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What’s “Phubbing” that we constantly do but don’t realize?

We finally have a word for a scenario where we prioritize our phones over the company of friends and family. The not-so-good activity is coined as “phubbing,” which is nothing but an amusing blend of “phone” and “snubbing.” In a study carried out in 2016, researchers from the University of Kent dove deep into the phenomenon of anti-social phone usage. They explored its rise to becoming the commonly accepted norm. Interestingly, the word “phubbing” was found to be pretty uncommon among the general public.

The word’s genesis can be traced back to Australia, where it was published in the Macquarie Dictionary in 2008, as shared by Karen Douglas, the study’s primary investigator. Interestingly, many participants involved in the study weren’t familiar with the term, but the moment it’s described, everyone understands its meaning and is well-acquainted with the behavior it represents.

What’s the reason behind elevated phubbing?

Douglas and a Ph.D. student, Varoth Chotpitayasunondh, conducted a comprehensive survey involving 251 individuals spanning the age range of 18 to 66. They aimed to discover the reasons behind the rise of socially insensitive behavior. Unsurprisingly, all participants admitted to different degrees of phubbing, and the researchers established that internet addiction and a decline in self-control were the biggest reasons for phubbing. Besides, the ever-present fear of mission out (FOMO) also emerged as a major cause of the problem. 

The research also exposes an interesting aspect of phubbing that is similar to a type of digital reciprocity. When you engage in phubbing someone, they are more likely to reciprocate the same behavior. The research is the first of its kind and might also be the first to study FOMO scientifically. 

Phubbing could leave you unhappy

Now that you likely grasp the concept of phubbing, you probably know that even you engage in it with your close ones or experience it regularly. Disregarding someone in favor of fixating on your smartphone, resembling a zombie, has been prevalent for several years.

Phubbing has gone past being merely a millennial trait that elders criticize. However, a study by Turkish researchers suggested that couples who frequently practice phubbing tend to be less content with their marriage than those who refrain from it.

This finding makes sense since no relationship can thrive if one partner constantly ignores the other, regardless of the influence of any gadgets. Thankfully, the researchers also offered a simple solution that people can try: simply make an effort to reduce their phone usage, which could significantly improve their relationship with their close ones.

How phubbing affects your mental health

Phubbing seems to have more significant effects on people who experience it, especially when they imagine being the one ignored. As per a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, participants instructed to envision being phubbed had more negative thoughts about the interaction than those not asked to consider the scenario. This phenomenon can be attributed to phubbing’s threat to four “fundamental needs,” as mentioned in the study: self-esteem, belongingness, meaningful existence, and control.

Experiencing phubbing can make someone feel rejected and excluded, potentially exerting a notable toll on their mental health. Studies further reveal that people who experience phubbing tend to compensate by instinctively resorting to their phones in an attempt to connect with their online social circles to fill the emotional void. This sets in motion a vicious cycle where getting phubbed leads to increased reliance on digital interactions.

Moreover, social media can elevate this issue even further. A research published in Computers and Human Behavior suggests that social media usage can have detrimental effects on a person’s mental well-being. The study reveals a correlation between increased social media use and heightened feelings of anxiety and depression. In essence, the more a person engages with social media, the more chances of experiencing these negative emotional states.

How to know if you are a phubber

The biggest indicator of being a phubber lies within your palm — your smartphone. Suppose you are someone who constantly has their phone by their side out of fear of missing a call, an Instagram update, a tweet, or a WhatsApp Status update. In that case, chances are you’re unintentionally engaging in phubbing. Here are some signs you may be engaging in phubbing:

  • You simultaneously juggling conversations both on your phone and in person is a sure sign that you’re not giving enough attention to either interaction. 
  • You instinctively pull out your phone during a meal or social gathering, placing it conspicuously next to your plate for that “just in case” moment is a strong sign of phubbing.
  • You find it difficult to get through a meal without checking your phone; the genuine fear of missing out (FOMO) clearly indicates that you’re deeply into phubbing.

Can you stop yourself from phubbing? Absolutely!

Phubbing is a serious problem, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop yourself. There are a few ways to prevent phubbing. During mealtimes, irrespective of your location, make a conscious effort to keep your phone away. If the constant notifications pose a temptation, activate the “do not disturb” mode to reduce distractions. See each meal as an opportunity to fully connect with individuals around you, fostering genuine conversations.

Although you might feel detached, consider the option of keeping your phone isolated, say in a desk drawer or your bag, and let it remain there. Any notifications or updates can patiently await your attention until later.

See the act of ignoring your phone as an engaging challenge. Monitor the number of meals or hours you can go without using your smartphone. Once you achieve a goal, treat yourself, and then set a new challenge.

To combat phubbing, you don’t need to abandon your phone completely; awareness is the key. Starting with mindfulness of your behavior around others can be a great start. Moreover, seek accountability from the people around you. If they sense you’re getting lost in your phone, encourage them to bring it to your attention gently.

Vishal Kawadkar
About author

With over 8 years of experience in tech journalism, Vishal is someone with an innate passion for exploring and delivering fresh takes. Embracing curiosity and innovation, he strives to provide an informed and unique outlook on the ever-evolving world of technology.