It usually starts like this: I arrange a brunch appointment with one of my girl friends who I haven’t seen in a while. We finally meet at this picturesque cafe, having a nice conversation (or so I thought) until her phone vibrates and she whips it out to start texting someone. Thoughts like “Am I being boring?”, “Why is she texting in the middle of our conversation?”, “Argh, I dislike situations like this. What am I supposed to do? Look at her? The food? My phone? Help?!” go through my mind. Well, I just got phubbed and even experience it almost on a daily basis, and I’m sure I’m not going through this alone.
What is phubbing?
Phubbing is the act of snubbing someone that you are talking to, in order to look at your mobile phone. Even though it may seem like a harmless, albeit annoying, part of life, studies have found that phubbing can actually hurt your relationships. Yet, isn’t it ironic how phubbing is meant to connect people with someone else through social media platforms or via text?
Feeling less connected
Previous research has found that phubbing makes face-to-face interactions seem less meaningful. Chotpitayasunondh and Douglas from the University of Kent found that participants who were phubbed while viewing a 3D animation of a simulated conversation expressed more negative feelings about the interaction than participants who were not phubbed. Another study by Abeele, Antheunis, Schouten found that people who texted during a conversation were perceived to be less polite and attentive, and also caused perceptions of having a lower quality of conversation.
Phubbing was found to threaten levels of belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control.
Impacting your mental health
In one study, phubbing was found to threaten levels of belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control. This makes people who are being phubbed feel excluded and ostracised. Considering how this happens so often and at such an alarming rate, this can cause dire consequences to the phubbed.
Another research found that when spouses phub each other, they are more inclined to experience a lower marital satisfaction and depression. According to Emma Seppälä, a psychologist at Stanford and Yale universities and author of The Happiness Track, the reason for this could be because your partner is prioritising something else over you in the moments of togetherness.
Phubbing affects the phubber too
In the previous paragraphs, I’ve been talking about how the act of phubbing can affect the people around you. But do you know that by phubbing, the phubber can be affected too? Researchers Dunn and Dwyer from the University of British Columbia, found that people who used their phones while eating with their loved ones reported enjoying their meals less, felt more distracted, and were less engaged than their counterparts who did not use technology at the dining table. Phubbing could also bring harm to your reputation. “Phone users are generally seen as less polite and attentive—and as poorer conversationalists,” Seppälä explained.
Feeling the social impulse to phub? Turn it into a game!
How you can stop phubbing
If you are guilty of phubbing your loved ones often, it’s not too late to make a change! You can start by taking small steps to slowly curb your phubbing impulse. A way to do that is to put your phone away when you are having your dinner. Out of sight, out of mind, right? You can also meditate in order to help retain your attentional capacity.
Feeling the social impulse to phub? Turn it into a game! My friends and I would sometimes stack our phones on top of each other and put it at the corner of the table. The person who first reaches out to the stack to receive his or her phone owes the rest of the table some money as a penalty. This helps to ensure that the entire group has a good quality conversation without technology getting in the way. I found this the most helpful, especially when I want to catch up with my friends after being away from home for months.
How you can ask your friends to stop phubbing
If you are the one being phubbed, like I am, there are ways we can help our friends to stop phubbing. Firstly, we need to acknowledge that phubbers are not intentionally trying to exclude you, so you should not take offense in that. It is important, however, to take the opportunity to explain to your phubber friend how this makes you feel. It can seem like a very scary thing to do and I myself try to avoid conflicts at all costs, but by being this open to your friend, it will help them realise how much this behaviour bothers you. If you would like to go the more explicit route, the Stop Phubbing campaign website has a really nice phubbing intervention template that you can use to devise your message and send to your friend.
Whether you are the phubber or the phubbed, it is important to acknowledge the consequences of a seemingly harmless behaviour. After all, phubbing has been labelled by etiquette advisers as the ‘end of civilisation’.
Cover: rawpixel.com / Final editor: Fabian Bais