In October 2015, a study by Roberts and David was published on partner phubbing — the act of using one’s phone in the presence of their partner. Media outlets began to run the story and frame it as “Does your partner love his cellphone more than you?” and“How ‘phubbing’ (or phone snubbing) can kill your romantic relationship”. These are pretty stark statements about a phone in a hand.
Does using your phone in the presence of others mean you don’t love/care for them? Does phubbing kill your relationship?
No (or at least I hope not). Something I don’t like about these grandiose statements is that it blames the technology and the use of technology as the guiding factor or the causal agent. There are so many aspects of our usage of technology that can leading to the perception of phubbing, and then that might be associated with some negative (or positive) outcomes:
- The use of cell phones is ubiquitous, but necessary.
On Valentines Day, I wanted to go out for a brunch with my husband. His work was having an emergency release that weekend and so he said he would have to check his phone and take some calls. During brunch he looked, used, and talked on his phone more times than I could count. He warned me about it beforehand so I couldn’t really be mad, right?
Well toward the end of the brunch and with his phone still glued to this fingers, I realized that phubbing is sometimes necessary, but its still extremely annoying. I tried very hard not to phub back. I just sat or looked or pondered because I didn’t want to be seen as the couple that were on their phones during brunch on Valentine’s Day. But it happened as I succumbed to my cell phone and got lost in Instagram posts and reddit links. Yes, I was disappointed that I was phubbed for basically the entire brunch, but I know that it wasn’t on purpose.
Many jobs require us to use our phones by the minute and in turn, we might feel like we need to use our phones so we don’t fall behind on our work. I think it would be worthwhile investigating couples who have jobs that require the use of “phubbing” in their everyday lives to see if the potential causal agent is the job or duties of the job itself.
2. There are different types of phubbing.
When looking at the word “snubbing” and its intentions, it is usually a disdain for the person or situation. I think phubbing is a bit different and that there are certainly different forms of phubbing based on the situation and relationship. For example, there is what I would call the “Awkward passerby phub” where two people see each other, but one or both individuals choose to phub to avoid an awkward “Oh hi, you again” situation. Is this causing us pain and suffering? Nah. It’s just a strategy to make the passing by less awkward and less confrontational. There is also the “spicing it up phub” where individuals on a date will use their phone as a way to potentially break up the conversation and transition into something new. Maybe one person wants to show them a picture, but also at the same time just checks a text that came through.
There is also the “I don’t care about this situation phub” as well. This might lead to more negative outcomes. But if I am dragging my husband to go into Nordstrom because I just have to try on that top, then he might do a little phubbing because he could care less. Then there is something that I call “joint phubbing” where the partners phub together. In short, I think we could do a research study on types of phubbing and analyze the outcomes of each type to get a more in-depth understanding.
3. We don’t say anything about phubbing to the phubber.
Something that fascinates me about phubbing is that we rarely (based on my personal anecdotes), call out phubbers in the moment. I know that some people are trying to avoid phubbing altogether by putting phones in baskets and turning them off at a certain time. But we don’t really say “Hey phubber, stop that right there!” Why? Well, maybe because we also phub or maybe because we understand that in that situation the phubbing is necessary or just okay. Maybe we are socially constructing the act of phubbing as just a normal way of communicating with others.
With the increase in wearables and decrease in the size of technology, future phubbing will take on an entirely new form. We will be able to check notifications or be notified without even the appearance of phubbing. By wearing technology, the technology becomes part of us. Our usage of technology will change — thus phubbing will change. I also think the perception of phubbing will change. But first, we need to do more research on the types of phubbing, the situations in which phubbing is constant, and whether or not these instances are leading to negative, positive, or “who cares” outcomes.
Going back to the campaign on if I am totally for phubbing or if I am totally against phubbing, I honestly couldn’t answer this correctly. Do I want to have meaningful connections with others? Yes. But I also enjoy the advancement of technology and am eager to learn about new ways of using it. With that said, there will be new ways of phubbing and so I guess I am partly for it, but at the same time still value the interpersonal nature of interactions.