By gathering data on people during their ordinary daily activities, we tested if looking at, but not manipulating, smartphones led to a mimicry response in the observer. Manipulating and looking at the device (experimental condition), more than its mere manipulation (control condition), was critical to elicit a mimicry response in the observer. Sex, age and relationship quality between the experimenter and the observer had no effect on the smartphone mimicry response that tended to decrease during social meals. Due to the role of food as a tool in increasing social affiliation, it is possible that during communal eating, people engage in other forms of mimicry involving facial expressions and postures rather than the use of objects. Understanding the ethological mechanisms of the use of smartphones at everyday-social scale could unveil the processes at the basis of the widespread/increasing use of these devices at a large scale. The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10164-021-00701-6. © The Author(s) 2021.