Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives

The Cellphone Observation


This exercise invites you to notice your internal reactions — what’s going on in your mind and body — while you’re using your cellphone. It will only take ten or fifteen minutes. You can do it alone, but you might also consider doing it with others, so you can talk about what you learned.

The exercise has five steps. Each step begins with a prompt, something I ask you to do with or in relation to your phone. Once you read or hear each prompt and perform the activity it’s asking you to do, you should notice your internal reaction — how your mind and body reacted to performing that step. You might notice, for example, what came up for you emotionally, or how your breathing or posture may have changed, or what quality of attention you brought to that step. (If paying attention to your inner states in this way feels unusual, or you’d simply like to practice this kind of awareness, you might first try doing the Mindful Check-in.)

Before you start, I suggest you take out a piece of paper where you can write down what you’re observing in each of the steps. Also, please put your phone away: in your pocket, in a drawer or bag, but nearby so you can easily reach it at the right moment.

The exercise

All right, let’s begin. Again, as you read each prompt and perform the suggested action, notice what comes up in your body, and write down a few words or phrases describing what you noticed. I suggest you take 1-2 minutes for each step (although you’re welcome to take longer).

Step 1: Think about your phone. Don’t take out your phone or look at it; just think about it. What do you experience (what comes up in your mind and body) when you think about your phone? Write down a few words or phrases that describe this experience.

Step 2: Take your phone out and hold it in your hand. Don’t turn it on or look at the screen, if it’s already on. Just feel it in your hand and see what you notice arising: thoughts, feelings, sensations. Write down a few words or phrases that describe what you experienced as you held your phone in your hand.

Step 3: Open your email app so you can see your inbox. Scan the headers but don’t open or read any of the messages. What did you experience when you scanned your inbox? Write down a few words or phrases.

Step 4: Read an email message and, if you can do it quickly, reply to it. What happens in your mind and body when you do this? Write down a few words or phrases to describe your experience.

Step 5: Finally, put your phone away. Put it in your pocket, in a drawer or a bag. How did you feel when you put your phone away? Write down a few words or phrases.

Post-exercise reflection

Now reflect back on what just happened, rereading the notes you wrote. Was there a progression of feelings, sensations, or emotions as you moved through the five steps? Did your reactions in one particular step seem particularly noteworthy? What does this tell you about your relationship with your cellphone? Does it suggest any changes you might make?