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  • Nathan Riley, MD

Crackheads and Cellphones

Updated: Jul 20, 2019


Boredom stimulates creativity. When I was a kid, we spent our days poking roadkill, creating whistles out of grass, and pegging one another in the head with pine cones hand grenades. We would re-imagine sticks as swords. Pool rafts became mighty ships. Blankets and pillows became forts. We were star athletes. We accomplished great feats of nature. We were awesome. When boredom is permitted, our mind creates a stimulus to fill the void — and ideas flourish.

But nowadays a we do not permit a single momentary lack in excitement. Our dinner date leaves the table to use the restroom? Catch up on Instagram. Not quite tired to fall asleep at this very moment? Check to see who “liked” a recent Snapchat post. Cooking dinner? Blast the TV.

Drug addicts exhibit similar behavior. Dopamine, “the pleasure chemical”, floods the brain with each cocaine bump. Are there any other activities that work like heroin on the brain’s reward centers? Yes: sugar, caffeine, and sex. Oh…and don’t forget cell phones.

A recent review in Frontiers in Psychiatry states:

…the pattern of abuse is greatest among young people, primarily females…The problematic use of cell phones has been associated with personality variables, such as extraversion, neuroticism, self-esteem, impulsivity, self-identity, and self-image. Similarly, sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress, and, to a lesser extent, depression, which are also associated with Internet abuse, have been associated with problematic cell-phone use.

Cell phone addiction — now termed “nomophobia” — is killing our creativity, inhibiting productivity, and, I conjecture, damaging our relationships. We think we are better connected, but, in reality, we are growing apart. Think about it: It’s hard to get excited by a benign conversation on the porch when a world of social media crack is just waiting there…a swipe away from your grasp.

You owe it to yourself and your people to consider how your smart phone crack pipe might have a strangle hold on your ability to enjoy real life and produce good work.

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