UAE | Society

Phubbing: Me, myself and my phone

Phubbing, which is essentially about snubbing people around you by being on the phone, is becoming a global problem for society. We look at how serious an issue it is and what can be done about it, along with the Stop Phubbing Campaign that is storming the world

  • By Noor Al Khatib, Social Media Editor
  • Published: 18:01 September 7, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News
  • There's about 10.4 million smartphone accounts in the UAE (2013).
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Dubai: Considering how much we rely on our smartphones and tablets in our tech-savvy world, it’s become a tad unclear about who’s really in control – our gadgets or us? The fact that many of us have separation anxiety when our phone isn’t in the palm of our hand is one thing; the more pressing issue is our disintegrating social skills.

That’s where the Stop Phubbing campaign comes in. Phubbing isn’t a well-known word in the UAE yet, but it’s definitely making its way around the world thanks to Alex Haigh, Australia-based creator of the campaign. Although the term, a combination of the words phone and snubbing, may be unfamiliar, its meaning is not.

Telling someone to ‘Stop Phubbing’ is more powerful than telling someone they’re ignoring you with their phone. ‘Phubbing’ assigns meaning and assigns the word depth.”

Alex Haigh | Global campaigner

According to the Stop Phubbing website, phubbing is “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention.” Given how much time we all spend staring into our smartphones, chances are we’ve all been a victim of phubbing and even been the ones phubbing others.

Speaking to Gulf News, 23-year-old Haigh said he spent a lot of time working in cafes and restaurants where he had witnessed and experienced plenty of phubbing from people sitting together without talking. A disconcerting statistic on the Stop Phubbing website states: “An average restaurant will see 36 cases of phubbing per dinner session.”

The most pressing issue with phubbing for Melbourne-based Haigh is to stop the problem before its effects are irreversible.

He said: “We have welcomed technology and smartphones so rapidly in our day-to-day lives, it has exploded. We spend time together, but we don’t actually speak. Before we go any further with this behaviour, we need to name and shame the issue so it doesn’t get worse. We need to discuss it and we need etiquette.”

It’s undeniable that technology has become such an intricate part of our lives, which is why Haigh finds it essential for us to define mobile etiquette in social settings.

While phubbing is new to our vocabulary, Haigh suggests the best way to reduce phubbing is by using the word.

He said: “As soon as you name a behaviour, you can call people out on it. Telling someone to ‘stop phubbing’ is more powerful than telling someone they’re ignoring you with their phone. Phubbing assigns meaning and gives the word depth.”

The university marketing graduate realises that this campaign alone is not the solution to bad mobile phone etiquette but it certainly addresses the problem and calls for a solution. Other than adding the word to our vocabulary, the campaign’s website offers some light-hearted alternative solutions, which Haigh said gives the campaign a “light tone without being dramatic and authoritative.”

It’s all there, from phubbing intervention letters that request phubbers to put away the “cold and rectangular” device “with the pretty lights” to anti-phubbing posters and stop phubbing wedding place cards.

Haigh said: “We make it fun and interactive not just ‘No! No! No!’ so that people are actually interested.”

People are definitely interested if the campaign’s worldwide popularity is anything to go by. Developed last year in Melbourne, Australia, the campaign has successfully spread to North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, with Mexico and Germany bringing the most traffic to their website.

It doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime time soon for Haigh either as he considers the campaign’s future.

“It has exploded so rapidly and I’m just trying to catch up and see where things are headed. The international response is definitely something to consider.”

For more information or to download any of the campaign’s posters visit:

Fact Box

At a glance

If phubbing were a plague, it would decimate the world’s entire population.

97% of people claim their food tasted worse while being a victim of phubbing.

87% of teens would rather communicate via text than face-to-face.

New York City, Los Angeles and London are the top three phubbing offenders.


Comments (3)

  1. Added 13:38 September 8, 2013

    Phubbing, in one sense, is an insult to one's companion(s), saying that my cellphone is more important than the person who is you. I have been a victim of this insensitivity and I feel offended, in most cases. It seems like smartphones have become a demanding Master that requires your full attention anywhere, anytime. They walk you up in the middle of the night, they intrude while having dinner, they grab ones attention while in meetings, they are just ruthless, demanding tyrants! Yet I can live without them!

    Edson De Zamboanga, Dubai, Philippines

  2. Added 13:03 September 8, 2013

    I miss the good old days - when we were teenagers, and no-one had a mobile phone. My pals and I would communicate with eachother through the good old-fashioned British Telecom Landline :) In those days, you had to check the time (to make sure you were calling during the cheaper evening tariff) and then ask for parents permission before lifting the receiver. You would then arrange a time and place with your friend, and away you go! My husband nags me to upgrade my mobile, but why should I - it still works! It can make calls and send a text message, so what more do I need? All the technology around us is wonderful, but we need to draw the line - that basically if you choose to invite a friend out for coffee and spend that time fiddling around with your smart phone, do not be surprised if you find the device floating in your coffee and your friend's chair empty. We need to get back to being people again, and not being controlled by the gadgets in our pockets :)

    Sarah Louise, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 11:39 September 8, 2013

    The habit of phubbing is fast developing and as the founder of 'stopphubbing' movement Mr.Alex rightly observed among many youngsters, this phubbing culture will spread to many more nations very soon and thanks to the smartphone inventors and the new additional features they keep adding daily in their new model smartphones. Forget about the attitude of strangers not talking to each other in public places like restaurants, parks, airports, airplanes etc. which is atleast understandable, because of the indifferent social compulsions, even at home among the already existing nucleous family setup this phubbing culture is fast gripping and if not already, sooner or later exchange of personal thoughts and solving of family problems will all be done through SMS and there will be hardly any face-to-face discussions. So to say the relationship among the so called close-knitted family members will cease to exist except otherwise found in their DNA. Once again thanks to the modern smartphones and their users.

    Ramani Rajan, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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