Socially thinking: Phubbing. You may not know what it is, but I bet you’ve done it.

Phubbing.

Maybe you’ve never heard the term, but I bet you’ve done it.

And if you haven’t done it, then it’s been done to you.

According to Psychology Today, phubbing is “the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones.”

We can all do it, without meaning to, but then there are those who do it because they are simply so addicted to their phones they don’t know how not to do it.

I knew someone with an addiction like this at one time. Honestly, I got tired of being shown I was not important by how often the person surfed on their phone while I was sitting in front of them. They could not stop touching it. It became very clear to me I was a complete bore to them and nothing I said mattered when they even started answering phone calls from people in mid-conversation with me and proceeded to start a conversation with that person.

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I remember them saying when they picked up the phone, “No. No problem. I’m just at a friend’s house.” And then continued to have a conversation like I wasn’t there for the next five to ten minutes.  They hung up and went back to scrolling Facebook while I sat across from them, bewildered why they had stopped by. The same person couldn’t even handle walking from the soccer field to our cars without scrolling and showing me cat memes as we walked while I tried to ask about their day.

When I brought this up to the person, finally, after a year of being treated this way, their answer was “I’m not going to apologize for trying to escape the stresses of my life.” I said, “Was I the stress? I was sitting across from you when you were doing it” I didn’t get an answer to my question, but this person wasn’t going to apologize and saw nothing wrong with their behavior so we haven’t spoken in about nine months, not that we were “talking” before then either.

So what are we saying when we do this to people? We’re telling them whatever is on our phone is more important. Cat memes, the news, the latest fashions, celebrity gossip, politics, and trite comments on social sites are all more important than the person across from us. In that case, why is the person across from us even there? Why are we even there?

I think there are those of us who would crawl inside our phones and live thereto escape life if we could. I get it. Sometimes life really is stressful and we feel like we have to medicate to handle it. Sometimes we medicate with drugs, sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with food and in this day and age, we medicate with escapism. No matter what we use, we are filling our lives with things that really won’t actually fill the voids in our lives or the holes within us. And while we are medicating ourselves we are pushing away people who really care about us and what to actually communicate with us and we are pushing away God.

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All photos by Lisa R. Howeler

I’ve fallen into the trap of burying myself in social media to avoid the stress of life. That may be why I accepted the phubbing that was done to me for so long, but when it hit me how much I was missing by being completely absorbed in my phone – in things that will not matter in the long run — I put the phone down. I looked around me and realized how pervasive technology addiction had become in our society. Sitting at soccer practice one time, I looked down an entire row of parents, all sitting, their necks bent over their phones, their fingers simply scrolling, while their children practiced soccer in front of them.

None of them talked to each other or looked at their children. They were like robots working for the tech companies, lining their pockets with their views and their purchases and their “hits.” It made me sick to my stomach and it made me sick to my stomach that that had been me at one point, though for a more brief time than some.

The sad thing is that eventually the person who you chose your phone over stops trying to interact with you and also stops caring if you interact with them.

That’s what happened with the person in my life. I realized they could care less that I cared about them. They were more interested in their phone, in what they could pin on Pinterest, and what photo of their latest diet they could post on Instagram. I stopped wondering how they were, what they thought, or what was going on in their life.

Honestly, I do still wonder about the person from time to time, even pray for them, but the idea of trying to engage them in friendship again gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. The human part of me doesn’t want to be rejected again but  I also realize now that if that person had cared about me, they would have listened when I told them I felt their phone was more important than our friendship, instead of saying “I’m not going to apologize.”

Hopefully, the person has since resolved this issue and now shows family and other friends they do care about them, by putting the phone down when talking to them.  I know where my place was in their life, thought, and wouldn’t step back into that place again for anything.

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photo by Lisa R. Howeler available on Lightstock.com

The one good thing that came from that situation is it showed me how addicted I had also become to social media and how it was causing me to ignore people and activities in my life that were not only more important but more edifying to my overall life.  After the repeated phubbing done to me, I worked harder not to do it others and I also cut back on social media, even deleting my Facebook account for four months. I realized that social media-based relationships were completely unfulfilling to me.

Since then I’ve decided to try to implement some changes to my life to help reduce technology addiction, as well as phubbing. Some of them I had already implemented two years ago.

Changes I plan to implement or have already started to (some of these were suggested from an article about phubbing on Healthline, others simply from various sites, and others simply from my own ideas):

  • Making meals a place where no phones are allowed (we already do this at my parents when we have Sunday dinners, only allowing my dad to take a photo of dinner before we start, if it is a particularly lovely looking dinner that is);
  • Leave my phone behind for some trips, though this always makes me nervous because I worry someone will need to reach me in an emergency;
  • Institute a no-technology hour which has become even more important for me to do now that my son has his own phone and is showing signs of addiction. We’ve done this before and have really enjoyed the quiet, the increase opportunity for creativity and the way we can connect on a deeper level as a family;
  • Make people charge their phones or devices in a central area of the house, which will encourage them to engage with others when they come to hook up their devices. I have not tried this yet, but since reading about it earlier today I absolutely want to try it.

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Changes I made two years ago (maybe more), include:

  • No Facebook app on my cellphone, so the temptation to look at it while talking to someone in person is gone. I’ve also stepped this up and removed Instagram and YouTube as well. Sometimes I even shut the sounds off to keep the dinging notification sound of texting from triggering dopamine and causing me to want to see who has sent me a message. There are actually only two people who message me regularly: my brother or my husband. Any other messages I receive are people who want something from me and then ignore me all other times of the year.
  • No looking at social media at least two hours before bed (somedays I do better at this than others, especially if there is a breaking news story unfolding.)
  • No devices or computer at all, other than my Kindle, up to an hour before trying to sleep (this works only when I’m not working on a book because I tend to write a little before bed since it is one of the only times during the day I have to write.) I really like this one when I stick to it because it helps me slow down my thoughts and relax more.

We can implement all the changes to our technology habits we want, but until we look at how our choosing our devices over people we love affects the psyche of those people, we probably won’t implement any changes.

We have to ask ourselves, in the long run, will what we read on Facebook matter when we are looking back on our life at the end of it? Will the latest cat meme, the latest celebrity gossip, or the latest political rant by your dad matter at the end of your life if it caused you to lose your connection with someone in your life who wanted to connect with you in person?

I think for most of us, the answer to those questions will be ‘no.’