The joy of phubbing: Cell phones and relationships in the 21st Century

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The joy of phubbing: Who says “phone snubbing” is bad for a marriage? It’s not exactly shocking to see a couple more engaged with their devices than each other during dinner. But is it really bad for their relationship?

Virtual Robidoux1Now that the state’s texting and driving law has kicked in, I figured it was only a matter of time before there was a national campaign aimed at dismantling human communication rituals as we now know them.

Texting and driving is a definite no-no. I think we can all agree on this.

I’ve retrained myself to put my phone inside my purse, on silent mode, wrapped in a small, soundproof case, and then – just to be safe – lock it in my trunk while driving so as not to panic when I hear the cacophony of alerts that are programmed to sound during high-level social media emergencies, including but not limited to: when someone likes my Facebook post, when someone posts a smiley face under one of my Facebook posts, when my husband texts to say he loves me, when my son texts to ask me where the hot glue gun is, when my calendar chimes to remind me that the Philadelphia Eagles will be playing in one hour, when someone retweets my Tweet about the double rainbow I just saw, or when my favorite coffee shop is offering a BOGO deal on scones with a 16-ounce cup of house blend.

It was a little stressful at first to wonder what I was missing on my usual 10- to 15-minute drives from home to the supermarket or the bank, but I’ve downloaded an app that plays soothing and mindful music, which I can listen to with my earbuds to restore my sanity while shopping or banking.

But phubbing – that is phone snubbing, or the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention – has become so commonplace, I have a hard time taking seriously a recent study that suggests it is a practice that is ruining relationships and leading to widespread depression.

Some researcher named James Roberts from Baylor University has studied this in the context of a “Computers in Human Behavior” project. He’s also written a book, Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone? Well, duh! (LOL, smiley face.)

His study showed that 46.3 percent of those surveyed reported being phubbed by their partner, while 22.6 percent said the act of phubbing caused “relationship conflict.” Depression was reported by 36.6 percent, while only 32 percent expressed being very satisfied with their relationship. His conclusion is that higher dissatisfaction in relationships is directly related to phubbing. Survey statements to be rated included ones like, “My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together,” and “My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me.”

Is that a crime?

I mean, placing my iPhone next to me at the dinner table allows me to monitor what my friends are having for dinner while I enjoy my home-cooked tuna-noodle casserole. And then, I can say things to my husband like, “Wow, if we were at the Common Man, like Dan and Susan, we could be eating lobster mac and cheese made with sherry-spiked cheddar sauce tossed with cavatappi pasta and chopped lobster – topped with Parmesan crumbs. Look.” And then I can spin my iPhone around in his direction so he can see the photo posted by Susan on Facebook.

Of course, he has to get out his reading glasses, and then when he picks up my iPhone, he inadvertently always closes the Facebook app with his big thumbs, prompting him to say something like, “I don’t see anything.” And then I have to get up and walk around behind him to show him how to push the Facebook app icon (he has a Windows phone) and scroll back to Susan’s profile so he can see the photo.

And then we nod in agreement that it sure looks better than our tuna casserole.

If that’s not communication and togetherness, I don’t know what is.

Still, there is actually a website called, a real doomsday-type site that describes a future world where relationships are based solely on status updates, and face-to-face communication has been “completely eradicated.” They have pulled together all sorts of hyped-up statistics with those disturbing little inhuman cartoon stickmen to frighten us back into verbal communication and eye contact:

∎ If phubbing were a plague, it would decimate six Chinas.

∎ The average restaurant will see 28 cases of phubbing per dinner session, the equivalent of spending 570 days alone while in the company of others.

∎ 73 percent of phubbers go on to become politicians.

∎ 87 percent of teens would rather communicate via text than communicate in person.

∎ The majority of phubbers use their phones to: Make a status update; text someone better than you; purchase music; Google Chuck Norris; search for a Laundromat; LOL at a joke that isn’t yours.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Of course, a little digging confirmed my suspicions, that Stop Phubbing was not so much a beacon of hope in a world of disconnected humans mesmerized by glowing screens but rather a publicity stunt by an Australian dictionary company to sell dictionaries and coin the word “phubbing.”

Still, I have to argue that my attachment to my iPhone – and other electronics – allows me to enjoy all kinds of activities my ancestors missed out on, like monitoring my adult children, who left home thinking they would no longer be under the watchful eye of mom; or impulse shopping for new shoes if I see someone wearing killer boots while I’m sitting at a bench at the mall checking my email; or letting my husband know the tuna casserole is getting cold while he’s sitting on the porch enjoying a cigar and watching (virtually) the Eagles lose a heartbreaker in the fourth quarter via his NFL score update app.

virtual robidoux

Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of, the Queen City’s only independent online daily news and information site. She also had a glamour photo taken in the ’90s. You can catch up with more of her ramblings here, and here.





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About Carol Robidoux 5373 Articles
Journalist and editor of, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.