Stop Phubbing!

Stop Phubbing! Or, “I didn’t know you were on a date with your smartphone instead of me.”

August 07, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

You’ve been looking forward to this day for weeks. You’ve been exchanging messages in your WhatsApp group for ages, trying to come up with a date to see your long-lost friends from some summer camp you went to years ago.

The moment finally comes. You see those familiar smiling faces, exchange pleasantries, settle down in a nice restaurant and you start talking in a torrent about what you’ve been up to, expecting others to listen to you, nod along or ask, “Why, I didn’t know you could do those things in Paris!” as you show off the fun you had on your latest Euro trip.

Instead, what you get is silence, and instead of others’ envious faces, you see a snowfall of dandruff in one of your companion’s poorly gelled hair. They were all fixated on the screens of their smartphones. Most of them are whatsapping (ironically, you notice, trying to come up with a date to go out with the correspondent), some are checking in on Facebook with the caption, “Having a great time with my sisters. Love you all! <3” or monitoring the amount of likes they got for their recent profile picture change.

In a split second, you try to remember the days when smartphones didn’t exist and how gatherings with friends were like, and suddenly it occurs to you that you can’t recall a time when you felt you were really with the people you hung out with since smartphones became a necessity. Even if you’ve never used your phone blatantly in front of others, you felt that your attention was always split: 70% with the people you’re physically with, and 30% with the people you’ve been corresponding with via your phone. There was also a fear of being detached from the rest of the world, an irrational belief that everyone is assumed to be available 24/7 at the click of a few buttons.

You realize with a stab of fear in your chest that this is something you’re growing accustomed to – being ignored in social situations by people who cannot for the life of themselves detach from their smartphones. As you begin on one last attempt to grab their attention by relaying an interesting anecdote that happened to you in Venice, one of your friends looks up briefly and interrupts you, “I know, darling, I read about it from your status update.” Then she goes back to whatsapping whoever it is she wants to meet up for dinner next week.


Does the above situation sound familiar to you? If so, congratulations – you’re one of the victims of the latest plague of the 21st century, do join the club of being phubbed.

Maybe you don’t like the term “phubbed”, but that’s precisely the point. No one likes to be phubbed, and phubbing is a contagious disease that’s gone viral worldwide. It is the act of ignoring your companions in social settings because somehow you cannot tear your eyes away from the screen of your smartphone.

The term “phubbing” was dubbed by Alex Haigh, a university graduate from Melbourne, who began a “Stop Phubbing” campaign to combat bad phone etiquette, a movement which has gained worldwide support since its launch last year.

The website for the campaign (click here) features made-up statistics about the harms of improper smartphone usage in social settings, which are funny at times though not without a sinister undertone. “87% of teens would rather communicate via text than face-to-face”, it claims. Though there is no research to back up this figure, this probably isn’t far from the truth. There are more and more guys trying to ask girls to be their girlfriends via WhatsApp, thinking that adorning their texts with a blushing emoji would do the trick, as if girls have become modern day Medusas and looking them in the eye would kill them.

The site also has a “name or shame” function where you can upload photos of phubbers online, as well as posters for restaurants to warn customers against using their phones while interacting with others.

In fact, the Stop Phubbing website isn’t alone in its attempt to stop anti-social phone users. Fischer & Friends, an advertising agency, engendered the concept of the Offline Glass, a beer glass that stands only when placed on a phone to discourage people from using it.

Offline Glass

What about simply placing your phone on the table without using it even when the screen keeps lighting up and the LED light won’t stop flashing? Surely there is no harm in that, right, if you don’t attempt to touch it?

Sadly, studies show that the visibility of mobile phones in social settings provide “a continual sense of connection to the wider social world”, even if the phone is in silent mode. One possible reason why this may be harmful for relationships is because the presence of a mobile phone directs individuals to think of other people apart from those in their vicinity, which diverts attention from the present ongoing human interaction. In particular, for more intimate relationships, the presence of mobile phones have been shown to have a negative influence on the quality of the relationship in general. Meaningful conversations are one of the building blocks of a close relationship, but when one does it in the presence of a mobile phone, research has shown that engagement and attention for one’s partner is reduced, and the perception that any self-disclosure had been met with empathy was discouraged (for more information, please see this study).

If you want to keep your friends, stop phubbing. I repeat. Stop phubbing. Right now. Not only is it disrespectful, it is also no better than picking your nose in public or trying to get the spinach out of your braces with your tongue while breathing on me. Disgusted? Well that’s how others feel when you ignore them for the sake of tweeting about how happy you are about meeting up with them for dinner, when you do nothing but date your smartphone during your supposed catch up session.

Next time when someone phubs you, consider snapping a photo of them (dandruff and all) and uploading it online. Perhaps it can serve as a reminder for them to stop phubbing – and find a better shampoo. And if possible, do leave the phone in your bags and just let the screen light up as much as it wants to. The phone isn’t a newborn baby crying for its mother. The people you’re with, and the food you’re going to have, are the things that require your immediate attention. Be respectful and stop caring more for a digital device than the people you truly love and care about.