Wednesday, January 23, 2019 | ePaper

Take your eyes off

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Susan Krauss :
You use your smartphone as a communications tool in a multitude of ways. Obviously, the phone as a way to make calls is the most basic. However, its ready availability also makes it possible for you to use it as a communications weapon. There may seem to be endless ways to make people feel inferior, but in "phubbing," your smartphone becomes that weapon. Think about the times a person you're talking to suddenly interrupts the conversation to take a call or react to a "bing" announcing the presence of a text. There you are, mid-sentence, cut off by what is obviously a more important message this person wants to receive.
If so, then you've been "phubbed" snubbed by a person on a cellphone. It doesn't feel very good, does it?
University of Kent's Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Karen Douglas define phubbing as occurring when people "ignore others with whom they are physically interacting in order to use their smartphone instead".
In their framework, a "phubber" is a person who starts the phubbing, and a "phubbee" is the recipient of the behaviour.
The British team used this phenomenon as a way to study how this peculiarly modern form of social interaction would impact the social interaction between phubber and phubbee.
Before smartphones became ubiquitous, if you wanted to snub a person you were with, you would not have such an easily available option. In the middle of a conversation, would you pull out a novel or a magazine and just start reading?
Would you, while out to dinner with your partner or a friend, pull out a pad of paper and just start writing a letter to someone else?
Even if you were bored to tears, it's unlikely you'd engage in such overtly rude behaviour. Furthermore, before smartphones, if you were at a social engagement, other people wouldn't be able to reach you.
You also wouldn't have little distractions at your fingertips in the form of email, texts, online games, shopping apps, and streaming videos.
The primary cause of phubbing is smartphone addiction, which in turn results from excessive fear of missing out (Fomo), general Internet addiction, and lack of self-control. As you might expect, phubbing can erode relationship quality, leading its targets to feel less trustful of their interaction partners, jealous, and unhappy.
Phubbing influences the target's needs to feel in control during social interactions. When you're communicating directly with your interaction partner, you have a say in how the conversation goes.
When that partner phubs you, you've lost that control. Sense of control then becomes another factor in the prediction of whether a phubbee is made to feel inferior.
It is also possible, however, that as phubbing becomes somewhat normative, its impact on you as the target becomes reduced because you don't view it as social rejection. It's also possible that you have a particularly high threshold to feeling snubbed, also known as rejection sensitivity.
In fact, "phubbing violates fundamental human needs and reduces affect" which, in turn, leads to negative communication outcomes. Phubbing, just like snubbing, hurts people's feelings and makes them feel bad about themselves.
There may be times that unintentional phubbing is unavoidable and you have to take a call or answer a text when you're involved in a face-to-face interaction.
Knowing how hurtful the behaviur can be suggests that you consider acknowledging this fact, and keeping whatever conversations you're having as short and perfunctory as possible. The quality of social relationships reflects many factors, and allowing people to feel good about themselves is a sure way that yours will be that much more fulfilling.

(Susan Krauss Whitbourne is a Professor Emerita at the University of Massachusetts Amherst).

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