Do You Phub the People You Love?

The only cure for technoference is focused face-to-face attention.

Posted Jun 28, 2019

What exactly is "phubbing"? If you are phubbing your friends, this means you’re snubbing your friends in order to focus your attention on your phone. It’s a “phone snub,” “phub,” for short. The term was developed in 2012 by an advertising agency that recruited lexicographers and poets to find the perfect term for this poorly perceived behavior.

While phubbing is a more informal term for this behavior, researchers have chosen the word “technoference” as a way to capture what is actually going on between people when phubbing occurs. It’s a “technology-based interference” that can definitely be detrimental to relationships. No matter what you call it, the result is still the same–weakened social ties and compromised relationships.

Social connection and social belongingness are essential to our emotional and physical well-being. We all need a “back-up team” when we’re dealing with the stressors we face as well as a “home team” who celebrates our successes with us. The need to connect and the desire for communication with others are the drivers for the development of telecommunication devices. When I worked at one of the early mobile phone and paging companies, we would answer the phone with a chirpy, “You’re too important to ever be out of touch.” It was a great slogan then and it’s a great slogan today. Cellphones keep us connected with others no matter where we’re at or what we’re doing.

Unfortunately, when what we’re doing involves being in the company of others, being distracted by the screen on your phone–whether texting, reading, or just surfing–can undo any good that social interaction might produce.

Romantic Relationships and Technoference

With couples, it turns out that the more technoference that occurs when the couple is together, the more conflict regarding technology the couple will experience (McDaniel, Galovan, Cravens, & Drouin, 2018). When your date or partner phubs you, you’re likely going to experience jealousy (Krasnova et al., 2018). It’s not just because your partner is staying connected to people not present that is the problem, it’s that your partner is more interested in someone or something besides yourself. If you’re in the early stages of a relationship and it’s headed the way you want it to go, don’t risk the relationship by phubbing your date. One phubbed gentleman in Australia tried to sue his date for phubbing him during a movie–a frivolously phubbulous lawsuit, but it certainly provides the feeling of rejection that can arise upon being phubbed by a potential partner. As a couple gets increasingly familiar with one another and spends more time together, it's likely that the phubbing becomes a familiar behavior, too. Remember, though, to make sure "reciprocal phubbing" is acceptable–staying on the same page and being present for one another should be your first priority.

Phubbing aside, cell phones in the bedroom are especially detrimental to relationships and individual well-being (Hughes & Burke, 2018). In general, it’s probably best for couples to leave their phones charging outside their bedroom, if possible. In a technology-free bedroom, the relationship is more satisfying, quality of life is enhanced, and focus and overall well-being are positively affected by their absence. Sleep quality also improves – which always makes everything better in itself.

Friendships and Technoference

Sometimes what a friend needs most are empathy, understanding, and our full attention. Other times, hanging out and phubbing with all of your friends doing the same, that’s perfectly fine. It’s important, though, to recognize that social relationships are enhanced by the reciprocity of positive engagements and are compromised by the reciprocity of detractive behaviors; thus, the more often you and your friends phub each other, the more normal it becomes (Chotpitayasunondh & Douglas, 2016). When someone is texting while we’re talking to them or scrolling through feeds, it leaves us feeling devalued and inconsequential, if not downright upset.

When a friend needs you present, make sure you keep your phone in your pocket, purse, or at least face down on the couch or table.

Parent-Child Technoference

Research suggests that there is definitely a relationship between the amount of technoference in a parent-child relationship and a child’s behavior (McDaniel & Radesky, 2018). It seems that the more time parents spend on their smartphones, the more trouble a child can get into and the harder she might have to work to draw the parent’s attention from the screen. It’s also true that the more challenging or difficult a child’s behaviors might be, the more likely a parent might feel frustrated and turn to the smartphone as a distraction. Moreover, because smartphones are as mobile as people are, “distracted parenting” can be a risk to a child’s wellbeing as “distracted driving” can be to passengers and the other cars on the road.

If you want to teach your kids to tune you out, then model phubbing for them daily. Young children need adult supervision. However, if you’re “crushing candy,” texting friends, or checking out the too cute shoes or outfit you want to get for your child or yourself, your child may be on the brink of some unexpectedly risky behavior. Keep your phone handy if you’re using it to capture pics of the kids, but don’t lose focus of what your kids need and how you’re showing them how to treat others.

Put Down the Phone to Amp Up the Connection

Some suggest that cell phone distraction is representative of a potential cell phone addiction, which is linked to FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. Since humans crave connection, it makes sense that the device that allows connection in so many ways has become something of an addictive device. However, many of us are not ready to settle for “technology-mediated connection” when we’ve got friends and family who need us physically present or when we are in need of a warm embrace or pat on the back.


Chotpitayasunondh, V., & Douglas, K. M. (2016). How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 9–18.

Hughes, N., & Burke, J. (2018). Sleeping with the frenemy: How restricting ‘bedroom use’ of smartphones impacts happiness and wellbeing. Computers in Human Behavior, 85, 236–244.

Krasnova, H., Abramova, O., Notter, I., & Baumann, A. (2016). Why phubbing is toxic for your relationship: Understanding the role of smartphone jealousy among “Generation Y” users. Research Papers. 109.

McDaniel, B. T., Galovan, A. M., Cravens, J. D., & Drouin, M. (2018). “Technoference” and implications for mothers’ and fathers’ couple and coparenting relationship quality. Computers in Human Behavior, 80, 303–313.

McDaniel, B. T., & Radesky, J. S. (2018). Technoference: Parent Distraction with Technology and Associations with Child Behavior Problems. Child Development, 89(1), 100–109.