Stop phubbing me!

'Phubbing': the practice of ignoring one's companion or companions in order to pay attention to one's phone or other mobile device.

So, ‘phubbing’. This is a thing. Have we all done it? Perhaps. Probably. Not intentionally, maybe, but it happens.

Over the years, I’ve been phubbed in meetings. I’ve probably phubbed others. Maybe at the same time (‘double-phubbing’). If there’s a word for it, it must be widespread. Why is it happening?

Perhaps the answer is a simple one - we’re addicted to our devices. At work, at home and in transit. We’ve lost ‘digital balance’ – an over-reliance on technology in communication.

And this must be having a detrimental impact on the art of human connection. I’m hardly old but I must sound old-fashioned when I tell people I miss the pre-device era. Do you remember when people just stared at each other on trains? When you made arrangements and if you were late you just missed the outing? Or the good old days when mobile phones only stored a finite number of text messages (my first Nokia stored 12 after which a ‘one in one out’ policy took over) so you weren’t bothered by the ‘ping’ every minute.

More interesting, however, is the impact this ‘device time’ is having on the way we interact online. Thimon De Jong spoke on this subject at the Learning Technologies Conference 2017 during his brilliant keynote address entitled ‘Future change: living and learning in the connected society’.

His think tank, Whetson, specialises in ‘future human behaviour’ (freaky…) and societal change and his research has kicked up some fascinating revelations. Thimon explained how the ‘please use my data more’ generation have created a vast store of information online that can be used by some of the world’s most sophisticated organisations to map human preferences, desires, wants, needs and habits. Whilst we hear much about data protection, Thimon argued that the ‘intention-behaviour’ gap (i.e. the difference between what people say they want and how they then behave) is getting wider and wider. They say they want privacy but keep divulging more and more online. And tech companies are cashing in on the valuable resource they’re creating . Scary? Potentially. Amazing? Potentially. Crystal ( have developed a personality profiling tool based on an individual’s online footprint, and it’s startlingly perceptive.

So, is this move to an online existence going only one way? Thimon suggested not. Contrary to popular thought, research shows we actually want to achieve more of a ‘digital balance’. Face-to-face is still key. Online is great but it’s not human.

A trust shift is taking place - institutional to personal. Big to small. Organisational to individual. What does this mean? It means relationships are still the key. Technology supports what can only be built between human beings at a more intimate level.

This is reassuringly good news for traditional learning methods but also good news for everyone who saw Terminator 2 and spent five years petrified that we’d be obsolete (or worse) by 1997.

I’m off to a meeting by train. I hope I’m not the victim of a collateral phubbing.

Collateral phubbing – when you look at your phone during a conversation because you heard a ping you thought was yours but it turned out to be someone else’s further down the carriage. Awks.


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