The term "phubbing" first appeared online in May 2012. It was coined by Alex Haigh, a Melbourne-based advertising agency director, and his team as part of a campaign in Australia. "Phubbing" is a word derived from the combination of two words: "phone" and "snubbing." It refers to the act of ignoring or neglecting the people around you in favor of using your smartphone or other mobile devices. Essentially, it's when someone pays more attention to their phone than to the people they are with in real life.
Phubbing has become a common behavior in today's society, especially with the widespread use of smartphones and the constant access to social media, messaging apps, and other digital distractions. People may engage in phubbing during social gatherings, family dinners, dates, or any other situation where interaction with others is expected.
This behavior’s negative impact on both mental health and social skills can manifest as a feeling of isolation, particularly when you are on the receiving end of the equation. When someone is consistently phubbed, they may feel ignored or unimportant. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and sadness. Meanwhile, those practicing phubbing can experience anxiety and stress caused by constantly checking and using smartphones, especially if they become overly concerned about missing out on social media updates or messages. This leads us to another pitfall of phubbing, which is FOMO itself. Phubbing can intensify the fear of missing out on important information or experiences, making individuals feel more anxious or pressured to constantly check their phones. Yet another mental health impact is the disruption of sleep. Overuse of smartphones, particularly before bedtime, can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to sleep-related issues, which can, in turn, affect mental well-being.
Beyond individual mental health, however, phubbing can also cause the erosion of basic social skills. It can hinder face-to-face communication, reducing the opportunity for genuine and meaningful interactions with others. Constantly being absorbed in one's phone can also make it difficult to empathize with others or fully understand their emotions and needs. Over time, excessive phone usage and phubbing can lead to social awkwardness and difficulty in engaging in real-life conversations. Lastly, phubbing can weaken social bonds and make individuals feel disconnected from their friends, family, and colleagues. This was not an issue faced by any society before now, and as a result, young people now have been encountering difficulties to do simple things like having a conversation with another person over the phone or in real life. Things we maybe never saw as a learned skill, now need taught and coached to an entire generation.
Dr. Dan Tomasulo, psychologist, writer, professor, and the Academic Director and core faculty at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, published an article in Psychology Today that states that phubbing reduces relationship satisfaction among romantic partners and can harm parent–child relationships. The article, as many other resources out there, goes on to list not only the damaging effects of phubbing, but also outlines how to address it. Here are some other ways to combat this harmful trend:
- Be Mindful of Your Own Behavior: Start by being aware of your phone usage and how it affects your interactions with others. Recognize when you are tempted to phub and consciously make an effort to be present and engaged in real-life conversations.
- Set Boundaries: Establish phone-free zones or times, especially during social gatherings, meals, or meaningful conversations. Designate specific times for phone usage, such as during breaks or when you're alone, to ensure it doesn't interfere with your interactions with others.
- Communicate with Others: Talk openly with friends, family, or colleagues about the importance of limiting phubbing in your interactions. Encourage them to be mindful of their phone usage as well, creating a supportive environment for change.
- Lead by Example: Show others how you prioritize face-to-face interactions by actively engaging in conversations without interruptions from your phone. Leading by example can influence those around you to do the same.
- Use Technology to Enhance Connections: Instead of using phones to disconnect from real-life interactions, use technology to facilitate meaningful connections. For example, you can plan video calls with distant friends or relatives to maintain strong relationships.
- Be Respectful: Recognize that everyone deserves your full attention during conversations. Make eye contact, actively listen, and refrain from using your phone when someone is talking to you.
- Limit Notifications: Turn off non-essential notifications on your phone to reduce the temptation to check it constantly. This will help you stay focused on your surroundings and the people you are with.
- Practice Digital Detox: Periodically take breaks from your phone and other digital devices. Engage in activities that don't involve screens to recharge and reconnect with the real world.
By implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of mindful phone usage, we can collectively combat phubbing and create a more connected and engaged society. Remember, the goal is not to completely eliminate phone use but to strike a healthy balance between digital connectivity and meaningful real-life interactions.
An accomplished translator and writer, Cami has been in the creative field for nearly two decades. Her experience as a linguist in several fields, paired with her background as a native Latina immigrant (born and raised in Brazil and naturalized American citizen) gives her a unique perspective on the social and cultural context of our society. She has been with Techless since 2022 and currently lives in Michigan with her husband of twelve years, their eight-year-old son, and their puppy Oreo.