Queen Rania’s Remarks at Web Summit 2022 - Lisbon, Portugal

November 02, 2022

Thank you, Casey – and thank you all.

In the early days of the World Wide Web, someone once said: “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them how to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks.”

At the time, it made me laugh. But today, it feels more prophetic than we knew. 

Our devotion to our devices isn’t just fondness or habit. We’re hooked.

The moment we wake, we check the headlines. We scroll through our feed before we go to sleep. We’re spending at least 7 hours a day online… and our use just keeps on rising: 

Over the past year, according to one report, the daily average of time spent online went up by 4 minutes per day.

Four more minutes.

Doesn’t sound like much… but I’m thinking about what it means.

Over a year, four minutes a day adds up to one whole day, per person… which, when spread across every internet user in the world, means “more than 5 billion additional days of internet use in 2022.”

Five billion days, plowed back into our computers. The number boggles the mind.

And it makes me think of something the novelist Annie Dillard once wrote… “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

I’m not a technologist.

But I believe that the aim of technology is to make our lives better than they were. 

And I wonder: If someone told us we’d have one extra day per year, would we conclude that the best thing we could do for our families… for our communities… for our world… was to take those extra 24 hours and invest them back into our screens?

I am concerned that we’re undervaluing the most precious currency of all: Our time.

I am concerned that, even as virtual reality improves by the day… we’re neglecting the needs of our actual reality. And our mental health is suffering, too.

So, I want us to think, symbolically, about how to reclaim those four minutes. 

I’d like to propose four steps we can take to invest those minutes wisely. 

Because, the way I see it, for all the excitement surrounding emerging technologies, when you consider the challenges facing us in our fast-paced, complex world – from climate change to conflict… infectious disease… political polarization… and more -- the real progress we need is not better machines, but for all of us to be better humans.

In May, for example, the UN refugee agency shared a milestone it called “staggering”: the number of forcibly displaced people had passed 100 million.

Those numbers may seem too overwhelming to grasp… but they aren’t numbers. They are people like us. People with hopes and worries and dreams and families they love.

In 2017, I visited a camp in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims had fled genocide in Myanmar—genocide aggravated by hate speech online. 

One image I’ll never be able to forget was a skinny little boy… legs out, barefoot, sitting on the ground… hunched over at the waist.

In his mouth was a plastic straw.

He was trying to drink water from the mud.

As you may know, UNHCR is the agency that cares for refugees worldwide. Their entire budget for this year is about $10 billion. 

Meanwhile, Meta’s revenue for just the first quarter was nearly three times that amount.

Is that the right allocation of resources?

As a human family, our priorities are skewed if we are valuing VR, Instagram, and “likes” over the life of a refugee child.

And it isn’t just that child’s life that is diminished, but our own lives as well. In our interconnected world, where we cannot shield ourselves from others’ suffering, our community, our village, and our neighborhood have grown, whether we wanted them to or not—and we need to be looking out for one another if we want peace and stability for ourselves.

That’s why I believe we should invest our first minute toward mobilizing collective compassion—and not in a selective or sporadic way, but as a matter of practice. It’s time to upgrade our own operating system as a human family, starting from the conviction that every human being has equal worth.

The world’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, where more than 7.2 million people have fled violence since the end of February, has shown us that we can do so much when our hearts are joined as one.

And yet, it’s hard to ignore the difference in generosity, tone, and urgency between the welcome extended to Ukrainian refugees and those fleeing devastation in countries like Syria, South Sudan, or Myanmar. 

It’s hard not to wonder if skin color and religion affect the global community’s humanitarian instincts… and whether the impulse is to lend a helping hand—or look away.

Prejudice and intolerance are often at the root of conflict in the first place. Addressing that prejudice isn’t an algorithm’s job: It’s up to us.

If we can’t overcome our inherent biases, how can we hope to create AI that doesn’t have bias baked-in?

So, minute number one goes to boosting compassion, without discrimination.

Let’s invest our second minute in building a common concept of truth.

These days, it’s all too easy to restrict our news diets to narrowly customized content—content that feeds what we already think… that confirms what we already believe… and that reinforces, instead of challenges, the assumptions we already hold.

But when we limit our exposure this way, we limit our perspective… which undermines our openness to inquiry and debate. 

Like the old joke goes: “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts!”

Yet, if we are not willing to contemplate facts that contradict our own opinions, how will we make sound decisions—for ourselves, for our families, for our governance?

Meanwhile, the speed with which misinformation is spread has undermined our trust. 

And a media ecosystem that elevates simple lies over complex truths, and where clicks reward conflict over credibility, will only make things worse. 

Somehow, we’ve got to renew our tolerance for nuance, complexity, and detail. Insisting that everything is either black or white can actually obscure the path forward.

I’ve often said that one of the most important things we can do to make our world a better place is to take a moment to look at things from the other side’s point of view. Not that we’re suddenly going to agree with their position, or vice versa; but opening our minds might open up some space for common ground. 

There isn’t one right way to do the right thing or get the right results. There’s always a third way, and finding that path shouldn’t have to feel like a sacrifice or a compromise. Sometimes it’s about taking the best of both options to create something new both sides can believe in. 

So, investing in compassion and common truth is essential—but those steps will not be enough.

We also need to ensure we’re equipped to act on our own values.

And that’s why minute three should go to reclaiming our human agency.

Because, more and more, we’re depending on our devices not simply for distraction but for direction.

Our GPS tells us what route to take. Our texting platforms prompt us what to write. Our shopping apps point us toward what we should buy. We barely have the time to think before we act. 

But the more we delegate decision-making to AI, the fewer choices we’re making for ourselves. Intentionally or not, we’re giving up our own process of reflection and discernment. 

And that’s a risk.

In a world of complexity, we need our human powers to be fine-tuned, so that we can decide among imperfect options, and adjust to unexpected demands.

So, what would it look like to reclaim our human agency? Where do we begin?

For myself, I’m trying to be more mindful of the tradeoffs underway, and to notice the moments when enhancing convenience means relinquishing critical thoughts. 

To keep our mental muscles strong, we need to do the difficult work of weighing and making choices.

We need to be willing to forgo the algorithm and figure things out for ourselves.

Which brings me to the last minute. And my request for this one is very simple: Invest your time in the people you love. Life is precious, and always too short.

The Twitter feed will never end. There will always be one more TikTok. But time only moves in one direction, and we can’t take it back.

I lost my father earlier this year. I miss him every day. What I wouldn’t give for one more moment with him…

So let’s take those four daily minutes back. 

Let’s put them somewhere that counts. Compassion. Truth. Human agency. And time well spent with those we love.

And let’s look, too, at how technology can reinforce those objectives—not simply by pulling us back to our screens, but genuinely helping us build better lives.

Imagine if social media no longer eroded our attention, but instead helped us stay focused on the problems we’re trying to solve?

Imagine if recommendation algorithms stopped sending us more of the same, and instead found ways to open our minds and expose us to new ideas?

Imagine if the greatest strength of AI was not in making decisions for us, but rather in helping us be more discerning in the choices we make for ourselves?

And imagine if, instead of devoting 5 billion more days to the internet, each of us invested our time in those we love?

One thing all of us want is to live profound lives with little regret. As people grow older and look back at their lives, very few would tell you they wished they had spent more time in front of their screens or behind their desks… but most wish they had spent more time with the people they care about. 

Our lives are given texture and meaning not by technology, but by each other.

And I am very grateful to be spending these 25 minutes with you.


Queen Rania’s Discussion with CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: First of all, thank you very much, Your Majesty. Second of all, I see I'm the only guy wearing a tie I think in the entire building here.

QUEEN RANIA: take it off.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN:  We're gonna have a quick chat about what her Majesty said because I think it's very important and I think it's something that moves all of us forward. But there's three things in our fireside chat before we get going that I want to sort of make the foundation of things. First of all, Her Majesty Queen Rania is the real deal among any correspondent who goes to war or anywhere else. I've been to every war. And she's been there first. And she's been on the ground she goes, where it hurts and where people are hurting. And that's why everything that she says we take very seriously. Second of all, you and I, we've been to a lot of these places where refugees suffer, where people have almost nothing, and I think in the past years in the past, maybe 10 years, the biggest game changer for people who are fleeing is you folks, it's been tech. It's been people hooking up to where they can go, how they can be safe, how they can integrate into societies. And, and I believe this is my first question, that the only way to come to terms with the streams of refugees that are going to be coming will be tech, won’t it?

QUEEN RANIA: Right, right. You know, I think it's kind of a almost a shameful paradox that we live in an age of convenience and instant gratification. And yet, we're witnessing such human hardship. But on the flip side, we're also living in an age where the impossible is not just possible, but it's also probable. So most of you here in this room are very comfortable imagining unimaginable technological advancements and making them happen. And so I think our world really needs its fair share and deserves its fair share of that imagination, particularly the most vulnerable of us.

And to be fair, the tech sector has worked hard in designing and scaling, you know, programs that support refugees. And it's very important to remember that when a person becomes a refugee, it's not just their home that they lose, but they become, you know, they lose the people and the places that constitute their entire ecosystem, so they become disconnected from every aspect of their prior life. And digital platforms can really help reconnect them to essential information, services, resources, and just as important a sense of community through online learning and skilling, employment matching, translation apps, mobile fund transfers. So all these things are incredibly important. But there is a word of caution. 

The Migration Policy Institute, warned that out of 170 tech solutions that were developed for refugees in 2015 and 2016, the majority, the vast majority had become defunct by 2018. So technology can be a lifeline for refugees and it can't be just a fad. We need to sustain our attention and be consistent in trying to help the refugees. But there is you know, there's a lot of room for innovation. For example, Jordan is the first country where the UN was able to deliver humanitarian aid using the iris scan payment system. So in Jordan, the refugees are able to buy food literally at the blink of an eye and that very same system that was being used to support Ukrainian refugees.

The biggest selling point for technology is the fact that it transcends borders at a time when our world unfortunately, keeps erecting them. And I'm not talking about geographic borders only. Refugees on a daily basis as you know, face legal, cultural, linguistic, economic barriers, and you all can develop solutions that can help overcome those barriers and for that millions around the world will be eternally grateful.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: That's one of the things I was very inspired by a quote that I read from you that said people inherently are good, and they want to do the right thing, if nobody is telling them to be fearful of the other. How can that be combated, especially in these times when we have polarization, economic problems around the world.

QUEEN RANIA: Look fear, fear has always been an effective political tool, especially in times when people are anxious and uncertain about their futures. And this is the time that we live in. You know, polarizing and populist leaders will try to validate that anxiety about a world that is changing at a dizzying pace by pointing at easy targets. You know, the enemy is always over there. It's the refugee, it's the migrant, it's the Muslim, it's globalization. People are inherently good, it's just that we never make good decisions when we're fearful. And when you're scared, you know that suspicion starts to get the upper hand over sympathy.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: And you've been to so many refugee camps, people seeking shelter, I have as well. I find every time I speak to someone there, I feel this could be my neighbor, I would have no issues with that person being my neighbor. And yet, in where I live in Berlin, there’s a refugee shelter right next door. I've never been there.

QUEEN RANIA: Well, you know, the thing is, you know, you probably feel that way because you've exposed yourself to so many people from different walks of life. It's…it is frighteningly simple for the human mind to tune off the suffering of others, particularly when they do not seem to be like us, or when they have names that we find difficult to pronounce. Studies have shown that we are instinctively more attuned to the pain of those who are like us, the suffering of people who are…seem different don't elicit the same emotional or mental reaction. And that kind of choosey compassion, that selective kind of empathy, has real tragic geopolitical consequences because it's a blind spot in our humanity. It determines where we look and what we see. So for example, if you were following the news as the Ukraine war was unfolding, you'd be forgiven to assume that it's been decades since our world has witnessed such conflict, but it hasn't. 

Depending on what definition you use, today, there are 30…about 30 countries currently at war in our world. How many of these conflicts make it to the headlines or stay there for more than a day? How many of those civilian populations are getting the support they need? It's all too easy to look away, but that would be a grave mistake because injustice somewhere, has a way of diminishing us all everywhere. And you can be sure that when there's turmoil in one country, instability will reverberate way beyond its borders. And so, you know, it's really up to us to…we can't be responsible, in a sense for our subconscious bias. But we are held liable when we allow these biases to dictate policy. 

The good news is that compassion isn't a finite resource. It's a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. And I think you know, it takes an effort, a conscious effort for us to overcome our implicit biases. But it is possible to turn selective empathy into universal empathy. Like I said, when you expose yourself to people from different walks of life…it becomes easier for you to put yourself in their shoes.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: So a lot of that is communicating with folks to try and to try and alleviate those biases. Because I mean, one of the things that we can't rely on in this is politicians. We have to do it ourselves, right? 

QUEEN RANIA: We absolutely have to do it ourselves. And I think we all have to challenge ourselves. I personally, you know, make an effort you know, throughout my adult life to not judge or make assumptions about others. And, you know, as I said, it's more about getting out of your comfort zone. 

You know, one thing I've learned is that, you know, we make assumptions about ourselves just as much as we make assumptions about other people – the narratives and the labels we assign to others, we do it to ourselves. And we constantly reinforce it by an internal dialogue that constantly is telling you, you know, ‘I am this, I am not that’. ‘I like this, I don't like that’. ‘I'm good at this, I'm bad at that’. But you know, those kinds of assumptions that we make about ourselves, end up becoming barriers that hold us back and that limit the space in which we move and the choices we make.

So we constantly have to explore and expand the edges of our comfort zone, because it's only when you step out of your comfort zone that you really feel alive and exhilarated. So you know, you have to challenge yourself to go to people that you may not think you would get along with, or to go to places, or to help lend a helping hand – even though that's not the field in which you work in, because that's where you will come to life and that's where you will grow and feel exhilarated.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: And for you guys to help us make those connections. And I think it's interesting that all this is happening in Europe. A lot of this is happening in Europe, where you have ageing societies that would actually benefit from skilled people who come here, who need young people to come here.

QUEEN RANIA: Right. You know, I think, you know, our world has to move beyond trying to control the movement of people into trying to figure out how to manage it, because I think it's just part of our world. You know, and more refugee crisis are in the horizon as our world continues to heat up.

As you know, the climate issue is going to probably displace upwards of 200 million people by 2050. And you know, there still isn't a single organization in our world that's overseeing the movement of people globally, and that needs to change. We need to have a unified vision and a policy as to how to deal with the movement of people, because, you know, it's something that’s part of our world. And, you know, we need to figure out ways of how to deal with it. 

Obviously, if we could avert these crises in the first place, that would be great. But you know, [with] climate change, unfortunately, too many policies remain unimplemented, too many pledges remain on paper. It's easy to convene in conferences and come up with great wish lists, but until we come up with binding to-do lists that include the reduction of greenhouse emissions, etc. etc., we're going to continue to face, you know, massive refugee crises in the future.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: And finally, we're running out of time, but you know, I could do this for another hour or two. Since we are at this very important summit: The fact of the matter is, there's not going to be more money for refugees, most probably. The institutions are the same. How important is tech in trying to maximize the funds that are there and trying to maximize the effort that is there and really help refugees to get going and the countries that they go to?

QUEEN RANIA: Well, you know, just like in other aspects of our world, the tech has given us new tools that did not exist in the past. So a refugee’s life can be multiple times better than, you know, 10 or 15 years ago because of some of the emerging technologies and solutions that are coming out to make their lives better. So as I said, tech does transcend borders. And also it can be easily scaled. It’s easy to come up with a solution that helps, you know, 50 people, but it's the solutions that you want that can help millions of people that really make the transformation that we are looking for.

So I think tech has the possibility to change the whole experience for refugees, to really help governments in dealing with the refugees, because governments will adopt these technologies. But, like I said before, it's important for the investment to be sustained. It can't be a fad. Because what happens sometimes is, when there's a crisis and there's an influx of refugees, the world's attention is focused on them. But that seems to last for a very short period of time before people move on to the next thing. And so people may, you know, dip their toes in it, but it's not enough. You need to be there for the long term because it's what happens to refugees over the long term that really determines the trajectory of their lives. It’s not the initial aid that comes in, although that's important to keep them alive – you know, food, medicine, shelter is very important. But then what quality of life will they have afterwards? And you know, the average time that a refugee spends in another country is about above 30 years. And so you know, it's a long term issue.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: Queen Rania, thank you so much for coming and speaking to us.

QUEEN RANIA: Thank you very much.