Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.
Jung and the Cell Phone or Why You Don’t Want to Use a Cell Phone
“You are far ahead in America with technological things, but in psychological matters and such things, you are 50 years back. You simply don’t understand them; that’s a fact. I don’t want to offend you; that’s a general corrective statement; you simply are not yet aware of what there is.”
“… You must go in quest of yourself, and you will find yourself again only in the simple and forgotten things. Why not go into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in books…”
“Breuer had observed that if, during her twilight states (whether spontaneous or artificially induced), he got the patient to tell him of the reminiscences and fantasies that thronged in upon her, her condition was eased for several hours afterwards. He made systematic use of this discovery for further treatment. The patient devised the name “talking cure” for it…”
“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, …. The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding.”
“Unfortunately far too many of us talk about a man only as it would be desirable for him to be, never about the man as he really is. But the doctor has always to do with the real man, who remains obstinately himself until all sides of his reality are recognized. True education can only start from naked reality, not from a delusive ideal.”
“They talked about their phones the way an addict would talk about crack: “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. … iGen’ers are addicted to their phones, and they know it. Many also know it’s not entirely a good thing. It’s clear that most teens (and adults) would be better off if they spent less time with screens. “Social media is destroying our lives,” one teen told Nancy Jo Sales in her book American Girls. “So why don’t you go off it?” Sales asked. “Because then we would have no life,” the girl said.”
For years I have been frustrated every time I have posted an essay on this blog site, because Word Press destroyed the formatting: it put the footnotes at the very end of the essay, and, on the one occasion when I had an appendix, the software put the notes after it! Jung would not have been pleased: He disliked end notes, finding it much easier to check the citations in the footnote format. All 18 volumes of his Collected Works use footnotes, reflecting his preference. Finally, after the mess with the essay that had an appendix, I determined to learn how to post the essays as pdfs, which would force Word Press to maintain the format I use.
The first of the pdf essays appeared in October 2020 and a day or so after the posting I got an email alerting me that the pdf version does not “paginate” well on cell phones. Rather than be upset by this, I was delighted: This news gave me the incentive to write this essay, as well as the incentive for our readers to get off their cell phones for a few minutes. Given our American infatuation with new technologies, and our lust for convenience, asking people to put down their phones is a big “ask.” But there are a host of valid objections to these phones–objections I know Jung would share with me. Herewith, four reasons why you don’t want to use a cell phone.
Like most Internet-related technologies, cell phones have a short lifespan. While the physical object (the metals, glass and plastics) might last a long time, the devices are designed with software and certain integral parts that become obsolete within a few years. Fitting in with our economy’s reliance on planned obsolescence, cell phone users must then discard the old phone and buy a new one if they wish to keep up with social media and current “apps.”
That new phone contains sixteen “rare earth” elements, which “are found in many areas across the world in low concentrations.” These elements are crucial to the operation of phones, but the mining of them creates disturbing environmental impacts: Because the concentration of these elements is low, the most economically realistic way to extract them is via open pit mining. This type of mining destroys “huge swaths of natural habitats, and causes air and water pollution, threatening the health of nearby communities.” Besides the “rare earth” elements, the manufacture of a cell phone requires copper, silver, palladium, aluminum, platinum, tungsten, tin, lead, gold, magnesium, lithium, silica, and potassium–all of which require mining, and all of which exist in finite supply. But we are so used to regarding the Earth as a “gigantic toolshed” from which we can dig out whatever we want, that we never stop to think that the supply might someday be exhausted.
Ecologically-minded users will turn in their old phones at recycling centers, thus assuaging their consciences that they have recycled–“out of sight, out of mind.” But Nature knows better. One law of ecology reminds us that “Everything must go somewhere,” so just because the phone got sent to a recycling center, it still has an environmental impact.
The local recycling center will likely send the obsolete phone abroad, to some poor country where workers earning pittances will disassemble the phone into its “70 or so chemical elements that make up the average smartphone.” Working conditions in these “E-waste” plants are poor, and the workforces (often women and children) are underpaid, poorly trained to safely disassemble the phones, and so likely wind up exposed to elements like lead and mercury which are hazardous to health.
After disassembly and reuse of those components that can be used again, there is still phone waste containing toxic chemicals that leach into the soil and water. Considering that there are about 3 billion cell phones in use now, the dump sites–and all their pollution–are getting larger and larger every year. While a cell phone might be a desirable convenience for some, it is a most undesirable inconvenience for many more people and a growing disaster for Mother Earth.
What would Jung make of these environmental features of the cell phone? He would be appalled, because he loved Nature, recognized its healing properties, and encouraged his correspondents to get outdoors and enjoy the “wholeness” of “the Great Mother.” To a doctor who had lost his sense of himself Jung wrote that
“… you will find yourself again only in the simple and forgotten things. Why not go into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in books…”.
To an American woman who had been without land of her own, Jung spoke of his pleasure in hearing
“that you now have house and land of your own. This is important for the chthonic powers. I hope you will find time to commit your plant counterparts to the earth and tend their growth, for the earth always wants children—houses, trees, flowers—to grow out of her and celebrate the marriage of the human psyche with the Great Mother, the best counter-magic against rootless extraversion!”
“Rootless extraversion” being, in Jung’s mind, one of the major personality traits of most Americans–and a lamentable condition.
On his own land, Jung planted potatoes each year. He also hiked and biked, and took his children camping. When he built his lair, the Bollingen tower, he designed it with a fireplace–no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no modern conveniences. There was no place for a cell phone in Jung’s reality!
Cell phones also have a baleful influence on our social interactions. Multiple sociologists recognize how our lust to connect to social media has led to a disconnect in human interaction and a major
“empathy gap among young people who have grown up emotionally disconnected while constantly connected to phones, games, and social media.”
Aware of our “love affair with a technology that seemed magical,” Sherry Turkle warns us that the cell phone works “by commanding our attention and not letting us see anything but what the magician wanted us to see.” The result? Delusions, alienation, distraction, and profound social pathologies.
Another sociologist, Jean Twenge, spent years studying millenials–the iGen generation in her terminology–who grew up with the Internet, hence the “i.” This is not a happy generation:
“At 13, Athena has not only never known a world without the Internet, but she can barely remember a time before smart phones. This is the only world she is ever known – yet she’s not sure she wants to live in it…. Athena is on a roll, telling me about how she thinks technology has affected her generation. When she hangs out with her friends, she says, they are often looking at their phones instead of at her. “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look At.My.Face,” she says, emphasizing every word in the last phrase. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.”
“What does that feel like when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?” I ask.
“It kind of hurts,” she says. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”'”
Twenge recognizes that texting–communicating via text message using a cell phone–is no match for face-to-face human interaction, but we are losing the ability to sustain such soul-nourishing conversations.
Young people feel it is “mandatory” to connect with friends on social media. Many even take this pressure to the point of serious potential bodily harm: The New York City Police Department had to warn residents not to sleep with their cell phones, as this practice was causing fires. When Jean Twenge asked her students why they would sleep with their phones, “their answers were a profile in obsession,” in part the result of FOMO–the “fear of missing out” on news that was circulating among their peer group.
But such constant digital contact is doing nothing to hone our social skills, deepen our empathy, or enrich the lives of our families. I saw an example of this a year or so ago when I sat in a restaurant and saw a family of four eating at another table, while every one of them was focused on his or her cell phone. Nary a word passed among them, children aping their parents’ absorption in some app, tweet or game, parents modeling parental distraction and neglect.
What would Jung say to this? I’m sure he would lament this state of affairs, since he knew that his brand of psychology was regarded as the “talking cure,” a label that came from Joseph Breuer’s work with a patient who had “twilight states:’
“Breuer had observed that if, during her twilight states (whether spontaneous or artificially induced), he got the patient to tell him of the reminiscences and fantasies that thronged in upon her, her condition was eased for several hours afterwards. He made systematic use of this discovery for further treatment.”
Freud and Jung both found that talking things out had the same healing effect, and Jung’s whole psychoanalytical approach is grounded in a face-to-face personal relationship between doctor and patient–a relationship created and sustained by conversations. The anamnesis requires that the patient tell his/her history. The transference develops from multiple conversations. Dream work is a conversation between analyst and analysand “in the soup” together. In none of this is there a place for the cell phone!
The reference above to “obsession” bespeaks another reason why you don’t want to use a cell phone: They are addictive. In her years interviewing teens Twenge came to conclude that
“iGen’ers are addicted to their phones, and they know it. Many also know it’s not entirely a good thing. It’s clear that most teens (and adults) would be better off if they spent less time with screens. “Social media is destroying our lives,” one teen told Nancy Jo Sales in her book American Girls. “So why don’t you go off it?” Sales asked. “Because then we would have no life,” the girl said.”
How woeful is it that a young person can imagine no life without a cell phone–that human beings have unwittingly constructed a reality which so severely fosters dependency on an object?!
I say “unwittingly” because very few Americans are aware of just how intentionally the tech companies have crafted their software to be addictive. Twenge points this out when she notes that the CEOs and founders of digital companies (e.g. Steve Jobs) do not allow their children to use cell phones. Many tech experts either ban or restrict their kids’ access to these phones. Twenge quotes Adam Alter who wrote that
“It seemed as if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: Never get high on your own supply.”
Cell phones are like drugs: People crave them when cut off from access to them. I saw this in my college classes. When I noticed my students were not paying attention in class, I told them to put their phones away. But then it became obvious that they merely put their phones under their desks, on their laps, and continued to text. So I finally made every student put his/her phone on my desk for the duration of the class. No better: The students then just sat staring at their phones, as if in a state of withdrawal!
My experience in my college classroom led me to believe Twenge when she says “The average teen checks her phone more than 80 times a day.” And this obsession is causing “the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011.”–2011 being the year when the “smartphone”–the phone able to connect to the Internet–became the phone most Americans began to use.
How would Jung react to distracted students, obsessed teens and spiraling rates of depression and suicide among young people? He was a psychotherapist, devoting his life to healing the depressed and the suicidal, but more than that, he sought to warn people away from things that could be harmful. For those addicted to alcohol, he supported Bill Wilson’s approach, regarding an alcoholic’s craving for alcohol as
“… the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, …. The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding.”
For people into drug use, Jung felt that mescalin, hashish, and opium were
“… poison, paralyzing the normal function of apperception and thus giving free rein to the psychic factors underlying sense perception…. It is just as if mescalin were taking away the top layer of apperception, which produces the “accurate” picture of the object as it looks to us.”
Jung did not “feel happy about these things,” because, as he told Betty Grover Eisner,
“… you merely fall into such experiences without being able to integrate them. The result is a sort of theosophy, but it is not a moral and mental acquisition. It is the eternally primitive man having experience of his ghost-land, but it is not an achievement of your cultural development.”
Eisner and other people who wrote to Jung asking his opinion of “recreational” drug use were not street addicts, or close to suicide. But Jung was uniform in deploring any activity that might distract us from reality and deter our moral development:
“But it soon becomes dangerous to know more, because one does not learn at the same time how to balance it through a conscious equivalent. That is the mistake Aldus Huxley makes: he does not know that he is in the role of the “Zauberlehrling,”who learned from his master how to call the ghosts but did not know how to get rid of them again:… It is really the mistake of our age. We think it is enough to discover new things, but we don’t realize that knowing more demands a corresponding development of morality.”
We invented the new thing–the cell phone–but far from fostering the development of our morality, it has spawned a plague of fear, depression and psychological malaise. Jung would never have encouraged cell phone use.
Finally we come to a fourth reason to avoid cell phones: they are physically dangerous. Once you witness a woman focused on her cell phone walk into a telephone pole, or a man trip over the “Caution” ribbon and fall into a manhole, you don’t need some expert to tell you that cell phone use can be physically dangerous. That is obvious. People can get so fixated (i.e. addicted) to their phones that they cannot put them down even when walking on busy streets. Cell phones take “multitasking” to such extremes that users become unable to turn them off in environments that demand alertness and single-minded focus.
But I see another, more subtle way in which cell phones are physically dangerous. How I came to this awareness requires a bit of personal history. In the late 1960’s and most of the 1970’s I studied with the Sewanhaka Power Squadron to obtain a Captain’s license from the United States Coast Guard. One of the dozen courses in this training covered Marine Electronics, and we were warned, in that program, never to stand in the vicinity of the radar system. Why? because it emits electromagnetic radiation that is hazardous to the human body. My first awareness of the danger of EM radiation came in this course.
Years later my research for the Institute of Noetic Sciences in the 1980’s refined this awareness. I discovered the work of W. Ross Adey, a biophysicist at UCLA. Adey’s forty-plus years of investigation on nonthermal electromagnetic bioeffects demonstrated that cells communicate using both “soups and sparks,” i.e. chemical processes and electrical processes. Anything that might interfere with these processes can hamper the proper functioning of the cell, and of the organ of which the cell is a part. But unlike large-scale marine radar systems, Adey’s research dealt with much weaker EM emissions.
Skip ahead a decade. In 1994 I took training at Barbara Brennan’s School for energy healing where I learned how to see auras. This is a “high sense perception” that we all have, but which our culture does not encourage us to develop, given how it is mired in the materialist paradigm of conventional science. Auras are real, just as archetypes are real. Each human being swims in an energy field and can be influenced by the fields of other people, as well as by the fields of devices, including the cell phone.
When my students began showing up with cell phones, I began to study how their auras were affected by the phones. I saw clear distortions when they turned on the phone. In subsequent conversations with electrical engineers I learned that cell phones can distort the aura even when they are not turned on, since they are still tracking the EM signals from cell towers.
While the FDA dismisses any notion that cell phones might cause disease, we do well to remember that our American regulatory agencies (including the FDA) are the handmaidens of the industry they are supposed to regulate. So I rely much more on the fact sheets and research of European and other agencies. The World Health Organization, for example, is not so blithe in its opinion about the physiological effects of cell phone usage:
“RF [radio frequency] fields have been studied in animals, including primates. The earliest signs of an adverse health consequence,… include reduced endurance, aversion of the field and decreased ability to perform mental tasks. These studies also suggest adverse effects may occur in humans subjected to whole body or localized exposure to RF fields… Possible effects include the induction of eye cataracts, and various physiological and thermoregulatory responses as body temperature increases.”
The literature also mentions alterations “in calcium ion mobility, which is responsible for transmitting information in tissue cells,” hearing changes (buzzing, clicking, hissing or popping sounds), and shocks and burns. The potential burn hazard I mentioned above, when phone addicts foolishly choose to sleep with their phones and set fires in their beds.
What would Jung make of all this? He recognized the limitations in our conventional materialist paradigm of science, and he was a medical doctor. That is, his professional life was devoted to healing, fostering physical and mental wellness. He also knew that intangible things (like the psyche and archetypes) are real, and his approach to his patients combined diligence, openness and persistence:
“… the doctor has an urgent case on his hands. He cannot wait… but will seize upon anything that is “alive” for the patient and therefore effective…. by dint of careful and persevering investigation, he must endeavor to discover just where the sick person feels a healing, living quality which can make him whole….”
Jung repeatedly wrote of the doctor’s responsibility to his/her patients, to “do good work,” “always to do with the real man, who remains obstinately himself until all sides of his reality are recognized,” and to “think out ways and means of parrying the onslaught, without… injury to the patient.”
Adey’s research into subtle energy fields only began in 1960, when Jung was in his last year of life. So it is unlikely he ever heard of Adey, but Jung knew that archetypal fields were powerful, and their energies are even more subtle than those emitted by cell phones. Given his identity as a physician, Jung surely would have found cell phones suspect, and even moreso with their environmental, social and psychological impacts.
The Jungian Center strives to be faithful to Jung’s teaching, values and concerns. With his love of Nature, his use of conversation as a healing modality, his encouragement of efforts to heal addictions, and his recognition of subtle energy fields, Jung surely would warn us against the use of cell phones. For this reason, here at our physical location we require people to leave their phones in the basement, and, we would like to stay true to Jung’s values. While I recognize that cell phones have usefulness, particularly for travelers, their use should be very limited and their lifespan should be as long as possible. Woe betide us if we trash the Earth with billions of old cell phones, or lose the ability to sustain conversations! Shame on us if we disregard the suffering of millions of young people addicted to their phones, and if we dismiss the potential hazards to our bodies from phones’ allure and emissions!
Akerlof, George & Robert Shiller (2015), Phishing for Phools. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.
Brome, Vincent (1978), Jung. New York: Atheneum.
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________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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________ (1977), C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, ed. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kreinheder, Albert (1991), Body and Soul: The Other Side of Illness. Toronto: Inner City Books.
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Riess, Helen (2018), The Empathy Effect, with Liz Neporent. Boulder CO: Sounds True.
Tart, Charles (2009), The End of Materialism. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Turkle, Sherry (2015), Reclaiming Conversation. New York: Penguin Press.
Twenge, Jean (2009), The Narcissism Epidemic. New York: Atria/Simon & Schuster.
________ (2017), iGen. New York: Atria/Simon & Schuster.
Van der Post, Laurens (1975), Jung and the Story of Our Time. New York: Vintage Books.
Warren, Elizabeth (2017), This Fight is Our Fight. New York: Henry Holt & Company.
Winner, Langdon (1977), Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Zack, Devora (2015), Singletasking: Get More Done–One Thing at a Time. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
 Evans (1976), 146-147. This text is reproduced in Jung (1977), 276-352, where it is called “The Houston Films.”
 “Letter to Dr. S,” 8 Oct 1947; Letters I, 479.
 Collected Works 7 ¶5. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.
 “Letter to William G. Wilson,” 30 January 1961; Letters, II, 624.
 CW 7 ¶93.
 Twenge (2017), 291.
 See “Tools for Crafting a ‘Curiouser’ and ‘Curiouser’ Future,” archived on this blog site.
 Jung was familiar with our penchant for innovation and new gadgets; Evans (1976), 146. Cf. Winner (1977) for an incisive and prescient critique of autonomous technology.
 The rise of the concept of planned obsolescence goes back to the period after World War II when both economists and the business community were fearful of another depression, as no one could be sure that the shift back to civilian production would generate sufficient demand from the public to avoid an economic slump. The solution was to stimulate demand, and one way to do that was to make products with a limited lifespan, i.e. they were engineered to break down after a certain time (usually a few weeks after the warranty expired). I suspected as much but got confirmation of this conscious intent from an engineer who worked for General Electric who spontaneously told me of their careful engineering calculations. I had not asked him or even thought to bring up the subject. The environmental consequences of planned obsolescence are obvious, and clearly our economy has to move from consumptive habits to the 4 R’s: repairing, recycling, reusing, and reconditioning.
 “What Materials are Smartphones made of The Story behind Making Cell Phones; Matconlist; https://www.matconlist.com/2018/10/what-materials-are-smartphones-made-of.html
 This phrase is Clarence Glacken’s, quoted in Ehrenfeld (1981), 177.
 This is one of the key principles of ecology. The others are: Nature knows best, There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and Everything is connected to everything else; see Commoner (1971), 33-46 for a full discussion of each of these.
 “What Materials are Smartphones made of…”; https?llwww.matconlist.com/2018/10/what-materials-are-smartphones-made-of.html
 Hannah (1976), 50.
 As did Paracelsus, one of Jung’s favorite sources; he referred to this as the vix medicatrix naturae, the healing force of Nature; Kreinheder (1991), 95.
 “Letter to Maud Oakes,” 3 October 1957; Letters, II, 392.
 “Letter to Anonymous,” 10 August 1956; ibid., 320.
 “Letter to Dr. S.,” 8 October 1947; ibid., I, 479.
 “Letter to Anonymous,” 10 August 1956; ibid., II. 320.
 CW 5 ¶501, note 34.
 Jung (1977), 266.
 Cf. Bair (2003), 192,251; Van der Post (1975), 242,250-1; Brome (1978), 19.
 Brome (1978), 185.
 Hannah (1976), 154.
 E.g. Jean Twenge, Sherry Turkle, and Nancy Jo Sales.
 Turkle (2015), 360.
 E.g. depression, suicides, and narcissism; see Twenge (2009) for an in-depth discussion of these pathologies.
 Twenge (2017), 3-4.
 Ibid., 289.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 97.
 For more on the importance of empathy, cf. Riess (2018) and Ricard (2015), 39-55.
 CW 7 ¶5.
 Anamnesis is Greek; it means a “recollection” or a “calling to mind,” and it refers to one of the early features of analysis when the analyst asks the patient to describe his/her personal history, early family life, major life events etc.
 CW 7 ¶255.
 “In the soup” together is how my analyst describes the analytical relationship. For more on this, see the essay “What Makes a Good Analyst,” archived on this blog site.
 Twenge (2017), 291.
 Ibid., 292.
 Quoted in ibid.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 cf. “Letter to A.M. Hubbard,” 15 Februrary 1955; Letters, II, 222, and “Letter to Betty Grover Eisner,” 12 August 1957; Letters, 11, 173.
 “Letter to William G. Wilson,” 30 January 1961; Letters, II, 624.
 “Letter to A.M. Hubbard,” 15 February 1955; Letters, II, 222.
 “Letter to Betty Grover Eisner,” 12 August 1957; Letters, II, 173.
 “Letter to Father Victor White,” 10 April 1954; Letters, II, 173.
 Devora Zack discusses multitasking and its connection to cell phones in depth; Zack (2015), 50-52, 108-110.
 E.g. walking, skiing, and, most obviously, driving.
 Adey’s 198 publications are listed in Neurotree; https://neurotree.org/beta/publications.php?pid=2286
 This term is not Adey’s: I first heard it when I was doing an oral history of the Neuroscience Research Program; Francis O. Schmitt used it to refer to the debate between the “wets” (scientists who argued that nerve conduction occurred through chemical transmissions) and the “drys” (scientists who saw the process as electrical). Of course we now know both were right: it was not either/or but both/and.
 This is the phrase Barbara Brennan used in her course.
 For more on materialist science and its limitations, see Tart (2009), 11-12,19,37,53 and 192-195.
 For more on the power of fields, see McTaggart (2003), 202-212,
 This is called “regulatory capture” by economists; Akerloff & Shiller (2015), 144-145; cf. Warren (2017), 175-176, which provides an example of this phenomenon.
 “Electromagnetic fields and public health: radars and human health,” World Health Organization; https://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/fs226/en/
 CW 8 ¶529.
 For more on this, see the essay “The Psyche is Real,” archived on this blog site.
 CW 11 ¶452.
 CW 7 ¶61.
 Ibid. ¶93.
 Ibid. ¶255.