I was munching on my muesli this morning with half an eye on the TV news (sound turned off, of course) when an item about mobile phones got me to dig out the remote control

They were talking about “phubbing”, a horrible contrived word that means “phone snubbing” and which is defined as “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention“.

“Hello”, I thought, “surely the Victor Meldrew in me blogged about this a year or so ago”. And so it proved – see “The Etiquette of Mobile Devices” – 07/04/2012.

PhubbingBut it seems that things have moved on even though only 16 months have slid by since I wrote that. Nowadays, no-one seems to hesitate in getting their phones out whenever they feel like it. Even without actually looking at it, the very act of placing it on the table makes a very rude statement to the effect of “my life outside of this time spent now with you is more important than this is”.

My previous blog was mainly about the rudeness of ANSWERING a call or text in preference to being with the person one is with, but nowadays it seems to be increasingly the case that people pick up their phones and start clicking without any apparent reason. It’s as if they’re saying “my Facebook page is more important and interesting than being with you and I don’t mind letting you know that”.

Think back to the time before smartphones. Would anyone have dreamed of pulling a newspaper out of their pocket to read in front of a friend they’re having a pint with, or a partner they’re in a restaurant with?

The definition of phubbing includes the words “social situation”, but I think the same thing applies to all situations. I always think it’s very very rude when someone carries on a mobile conversation (with phone held between side of head and raised shoulder) while they are being served in a shop or supermarket, for instance. It is treating the shop assistant (“sales associate”?) with contempt. And why not include business situations within the definition? The boundaries may be different, but the principle is the same.

Stop PhubbingThey could also have expanded the definition to cover the growing incidence of people walking down the street with heads bent over mobile phones, clicking away like idiots. Their rudeness arises out of the fact that they are saying “my clicking is more important than engaging in the normal social body language exchange with you that will determine which side of each other we will pass so that we don’t bump into each other”. They are, in effect, saying “You can walk around me. I’m busy “. I can not deny that I have been known to let such people walk into me and have occasionally shouted “watch where you are going” right in their ear just as they are about to crash into me. The fact that about 10% of their concentration is being spent on knowing about their immediate surroundings is not enough for them to engage with me to ensure that we don’t crash into each other. And have you noticed recently that some socially-challenged people now walk down the street while reading Kindles? Are their current surroundings so bad that they need to escape, or is the book SO gripping that they really can’t put it down – even to cross roads?

Phones in a RestaurantI don’t do any of the “social networking” that seems to keep people almost addicted to checking their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds every few minutes, so I don’t know if the fans of these things are changed in a psychological way. It does seem very odd, though, that something called “social networking” is so anti-social that it makes passing people in the street a bit hazardous, and makes others start campaigns against it.

Maybe it is appropriate that the word “phubbing” is horrible. So is the practice.

(Last updated 08/09/2023)