Junk food for your psyche

If you are committed to living a healthy life, don’t overlook your cell phone habits. Beyond the direct effects on your health, which I have written about previously, there are also the effects on your psyche.

First let me say that I believe cell phone technology has its place in our world and has proven to be an amazing resource for displaced peoples. Refugees are able to find each other thanks to the portability of cell phones (1). Having a tiny computer in your hand is an incredible tool when you are in an emergency or other dire situation.

But most people reading this won’t have had to use cell technology for such dire circumstances. In fact, most are probably using it to check twitter, facebook, and other apps out of habit rather than out of need. Most are using it to amuse themselves, or distract themselves, or ward off some impending sense of boredom. Most probably don’t know why they are touching their phones somewhere between 2500 – 5000 times a day (2). It has become an addiction.

As someone who has been there, let me assure that it is totally possible to break the addiction. But first – why would you want to?

I see cell phone technology (and by that I mean the ever invasive smartphone app culture) as very similar to junk food. Both are a form of convenience. But just like relying entirely on junk food for your nourishment will lead you down a road of rocky health, allowing mindless cell phone use to fill the hours of your life will deplete the depths of your psyche. 

Being constantly connected may provide a quick hit but it won’t allow you the deeper kind of communication you might have in face to face encounters where people are paying attention to each other – and not glancing at their phones every few seconds. Being too wrapped up in your phone can keep you from having quiet moments where you might actually have a brilliant idea. It can keep you from observing the things going on around you in real time and real space. And in focusing so much on screens we are losing the intelligence of our bodies (3).

If you feel too dependent on your phone and want to give yourself the space and time to enjoy real life projects or real life people, here’s some advice. Remove all apps you don’t need from your phone (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc – whatever you end up wasting time on). Use social media on your computer instead, designate a certain limited amount of time for it per day, and then turn it off. If your cell phone is your only computer, turn off all the automatic updates for those apps. 

If you don’t know what to do with yourself with all the extra free time you’re going to have now, here are some hands-on ideas: make origami, learn to ferment, work on that sewing project, plan your garden, take your dog for a walk (without your phone), read books to your kids, go to a yoga class, volunteer. 

Junk food should be consumed rarely, and so should mindless activity. Get back to mindfulness. It is so much more satisfying.


1. Why so many refugees have smart phones

2. Putting a finger on our phone obsession

3. A More Physical Form of Mindfulness