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Are Your Filling Your Time With Superfood Experiences?

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I was leafing through TIME magazine on Sunday when I came across a short article by James Wallman entitled “Do You have Enough Time?” Wallman writes that we have more free time now than we have had historically, but our cell phone addictions are one reason why it doesn’t feel that way.
“I have come to characterize experiences as ‘junk food’ or ‘superfood,” he writes. “Junk? Spending too much time indoors, alone, scrolling Facebook or watching TV.” On the other side of the coin, Wallman describes “superfood” experiences as getting offline and outside, doing things for others and staying active.
Let’s break it down:
Mindless Scrolling = Eating the Whole Bag of Doritos
Reading a Book, Taking a Walk, Playing a Game, Meditating = Enjoying a Nutritious Quinoa Bowl
As I read this, I realized it was already three in the afternoon and I hadn’t left the house. To make matters worse, I had barely put my phone down all day. By Wallman’s definition, I was indulging in “junk food” experiences—and I felt similarly to how it feels to eat the whole bag of Doritos: dissatisfied and slightly ill.
It was a bright, beautiful Sunday and there were so many better ways for me to be spending my time—so why had I chosen this path of least resistance? I stepped back for a second and assessed the situation.
Earlier that morning (very early in the morning), my husband caught a plane for a work trip. Usually, we spend our weekends together and we try to fill our free time with lots of “superfood” experiences: reading on the beach in a hammock, kite surfing (him, not me), going for a bike ride, cooking, playing endless rounds of Rummikub, working on a home improvement project, or attending/volunteering at a community event.
Because there are two of us, we’re forced to be more intentional about our time. I would have thrown a fit if he’d spent half of Sunday scrolling on his smartphone, and he wouldn’t have been thrilled had he been around to witness me in “junk food” vegging out mode. But being around another person makes us inherently more social, hence we make different decisions than when we’re solo.
It’s for this reason that I decided not to have internet at home during my grad school years—a time when I still had my flip phone. Living alone and being single in a new town, I knew it would be easy for me to settle into a social life that relied mostly on the internet. I could imagine myself spending hours on Facebook, getting the social contact that an extrovert like me needs to survive. Without Wi-Fi or a smartphone to give me my “friend fix,” I was forced to seek a social life outside of my home—instead of succumbing to this “junk food” pattern. Without an internet hole to fall into when I was bored, I had no choice but to engage in “smartfood” experiences—biking to the nearby park for a hike, reading a book by the pool, visiting my neighbor or calling a friend to catch up. I have also never been as creatively productive as I was during those blissfully “disconnected” years.
So, what was I doing wasting my precious Sunday scrolling around on the internet? Searching for something that I was clearly craving: connection. Once I understood the deeper reason behind my mindless activity, I peeled myself off the couch and got into action. I reached out to the few friends I have in San Juan to see who was around to hang out. I spoke to a good friend that I hadn’t heard from in a while. Then I packed a few books, grabbed my folding chair and headed to the beach—sans smartphone—where I spent a few hours reading the last chapters of one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful memoirs I’ve ever read. Later in the evening, I went to watch a movie at an outdoor screening.
The truth is, for many of us, it’s uncomfortable to do things alone. We’re a society that values couples above the individual and singleness is stigmatized. We forget that we can still engage in quality time—superfood experiences—when we’re by ourselves. I’m writing this because I need the reminder. I don’t need my husband to go on a bike ride and I can enjoy a gorgeous moonrise on the beach solo. Being by myself isn’t an excuse to shrivel up into a smartphone-obsessed goblin. In fact, it’s a great time to engage in the superfood activities that bring me the most joy: reading, writing, dancing, gardening, learning to play the ukulele, exploring.
But to be clear, it’s not about filling our schedules with nonstop activity. It’s about using our time intentionally—and sometimes that might mean doing nothing.
I believe that often, when we’re engaging in the junk food of mindless activities, we’re actually searching for something deeper—a connection, whether that be with art, nature, friends, or simply connecting with ourselves.

Tip of the Week

Next time you catch yourself in a mindless scrolling spiral, stop and consider what else you could be doing. Bringing awareness to our harmful habits is the first step. 

Digital Life Around the Web

I'm not the only one thinking and writing about this stuff! Check out these beautifully made short films that explore life in the era of the smartphone takeover. 

This disturbing(ly accurate) short film, "A Social Life," explores the isolation behind the facade of our social media personas. Are you living the life you post?

"Look Up" is a spoken word film about the chances we miss when we're too busy looking down. 

"I Forgot My Phone" gives us an uncomfortable look into what our device-filled lives look like from the outside.

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Thanks for reading!

Carmella Guiol on Medium
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