What Is ‘Phubbing’ Doing To Our Relationships And Our Minds?

Ever Been 'Phubbed'? We Suggest You Read This

phubbing, phone, mobile, etiquette, cara delevingne

by Contributor |
Published on

True story: an ex-boyfriend checked his mobile phone while we were breaking up. During the actual face-to-face break up conversation. I was in the middle of an - admittedly long and probably dull - relationship eulogy (it was all quite amicable up to this point) and then he looked at his phone and replied to a message. It was like a switch had been flipped. I was furious, all fondness for him deserted me in that moment. I mean, who does that?

Everyone, apparently. I’m guilty too. Not all instances are quite as offensive, but being snubbed in favour of a mobile phone is a pervasive modern practice. There’s a phubbing epidemic. Anyone in possession of smartphone has phubbed and been phubbed. If you’re reading this on your phone in the company of someone you know, you’re phubbing right now.

To clarify, the word phubbing is compound of phone and snubbing (not to be confused with fubbing...we'll leave that one for you to look up).

And the consequences of phubbing aren’t nearly as fun as the word is to say out loud. Denying our partners our full attention is doing bad things to our relationships. Baylor University in the US has carried out a study that concludes ‘Cellphone use can undermine the bedrock of our happiness – our relationships with our romantic partners’. Of the adults surveyed 46.3% reported being phubbed by their partner, 22.6% said this phubbing caused conflict in their relationships and 36.6% reported feeling depressed at least some of the time.

Phubbing is not a problem exclusive to romantic relationships, either. It’s become acceptable to answer emails during meetings, and to hold a conversation while texting. Sherry Turkle, a cultural analyst who studies how modern technology is shaping the way we engage with each other, has noticed that amongst American university students there is now what’s known as ‘the rule of three’. If you are in a six-strong group and at least three people are paying attention to the speaker, you can look at your phone. Has it really come to this?!

As a culture we are adapting to accommodate our obsession with portable tech, writing new etiquette rules. Is this a good thing? Not so much. Ignoring the person you’re with is categorically rude, and no one should be made to feel like the person they’re with would rather be elsewhere. What’s more, as we give each other permission to half-engage, we all seek further solace in tech. It’s a vicious cycle, which I think isn’t good for our brains or our souls.

I’ve certainly revenge phubbed. If someone phubs me I think it’s acceptable for me to phub them right back. Leading to a bizarre situation where we sit together, ignoring each other, doing a very solitary activity. We may as well be alone (sounds quite sad doesn't it).

What’s also disturbing is the fact we’re forgetting the art of conversation, simply because we don’t practice it enough. I have a friend who thinks she’s ‘great over text’ - she chats constantly with guys she connects with on dating apps (no judgement, I do it too) but finds it’s never as fun IRL, where you can’t edit, delete and tidy with tech. And I know exactly what she means - real life is more demanding and you have less control over every aspect of the interaction.

Back in 2013 an Australian campaign, stopphubbing.com, launched aimed at stopping phubbers for good. Evidently, it hasn’t worked at all. The problem is more prevalent than ever. What can we all do? Take our phones off the table in social situations. If we really need to respond to something, we should be apologetic about it - explain what we are doing and why to those around us.

Here’s a new tactic: take a vow to unplug when you could be holding a conversation and channel a really polite person born in 1937 (way before tech twisted communication). Let’s fight phubbing with old-school social etiquette (we're thinking eye contact and undivided attention).

Words by Georgia Simmonds.

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