billion) in extra annual tax revenue that will help reduce chronic budget shortfalls normally covered by foreign aid, officials say.
Corporate income tax on banks, financial institutions and insurance companies will be pushed to 40 percent from 30 percent. Taxes on Jordan’s phosphate and potash mining industry will be raised to 30 percent from 24.
The government argues the reforms will reduce social disparities by progressively taxing high earners while leaving low-paid public sector employees largely untouched.
“This is a fair tax law not an unfair one,” said Malhas, who shrugged off criticism the law is lenient on many businesses connected to politicians whose transactions are not subject to tax scrutiny.
Husam Abu Ali, the head of the Income and Sales Tax Department, said a proposed IMF-recommended Financial Crime Investigations Unit will stiffen penalties for tax evaders. Critics say it will not tackle pervasive corruption in state institutions.
Abu Ali said the government could be losing hundreds of millions of dollars through tax evasion, which is as high as 80 percent in some companies.
The amendments lower the income tax threshold and raise tax rates. Unions said the government was caving in to IMF demands and squeezing more from the same taxpayers.
“It is penalizing a group that has long paid what it owes the state,” the unions syndicate said in a statement.
“It imposes injustice on employees whose salaries have barely coped with price hikes rising madly in recent years.”