The rise of phubbing - aka phone snubbing

Practice has spawned an online backlash that has gone global

Tom Chatfield
Monday 05 August 2013 18:37
Present company excluded: Beyonce and Jay Z at a film screening; Paris and Nicky Hilton at a fashion show; David Furnish and Elton John at 2011's royal wedding
Present company excluded: Beyonce and Jay Z at a film screening; Paris and Nicky Hilton at a fashion show; David Furnish and Elton John at 2011's royal wedding

“While you finish updating your status, we’ll gladly service the polite person behind you.” “No Tweeting, No Facebook, No Instagram, No Foursquare, No Sexting: respect the food, the music and the company you’re in.” These are the posters you can download from the elegant Stop Phubbing website – the online home of a campaign against digitally derived rudeness that has started to go global.

Coined by Alex Haigh, a 23-year-old Melbourne resident, phubbing stands for “phone snubbing”, and describes “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention”. Tongues are firmly in cheeks when it comes to some of the stats (“if phubbing were a plague, it would decimate six Chinas”), but the intention behind the campaign is serious enough: to highlight the scourge of glazed faces in public places, text-tapping fingers during supposedly intimate dinners, and reunions that might as well have been held via Google Hangouts given the screen time involved.

When it comes to smartphones, tablets and other mobile delights, many of us have the unfortunate tendency to behave like teenagers: prodding and poking our shiny toy to the exclusion of anyone and anything else. And that’s partly because, so far as mobile tech goes, we are all adolescents. Mass-market smartphones are barely 17 years old; iPhones only six; and iPads just three. Little wonder we’re playing etiquette catchup, or that it has taken a digital native to unlock this particular cabinet of fascination.

It sounds cheerfully daft, but there’s an uncomfortable truth at the heart of phubbing: other people are easier to handle when encountered on screen. They’re less likely to demand unreasonable exertions such as undivided attention or clean shirts. In an age of information suffusion, it makes horrible sense to shrink each other into text messages and status updates – because this is a way of coping with constant, limitless connectivity.

The other way, of course, is to board the phub wagon and start shaming others (and yourself) into a more grown-up existence. Try splitting the bill Silicon Valley-style: all your phones go on the table, and the first person to crack and begin fondling their screen foots the bill. Or you could take advantage of Stop Phubbing’s name-and-shame facility, which invites the public exposure of incessant phubbers. Beware of visiting the site via a mobile browser, though. Do this, and you’ll be met by the flickering admonition “mother fubber” then told to sit down at a computer like a sensible person.

Sometimes, hiding behind the screen remains a godsend. Who would forgo their fake urgent text messaging when a charity mugger looms across the pavement; or email management when waiting alone in a bar? Physical proximity is no guarantee of interestingness, for either places or people.

Be careful, though, who you snub next. Their wry smile and flashing fingers may already have consigned you to the phubbing hall of shame.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in