Do you ever feel like your smartphone is calling to you even when it’s just sitting in your pocket not doing anything? When your phone beeps, vibrates, or buzzes at you, do you ask yourself, “Why is my phone doing this to me?!?”
When I speak to people about using mindfulness to help develop healthier relationships with technology, these are the kinds of things that I often hear from them. I feel these things myself — the feeling that the phone is like a living thing that’s doing something to us. It’s calling to us or trying to attract our attention.
From my experience of working for many years in technology and mindfulness, it seems that this feeling about our smartphones and other devices is very common. It feels as though these devices are acting on us. I’m calling this a feeling rather than a fact. It is something that we feel, and as real as it may feel to us, it is a feeling. And it’s a perfect type of feeling to apply some mindfulness to.
What I’ve found from my own personal experience and working with other people is that not applying mindfulness to that feeling can contribute to many of the problems and pains we experience in relation to our technology.
Think about the situation. Your phone is sitting in your pocket or somewhere else, but not in your hands. You feel an urge, which is often called a craving in Buddhism, to pull out your phone and check Facebook or your email. At that moment, it may feel like the phone is pulling you, but if you were to pause, engage in some mindful reflection, and ask yourself, “What is actually happening now?,” what would your answer be?
This is part of what mindfulness is. It is an intention to see the present moment for what it is without a filter.
Step back at that moment and ask yourself, “Is this phone doing anything right now?” If you see the phone for what it is, you will see that the phone is not physically doing anything. It’s just sitting there. If you feel as though the phone is pulling you, I would strongly suggest that the pull is coming from somewhere within you rather than from the phone. Practicing mindfulness can help you to stop perceiving your feeling that the phone is pulling you as if it reflected reality.
What is true is that you feel like the phone is pulling at you. This is an exercise in separating the reality of the feeling from whether the meaning of the feeling accurately reflects reality. By detaching yourself from the feeling, you can separate the reality of the feeling from the reality of the meaning of the feeling.
I know how alluring or tempting that feeling can be in the moment. It can feel completely real. And it’s so natural and mindless that you can easily react to it.
If we apply some mindfulness when it arises, however, we may be able to short-circuit that automatic habit which leads us to pick up the phone and start using it as a reaction to the feeling that the phone is pulling us.
That craving is coming from within us. If we apply mindfulness, we can actually create an opportunity to make a mindful choice as to whether or not to use the phone. Practice mindfulness so that when you do reach for the phone, it’s the result of a mindful, conscious and intentional choice — not a reaction to the feeling that the phone is pulling you to it.
None of us is perfect at applying this.
With that said, I can pause some of the time and make a conscious choice, and whenever I do that, it has great side effects. It decreases my general feeling of anxiety. It’s a good feeling to know that I have a choice — just that feeling of freedom to choose is much better than the anxious, tight feeling that the phone is pulling me and that I have no freedom not to react to the pull.
When it surfaces, investigate the feeling that the phone is making you do something or acting on you. Use that to cultivate some mindfulness in that moment. Spend some time separately when you’re not experiencing that feeling in your practice. Then see if you can draw on your practice in your daily interactions with your phone.