Negative Mental Health Impact From Ignoring Friends for Your Phone

In social settings, devices can lead to a contemporary form of rudeness called phone snubbing, or phubbing – ignoring your friends to pay attention to a phone.

We’ve all seen this. It’s when someone is in a social setting using their phone to text, email, or play games and not pay attention to the people around them. It’s becoming more pervasive as devices become smaller, faster, and easier to use. 

A recent study found a link between depression and social anxiety on increased phubbing. It also showed that smartphone usage during face-to-face interactions can be problematic and harmful in friendships. “Results showed that those with higher levels of depression, social anxiety, and neuroticism were significantly related to greater friend phubbing while agreeableness was negatively related to friend phubbing.” 

We asked industry experts whether they considered themselves phubbers, recovering phubbers, or possibly haters of phubbers.

Alex Mastin, founder and CEO of Home Grounds, says the reason behind the increase in phubbing is because smartphones are everywhere and frequently used in co-present encounters. He says he is anti-phubbing, and considers it a horrible practice. “Phubbing goes against the values of love and intimacy,” said Mastin. « What is scary is people think it’s okay to phub people as a new norm when it’s just a lousy way to cover for something frivolous in one’s behavior, » he adds.

« I hadn’t realized there was a name for it. And a fab one at that, » said Brian Conghalie, founder of MyOpenCountry. He spends a lot of time traveling for work, and even more time alone in the outdoors, making him dependent on his phone. He is frequently accused of forgetting that he is in the presence of others when he is with friends and family, and that they have to remind him to put the phone away. « It is rude, though unintentionally so. I am working on becoming a recovering phubber. (I’m wincing every time I use that word). My parents, for example, forbid any devices during meals or family gatherings, » he adds.  

Sam O’Brien, founder of WaterSportsWhiz, doesn’t hate phubbers, but puts limits on his willingness to tolerate the behavior. “When someone makes plans with you to hang out, they’re allocating time for that activity, just like how we would allocate time for an important event or appointment at work,” said O’Brien. We should treat it the same way as if it were a crucial business meeting. Spending most of your catch-up time with friends focused on social media instead of engaging with the group or individual is a sure way of showing your disinterest and, for some, disrespect towards the time and effort they put into the meetup, » he adds. But he knows our world revolves around technology to keep us updated on critical issues and events. 

“If people need to check in kids or resolve urgent matters, they should at least communicate why they need constant phone interruptions, ”added O’Brien. As a business owner, he understands that people can’t always select their hours, and may get sidetracked trying to solve problems. However, if it occurs frequently, he recommends taking a break until you feel more settled. “Explaining why you’re taking a raincheck to a friend is preferable than having someone feel devalued when they’re in your company.”

The researchers suggest future studies include additional factors to understand phubbing in friendship. For our experts, phubbing is sometimes justified due to the busyness of life, and legitimate needs to be available. But they also warn that this habit implies you don’t value the time with another person.  As Conghalie said, “Maybe there should be a help group – Fphubbers Anon?

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