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6 August 2013

“Phubbing”, broadly, is the act of snubbing someone in a social situation by looking at or answering your phone instead of paying attention. It’s a pithy little word for a habit that has become a mainstay of most modern social interactions.

Who hasn’t been halfway through telling what we think is a witty anecdote when a companion’s phone flashes a call and quickly, they cut you dead and answer. More often than not, they then begin the new conversion, “How are you? How’s your dad? Look, we should meet, when are you free?”, with no reference to the fact that they are with a real person who is waiting impatiently for them to finish. Possibly even more offensive, are the times when your companion simply starts reading emails or glancing online for the latest headlines.

And then there are the shockers. I was at a wedding not so long ago where I am sure a contingent of banker types in the congregation were dealing stocks and shares as the bride made her way up the aisle. There’s a sense of injustice in all of this. It’s like you’ve been jilted by a more compelling rival, as if the caller has more value than a person who is present.

There is an undeniable, addictive draw to mobile gadgets. Novelty value has cut them a lot of slack when it comes to manners. But we have reached a point where digital etiquette needs to be defined.

In the case of “anti-phubbing”, the call for change has come from a 23-year-old Melburnian, Alex Haigh, who has launched a campaign to urge the public to prioritise people over phones. He argues that this is not an anti-technology rant but a reminder to look after your friends.

The campaign provides posters for businesses to display in order to avoid their staff being phubbed, wedding place cards asking guests to restrain from checking their emails, and they curate images picturing cardinal acts of phubbing to shame high-profile figures in the act, such as David Furnish on his phone while at a wedding.

This isn’t about instating Austenian decorum or about older Luddites walloping young tech-obsessed teens. It’s more complex than that. This is a very human attempt to remind people to hold back from the urge to devour technology and concentrate on what matters.

That this call for considerate phone use should come from a nation that has some of the most casual, easy-going manners in the world says it all.

Sophie Grove is business editor for Monocle.


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