When Did Ignoring People for Your Smartphone Become ‘Normal’?

It even has a name: phubbing.

Photo by stanley45/Getty Images

How many times have you felt like a third wheel to a smartphone? Maybe your friend was editing a photo of your weekend hangout instead of actually hanging out with you. Or maybe your partner kept reaching into his pocket for a buzzing rose gold iPhone during a romantic meal.

The phenomenon is so common that it even has a name: “phubbing,” or snubbing someone in favor of your phone, and it’s become an unfortunate reality of modern day relationships. Over time, according to a new study from the University of Kent, the perception of the habit has been transforming from faux pas to “normal behavior.”

“Although researchers have begun to consider some of the consequences of problematic smartphone use like phubbing, such as negative consequences for relationship satisfaction and personal wellbeing, very little is known about what causes phubbing, and how it has become a pervasive feature of modern communication,” Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Professor Karen Douglas, from the University’s School of Psychology, wrote.

The researchers asked 276 participants (102 men and 174 women) ranging from 18- to 66-years-old fill out an online questionnaire about their experiences being both a phubber and a phubbee.

The study, which appeared in the October issue of the Journal Computers in Human Behaviour, linked the phubbing to internet addiction, FOMO, and a lack of self-control. But it had another ominous finding, as well: “Both phubbing behavior and being phubbed positively correlated with the extent to which people perceived phubbing as normative.”

In other words, the more you phub and are phubbed, the more normal the behavior seems to be.

This shouldn’t be entirely surprising news. A 2015 survey by Common Sense Media found that three-quarters of teens “feel the need to immediately respond to texts, social-networking messages, and other notifications.” And according to Gallup, more than half of adults check their phones multiple times an hour. (Eleven percent check it every few minutes!)

But considering that phubbing has been linked to depression and the destruction of romantic relationships, it might be a good idea to at least try to disrupt the cycle. Our Modern Manners columnist, Catherine Newman, has previously suggested that the best way to get a friend to put. the. phone. down. once and for all is to model good behavior yourself: “If you don’t want your friends prioritizing their virtual connections over your flesh-and-blood friendship, say as you sit down, ‘It’s so great to see you. I’m turning off my phone so I make sure I can focus.’ Or propose it as an idea: ‘Hey, we see each other so rarely. What do you think about ditching our phones while we have this time together?’”

Find the rest of her modern day tech commandments here.