The anti-social art of phubbing

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couple ignoring each other

Phubbing can be seen in so many elements of our social interaction, but it is most noticeable over dinner. Initially I didn’t even know what the word meant, but I was dismayed to look across a restaurant one evening to see entire families sat in silence, their faces lit by the screen of their phones.

What is Phubbing?

four people looking at their phones

Phubbing is described as ‘snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone’ however I am not entirely sure that does it justice. To snub someone is a deliberate act, whereas most people scroll through their phone with something akin to instinct. Many people are quick to condemn the youth of today as the main culprits behind this concerning trend and though millennials and generation Z are quick to pick up their phones, they are not solely to blame for the deafening silence that is currently echoing around restaurants up and down the country.

With a recent survey showing women spending as much as 88.5 hours on average on their smartphones in March 2017, inferring we may spend more time on technology per day than sleeping, it is no surprise that this is creeping into the time we spend dining. Though many families in 2017 find it difficult to carve out time for a family meal every night, this shouldn’t mean that when they are sat down together (perhaps at a special event or a weekend meal) they can no longer interact.

Many people will see phubbing as the degeneration of good manners, however we view our mobile phones and the internet differently to other past times. While it would be incredibly rude to start reading a book midway through a conversation, it is no problem to scroll through your Facebook feed. 

How technology helps

waitress taking order on a tablet

Now I am in no way against introducing technology to the eating experience, whether that is encouraging people to Instagram their meals or tag a venue on Facebook. Technology, for the most part improves the process, with faster service now waitresses use hand held devices, even being able to order on an app is the ultimate in customisation. No I am not shunning the smart phone, I am merely asking us to bring back the conversation.

Technology is meant to reduce the time wasted, that could encompass reading reviews before visiting a restaurant, booking online or checking their menu to see if they can cater to your dietary needs.

What impact phubbing has

couple on their phones

Eating is an inherently social activity, we do it with friends, family and partners as a time to bond and enjoy one another’s company. Phubbing has been the subject of several studies all exploring the effect phubbing has on our relationships. Julie from the Hart Centre spoke to WHIMN about how phubbing impedes our relationships:

“There are three important connection factors that will give us a sense of satisfaction in our relationships. The first one is accessibility, that you’re both open and listening to one another. The second is responsiveness, as in you both empathise and try to understand how the other feels, as in 'get’ each other, and the third is engagement, so you're both making the time to be fully attentive to each other. Phubbing interferes with all three of these important factors so it’s no surprise to me that people are feeling less satisfied with their relationships.”

So long as every experience of dining out while being phubbed will have a negative impact, you will associate it with being ignored as opposed to the positive and enriching experience you would expect, but what does this mean for other diners?

One of the most important elements of a restaurant is atmosphere. You could have the most creative menu and beautiful décor, but nobody wants to eat in a morgue. So how can you overcome the radio silence that seems so present in a modern eatery?

I have seen many restaurants with a no phone policy, or they refuse to give out Wi-Fi passwords in order to promote conversation. While this may be a positive for some customers, other will see this as old fashioned, especially with so many restaurants and cafes advertising their free Wi-Fi as a way to draw in customers.

One of the most successful attempts I have seen to overcome this trend, is creating a talking point. One restaurant I recently visited featured local and thought provoking art on the walls with short and sometimes philosophical questions beneath. This was less obtrusive than music but is a quick conversation starter, as well as a great way to promote your standing in the local community.