Snubbed by a Smartphone

Face it, you're just not as interesting as the device your friend is holding

by Kristen Fischer | Updated 24 Jun 2016 at 7:48 AM

There are few things more irritating than engaging with people in a social setting who suddenly pulls out their phone. Just like that — it’s you versus their screen. And the screen almost always wins out.

“It has become more acceptable and it ought not be,” a therapist said.

You’re a phubbee who has been phubbed by a phubber. This is also known as phubbing — or phone snubbing.

“When you take your attention away from the person who’s sitting across from you, to look down at your phone, check your messages or review your social media, you are sending the message that you are not completely engaged or interested in what the other person has to say,” Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert with the Protocol School of Texas in San Antonio, Texas, told LifeZette.

Why does this seem to be an acceptable social norm?

Studying Phubbing
University of Kent psychologists studying the social trend say there are numerous factors that lead to smartphone addiction — and the fear of missing out, a lack of self-control, and an internet addiction are among them. People glued to their smartphones were directly linked to being phubbers. Furthermore, the researchers say phubbing and being phubbed have led us to believe this is acceptable and normal behavior.

Jane Austen and Miss Manners would be appalled.

It can be uncomfortable to confront others as if you’re president of the manners squad — so, we just let it continue.

Not only does the behavior seem rude, it’s also unhealthy. A 2015 study from Baylor University found that cell phones and smartphones are actually damaging romantic relationships and leading to higher levels of depression. Researchers surveyed 453 adults, and they confirmed that when someone even perceived that their partner phubbed them, it created conflict and led to lower levels of satisfaction with the relationship. Poor relationship satisfaction led to lower levels of satisfaction in life — and higher levels of depression.

It can damage all relationships, though, and cause stress (which leads to all sorts of health ailments) — so doing it to a friend or in a group can be just as harmful.

Phubbing is Not OK
Researchers report a few reasons that people think phubbing is OK. If one person in a group uses their phone, others may think it’s acceptable simply because they see others doing it. Some phubbers assume that others think it’s appropriate, so they don’t think twice about checking their Instagram feed or email. Then there are others who do it for work purposes and believe an urgent career-related message supersedes social graces.

“When we phub, or are phubbed, there is a disconnect. People feel self-conscious, as if they aren’t important or interesting enough,” explained Kelley Kitley, a Chicago-based licensed clinical social worker.

Kitley said the phone has become a tool to avoid emotional intimacy. Others scroll out of boredom — or a compulsion to check.

“It has become more acceptable and it ought not be,” Kitley said.

"If one person in a group does it, it gives 'permission' for everyone else to do it. Then you have an entire group interacting online rather than with each other," she added. Younger people have grown up in a culture of electronics — so they may not realize how harmful it can be.

Got Phubbed?
If you're feeling the phub, Kitley suggests speaking up. Be aware of when people are on their phones in a group. Instead of allowing phubbing to be the norm, she suggests letting others know that phubbing is not appropriate, no matter how tech-friendly they are.

"How about calling people out for doing it? [Let this] be the norm," she said.

That is a good idea, Gottsman said, but added it can be uncomfortable to confront others as if you're president of the manners squad. So, many of us just let it continue — and then, so does the notion that it's acceptable.

Related: Device-Addicted Kids Deteriorate

"While you may be more prone to say it to a friend, it's not recommended to call out a client or your boss," she added.

Instead, we have to choose how we want to react based on whom we are with and what the ramifications of a confrontation may be.

"Any time you're with another person, unless you are using your phone as a resource for showing someone something they have requested to see, it remains distracting and rude," Gottsman added.

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