Never heard of 'phubbing'? You're probably guilty of it anyway

This article is more than 12 months old

Tertiary institutions do their part to educate the public on good phone etiquette

You may not have heard of phubbing but you have probably done it. A marriage of the words "phone" and "snubbing", it is the act of ignoring one's companions while using mobile devices.

Last June, Singapore Polytechnic conducted the country's first study on phubbing and its effects on relationships. It hopes to use the data to educate people on good phone etiquette.

The survey by the Diploma in Media and Communication (DMC) students found 61.4 per cent of the 785 Singaporean and permanent resident respondents, aged 15 to 35, were occasionally guilty of phubbing. And 84.6 per cent of the youth had also been phubbed.

Australian academics coined phubbing in 2012.

The students' lecturer-in-charge, Miss Clarice Sim, 34, who teaches research and psychology modules, told The New Paper yesterday: "'Phubbing might lead to a vicious circle. When phubbed, one would go on social media or instant messaging apps to seek from friends the validation that the phubber isn't giving, which ironically, results in him or her phubbing others as well."


Interestingly, romantic relationships are most affected by phubbing, compared to those with family and friends.

DMC student Chloe Lee, 18, said: "We found that males base their self-esteem on their relationship status more than females.

"This might explain why males view phubbing more threateningly than females."

Raising awareness about the issue, Miss Sim hopes youngsters here will put their phones down to have meaningful conversations with their loved ones.

Mr Daniel Ong, 22, who is currently unemployed, told TNP: "Being phubbed is irritating - it is as if you're not important enough to be given the other party's full attention.

"To stop myself from phubbing, I deleted my phone's social media apps and check my WhatsApp only a few times throughout the day."

Another tertiary institution trying to promote a more gracious society involving smartphone use is the Nanyang Technological University.

A study done by a team of undergraduates from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information found that while 93 per cent of young people utilised online messaging apps, only about 9 per cent initiated conversations with their parents via text messages.

To address this, the students started #justatextaway last monthto encourage youngsters to take the lead in interacting with their parents through mobile technology.

The campaign ends in April.

How some deal with ‘phubbing’

Last month, Singtel addressed phubbing through its online commercial about a grandmother preparing for Christmas alone while her family members remain preoccupied with their devices.

Miss Lian Pek, vice-president of Singtel's group strategic communications and brand, told The New Paper: "We distance ourselves from real people and conversations by constantly checking social media or browsing websites on our devices. I’m sure many of us know someone who can’t stop checking their phone even when we’re speaking to them or we may be guilty of it ourselves, just because we’re afraid of missing out on something or it’s just become habitual.

"Regrettably, this sort of phone addiction could result in real connections being overlooked.

"We all know technology is not bad in and of itself. It’s what we do with it that’s key. If seniors, like Ah Ma in the film, are taught to use devices, they could well plug into the lives of their grandkids, share photos, experiences, tap into new worlds of information, entertainment etc, so generational gaps can be bridged.

"Digital technology is highly empowering if we use our phones mindfully."

McDonald's Singapore implemented smartphone lockers at its Marina Cove outlet for customers, reported Channel NewsAsia last October.

The campaign - Phone Off, Fun On - hopes parents and children can bond meaningfully without being distracted by their devices.

The lockers can store up to 100 smartphones.

In 2013, Melbourne's daily paper, the Herald Sun, reported on how marketing graduate Alex Haigh's anti-phubbing campaign went viral thanks to its tongue-in-cheek website,

There, netizens can shame phubbing offenders by uploading their photos and writing them e-mails.- SAMFREY TAN