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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Friendships and phones. Are you a phubber?

Are you a phubber? Or maybe you've been phubbed? Or perhaps it's both. Or maybe you're looking at this wondering what on earth I am talking about .... The word 'phubbing' has been around for about ten years, and even if you're not familiar with the word, I can guarantee that you'll know what I mean. It's a combination of the words 'phone' and 'snubbing' - essentially being snubbed by a person in favour of their phone. I spoke to Refinery29 about the rise and rise of phubbing. How we can address our own behaviours, and how we can call them out in other people. The original article is here. Here's what I told them:

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how we coped with life before mobile phones. How we navigated daily life without notifications, instant messaging and social media. As society has changed, so too have our expectations. Our calls, messages and notifications are flying around in the air between us, on our phones, on our watches, on the screen in our cars. There’s an assumption that we will be available and responsive. If not, maybe we’ll appear rude. Maybe we’ll miss out on an opportunity or important information. Or maybe we’ll be late to respond to an emergency. Or maybe it’s a ‘power move’ to show how important we are.

However, we often fail to understand the downside of this instant connectivity. It gets in the way. It distracts us. It blocks the flow of conversation, of thought, of silences, of awareness, of connecting with each other. It encourages us to live in a state of hyperawareness and worry, that something urgent or important is about to happen any minute.

We don’t always realise how draining this can be. And the message it sends to the people who we are with. That a message, a call, a social media post, an email, whatever it may be - is more important than the time that we are spending with them.

If you really want to look at kicking the phubbing habit, ask yourself a couple of questions.

  • What can you do to your phone and notification settings to ensure that you can put your phone away, but still be reachable in case of emergency?

  • What’s your phubbing style? Do you lead the pack, setting the tone for constant alerts and checking? Do you hide your phone in your pocket, but surreptitiously check it under the table, hoping that no one can see? Or maybe you follow the crowd - keeping your phone away in some situations, but checking it in other situations.

  • If you really need to keep an eye on your phone, in case of a specific emergency, can you communicate this to the people who you are with?

Why is it so hard to to criticise someone else for phubbing, or ask them to stop?

  • Feeling like a hypocrite. This one is definitely key! We can’t really criticise other people for behaviours that we recognise in ourselves. But it reminds us how important it is for us to role model the behaviour that we want to see in other people. If you want other people to put their phones away, consider leading by example.

  • Being seen as difficult. Nobody wants to be labelled as the ‘difficult one’ or the ‘moany one’. And this might get in the way of pointing out someone else’s phubbing habit. This could be even more difficult if you have ‘people pleasing’ tendencies, or if you worry about being disliked or causing embarrassment. In these cases, it often feels simpler to accept the status quo, and learn to live with the phubbing. But watch out - this might mean that you end up feeling anger, frustration, or resentment.

  • Feeling like you're not worth someone else's attention. Notice what happens to you when you think about phubbing. It might start with a sense of irritation, but it might also reveal how you feel about yourself, your self-esteem. Do you feel worthy of someone else’s full attention? If you’re lacking in confidence, then it might be difficult for you to assert yourself with someone else, and ask for their undivided attention.

Phubbing can foster all sorts of resentment, which can spill over and contaminate our relationships. If you’re already feeling frustrated or insecure, then if someone else chooses to direct their attention towards their phone, it can make you question your relationship. It also comes into play when we meet someone new. With existing relationships, we might already have a sense of whether a friend is likely to spend the evening phubbing us or not. But with a new friend or colleague - or even a date - it can be disappointing to discover that they’ve only got half an ear on our conversation.

So how can we all get more confident addressing phubbing when we see it?

  • Lead by example. If phubbing drives you mad, then put your phone away.

  • Highlight the positives rather than the criticism. Rather than moaning about other people who are always on the phone, talk about how much you’re enjoying having a break from technology.

  • If it looks like phubbing is a ‘power move’, then you can reframe it for other people. Surely the most powerful people are the ones who control their own time, and don’t need to constantly be answerable to others.

Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at your relationships with those around you. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.

Friendships and phones: are you a phubber?

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