Great moments in neologisms: phubbing

There is nothing like new technology to spawn neologisms. Some of them are pretty good but some are downright ugly. In the latter category I would place one that I have been coming across recently: phubbing. This is a contraction of ‘phone snubbing’ and is used to describe the phenomenon of when one is ignoring the person one is with in order to communicate with the phone. I assume that there are extensions ‘to phub’, ‘be phubbed’, etc.

As if often the case with new phenomena, the negative implications for one’s romantic life are emphasized first.

My colleague Meredith David and I recently conducted a study that explored just how detrimental smartphones can be to relationships.

We zeroed in on measuring something called “phubbing” (a fusion of “phone” and “snubbing”). It’s how often your romantic partner is distracted by his or her smartphone in your presence. With more and more people using the attention-siphoning devices – the typical American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day – phubbing has emerged as a real source of conflict. For example, in one study, 70 percent of participants said that phubbing hurt their ability to interact with their romantic partners.

As an older guy, I am less wedded to my cell phone, using it only when I am away from my land line. It is usually tucked away in a drawer, taken out only when I go out or if I need some information stored in it. I was aware that people nowadays are on their phones a lot but checking it on average every six-and-a-half minutes surprised me. I am wondering if this is because cell phones are still in the novelty phase and over time, people will get fed up with its incessant intrusions into their life and begin to use it more judiciously.


  1. RationalismRules says

    I am wondering if this is because cell phones are still in the novelty phase

    Hardly. Cell phones have been in common usage for 20+ years now, and smartphones for 10+. Per Wikipedia:

    American users popularized the term “CrackBerry” in 2006 due to [Blackberry’s] addictive nature even the addiction phenomenon has been around for a decade.
    Less a novelty, more a paradigm shift.

    Personally, I think FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is the significant driver. FOMO is not a new phenomenon but technology has changed its significance -- the ability to respond instantly, the constant bombardment of information, the powerful manipulative effects of advertising -- seem to have amplified FOMO to a point where it now takes precedence over right-here right-now.

  2. A. Noyd says

    Ahh, portmanteau words. They may be lazy and unimaginative, but it often takes little effort to decipher their meaning. (“Phubbing” being a notable exception.) Thus they endure in popularity despite their hideousness. My least favorite of recent times has to be “webinar.” Ugh.

    As for the concept of “phubbing,” I think it points to the broad utility of smartphones rather than any newly emerging breakdown in social relations. Phones can function as a substitute for a magazines, gaming devices, mirrors, watches, cameras, train timetables, and so on. But it’s not so simple to lay blame if all the ultimate sources of distraction are considered rather than the means of accessing them.

    And while we might idealize keeping all one’s attention focused on one’s partner, outside of certain short-term activities (sex being the obvious example), that’s actually weird and creepy. It’s not how most people or relationships actually work.

    That’s not to say there can’t be situations where a romantic partner is neglected by a phone user, but I doubt that in the vast majority of those cases the phone itself is the root of the problem.

  3. Jockaira says

    My favorite “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” is:
    I’ve got your number. if the phone doesn’t ring, you’ll know it’s me.

  4. says

    I learnt the term “phubbing” this past summer. I don’t expect younger people to think the same way I do and grew up with (e.g. “Don’t you DARE call me during the dinner hour!”) but I don’t understand the obsession with checking the phone or facebook every five minutes, including (by the user’s choice) to interrupt a conversation.

    In the time I grew up, replying to a message or phone call in the same afternoon was considered an immediate response. Today, answer someone’s message within three hours and they’ll act like you were ignoring them. I even get emails from people apologizing for answering me after 24 hours, as if I expected them to answer in five minutes. A reply within a week would have been fine by me.

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