I Phub, You Phub, We All Phub

Man texting on phone while on date woman looking annoyed
The first time I remember being phubbed was at Olive Garden. I had met a friend for dinner to catch up on each other’s lives. Every time a notification dinged and lit up her phone, she checked it and engaged in some back-and-forth texting, saying at one point, “Sorry, it’s my husband.” Although she didn’t mean to be disrespectful, that’s how it felt. I didn’t want a half-hearted apology. I wanted her attention.

Can’t she get away for two hours?

Doesn’t she trust her husband to take care of his own kids?

Phubbing — “the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones” — happens all the time. I’m guilty of it, too — and often. We assume we can meaningfully interact with our company while also engaging in texts or social media. It’s simply not true. Our focus gets divided. In response, the person in front of us, feeling slighted, will most likely pull out their own phone and do the same thing to ease their discomfort.

We phub, and they phub back.

Phubbing and Relationships

Did you cringe the first time you saw a family or group of friends together, each person’s face buried in their own smartphone or tablet? Ten years ago when the first iPhone was released, it was shocking. Now it’s so normal, we may not even notice. After all, the average young adult checks their phone 150 times per day!

Photographer Eric Pickersgill’s project Removed illustrates our technology addiction by editing out the phones in scenes he captures digitally. To be honest, when I scroll through his photos, it’s a powerful (and convicting) commentary on life in the era of smartphones. Whether two strangers on a bench, a family around the dinner table or a couple in bed, these photos show how silly and detached we look hunched over our phones while fellow human beings are in our close proximity.

Just because a behavior is commonplace doesn’t mean it’s socially healthy. For the best chance at successful communication and meaningful interactions, we need more than words. Our brains utilize non-verbal facial expressions, body language and other social cues. They’re vital for understanding. These small details are often missed when our attention is divided, leading to miscommunication.

Research reported by The Atlantic suggests that even having your phone out on the table, turned down and left alone, diminishes the quality of the interaction. Isn’t it funny that a device intended for communication distracts from it?

So how can we combat our technology addictions, overcome our lack of social graces and “win” at meaningful connections?

Technology in its Proper Place

Smartphones are not inherently bad. In fact, they’re mostly helpful and good. But like all good things in life, boundaries are key and we need to use wisdom and discernment with our devices. In his book “The Tech-Wise Family,” author Andy Crouch frequently returns to the concept of technology being in its “proper place.” I like that.

To implement this concept, some families including Crouch’s have chosen phone-free dinners for parents and kids to regroup after being away from one another throughout the day. I’ve also heard of people placing a basket or charging station just inside their front door, encouraging all family members and guests to drop off their phones upon entering. Others keep early mornings phone-free, not turning on their devices until they arrive at work. It’s a slower, quieter way to start the day.

Singles, especially those of us who live alone, don’t have the built-in accountability of a spouse or roommate, so it can be hard to keep technology in its proper place. I need to improve in this area, particularly when visiting my parents and at work, but I’ve implemented a few rules to help me make progress at home.

One is a screen-free bedroom to encourage quality sleep and rest. My phone and laptop are not allowed in that space (yes, I use an actual alarm clock plugged into the wall), and my television is in my living room. My phone does not make an appearance on dates. Lastly, I use an actual Bible at church instead of a Bible app so I’m not tempted to hop over and scroll through social media during the sermon.

Take a Sabbath Rest

Another way to curb phubbing is to take a technology break. We’ve all heard of friends who’ve participated in Facebook fasts. One man I know takes a Sabbath on Saturdays, turning off and putting away his phone for a full day every week. Others simply turn off notifications or even delete social media apps from their phones to curb their addictions. If we have to actually log in from a browser, it reduces the number of times we mindlessly turn to our smartphones instead of engaging the world around us.

While attending a worship conference in Dallas in 2014, I learned a catchy phrase from Watermark Church’s young adults’ pastor, Jonathan Pokluda: “Divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.” It was his method for getting sufficient rest and rejuvenation to continue serving God, his family, and his church well. I’ll never forget it! Although he didn’t intend to draw a parallel to phone use, I remember feeling convicted that I wasn’t ever getting away from my smartphone. I hope it’s a helpful motto to you, too, as you take steps toward prioritizing Sabbath and implementing your own boundaries.

Physically and mentally, the full effects of constant smartphone access and use are unknown. It’s just too new of a phenomenon. But socially and spiritually, we can safely assume that God’s best doesn’t include phubbing our friends and loved ones. Let’s commit to being fully present while spending time with others, intentionally choosing to “look up” for their benefit and ours.

How does it make you feel when you’re phubbed? Have you ever been called out for phubbing? What measures have you taken to keep your smartphone use in its proper place?

About the Author

Lindsay Blackburn

Lindsay Blackburn is an ordinary Montana girl who loves life and its many wild and crazy adventures. She works full time as the women’s and children’s ministry assistant at her church and enjoys hosting parties and teaching crafts as a side job. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English literature and a Master’s degree in education. In addition to being an occasional writer, she’s a bookworm, fitness junkie, traveler, foodie, and theology nerd. You can follow her on Twitter @ellesbee.