10 Rules of Thumb (to Reduce "Cell Phone Brain")

The great thing about cell phones is we can get in touch with anyone at any moment. The bad thing about cell phones is we can get in touch with anyone at any moment.

There is a philosophical perspective that within each perceived curse is a potential gift, and each gift a potential challenge. Modern first world societies are not short on resources or stimulation, entertainment or technology. We have plenty. Tons. More even than most Sci-Fi filmmakers of generations past even could have predicted. As we continue to hold our collective breaths for the arrival of hoverboards, and meanwhile the tiny devices in our pockets can access an entire planet of information in seconds.

Instead, what most of us appear to be deprived of is peace, both externally and within. Peace of mind feels as elusive as peace on Earth, surely not coincidentally, and surely none of us need be convinced of the 1:1 correlation between advances in technology and mental health issues. Does this mean technology is the only cause of mental illness? Obviously not, but with the exception of meditation apps, it doesn’t seem to be helping much either.

There is a concept in Chinese Medicine that when there is insufficiency we must be motivated and resourceful. When there is excess we must be mindful, disciplined, and wiser.

From any scientific perspective it is understood that the blue light emitted from cell phones and computers stimulates our sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” part), which must mean when stared at in excess and/or in the evening, in discord with our circadian rhythm, it could not possibly be harmless.

If we have plenty of money then we have plenty of food – not only that, but good food – often times in places like NYC even food that is both delicious and healthy. However, even food that is both delicious and healthy can be consumed to a point that tips the scale into quantity of digestive burden outweighing nutritional content. We know that drinking plenty of water is healthy, but consumption past a certain point requests too much of the kidneys and urinary bladder and causes illness. With diet, just like herbal prescriptions, sleep, sex, and everything else, proper dosing is imperative. My opinion is the same rule applies to cell phone usage.

Although there is not yet any conclusive scientific evidence of cell phone radiation causing tangible harm, any rational person would read such a sentence and figure that the word “radiation’s” mere presence after “cell phone” is enough to induce some degree of conscious awareness.

My opinion is it is logical to suspect of anything that offers the gift of worldwide connection via digital waves must bring with it some challenge. It is impossible for such a constant source of distraction to not affect our neurological function; and just in case cell phones are in fact emitting low doses or moderate strength radiation as well I try to employ conscious awareness as often as possible. So, here are my rules of thumb that I follow at least 90% of the time, in attempt to minimize incoming texts’ and social media’s impact on my psychology and cellular radiation’s on my physiology. I would encourage others to do the same, and by all means reply back with anything I’ve left out. Thanks!

  1. While riding the train I keep my phone in my bag instead of on my person.

  2. When it is on my person (if I’m listening to music and skipping around) I keep the light side facing in, as supposedly the battery (back) side emits more waves, in spite of seeming like it would be the other way around.

  3. At home I keep it on a table away from me, ringer turned on, treating it like the good ol’ harmless land lines of years past. This is also a nice way of keeping it out of my reach to avoid distraction from company (or a TV show… err, ironically?). When I watch people watch the television while also their phone it makes me cringe with sadness. How many sources of stimulation do we require to be mentally satiated, and how much will our apparently insatiable brains handle?

  4. Once in a while I treat texts like AOL instant messenger, but most of the time I treat them like emails (unfortunately many people are having the inverse experience, now treating emails like texts). Responding to every text as it comes in would drive me out of my mind, and I never want social texting to interrupt my work, which is challenging enough without constant sources of distraction. Instead I respond to groups of texts at given down times throughout the day, or even the next day when necessary. We should take advantage of our convenience but simultaneously refuse to be slaves of the convenience of others.

  5. Dialogue gets cut after 3-5 replies. My opinion is if a dialogue requires more than five back and forth communications then it requires a phone call. The reason I think this is because that’s usually the number at which I start to feel neurological fatigue and irritation. I assume everyone is different in this respect, but it would be impossible for much more than this to not create some degree of Attention Deficit in the mind. This is part of the reason I don’t bother with “OK” confirmation texts or, “You’re welcome” – instead preferring to end the notifications as early as possible.

  6. I almost never walk and text. Is it as dangerous as drinking and driving (or texting and driving)? Obviously not - but in my opinion equally as unaware. I’m confident 99% of texts can wait, and/or 99% of the time you can “pull over” to the side of the side walk to respond. This way you’ll avoid getting in the way of other pedestrians who value their neurological health and spare your own in the process. Besides missing out on the wonderful visual experience of life and our city, I often judge texting and walking as a pathetic exercise in impatience and/or insecurity. Again, be confident and strong enough to allow people to wait for your response. You’re worth it ;)

  7. Be courageous. Find opportunities to leave your phone at home. WHAT?! Yes, you can do it. “But, what if there’s an emergency?” Has there ever been an emergency? Are you an emergency worker? Society made it to the millennium without ever having smart phones, and look how fine everything was. We even invented smart phones! It’ll be OK. When I go out briefly and locally I always leave my phone – to the store, for a quick run, and definitely to yoga class – and I feel great about it. God, when I see these nuovo yogi/yuppies on their mats on their phones I can practically hear every swami and guru from generations past rolling over in their graves.

  8. If not at home, at least find opportunities to just leave your phone for a minute… For many reasons I am lucky to have the profession I do, to be with patients all day. I spend most of most days popping in and out of rooms, discussing illnesses, inserting acupuncture needles and hopping off and on massage tables to do body work. None of these actions require a phone, so I mostly just leave it on the desk in my office and check it intermittently throughout each day. I realize this is more difficult for desk jobs, but I’m sure we all have daily opportunities for such independence.

  9. I almost never text during meals with friends. I don’t text in the movie theater or during any kind of lecture, and personally, I don’t text if I’m at a baseball game with friends. I think a baseball game with friends, besides being a rare, special engagement, is also a form of social engagement, so what is the logic in concurrently seeking virtual socialization? As a ballgame is pretty long I can be more forgiving here, but again, for centuries we successfully made plans for after the game without cell phones. In consideration of our future neurological health we might be best advised to try doing so again.

  10. Consider minimizing apps that you keep on your phone. I noticed when I deleted Facebook as an app that I started checking it less throughout the day. I noticed the same about OKCupid back in my single days, though I realize most other dating sites exist only as apps – which was part of the reason I was pretty Cupid-exclusive, the one I could check on my laptop.

There are good things about our country – I’d even venture to say mostly good things – but there is plenty of bad as well. Gifts and challenges… and it would be safe to assume, because of our quantity of resources that at the root of the latter would be a condition of “excess,” i.e. too much of something. This should inform us that it is our responsibility to minimize whenever possible. Namaste!

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