As I’ve said a number of times before, the cultural rules and protocols for the use of social media are still in process of being developed. It may be years before we are clear about how to use such devices as smartphones in a social situation without offending others. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some reactions and explosions already circulating throughout society. But the phenomenon of using such devices in a social setting is still too new to have specific, developed protocols established.
Every now and then I find myself in a library, restaurant, physician’s office, or other public place where the rules are made clear: NO CELL PHONES ARE TO BE USED. And we’ve all been to a concert, lecture, or movie theater where the message is made clear at the outset: TURN OFF YOUR CELLPHONES. They used to use the word “please” with that instruction. I’ve noticed that it’s missing more and more. Could it be that there is some emotion developing around the topic?
One of the words which has emerged in our American English vocabulary as a result of the presence of social media devices is phubbing.* It is one of those words that is created by combining the two words phone and snubbing. It’s meaning, therefore, has to do with the rude practice of snubbing someone by continuing to use your smartphone when a conversation with them is expected . I thought the illustration I chose for today demonstrated the meaning of phubbing to a T. The look on the woman’s face tells the whole story.
There are a couple of ways that phubbing takes place.
- One is what I call addiction phubbing. That refers to the person who is so addicted to (his) cellphone that he cannot fathom putting it away, turning it off, or leaving it in the car. There just might be something important happening that he needs to know about, or there might be someone (obviously more important than his guest) who needs to talk with him. The office may be calling about a question which only I can answer. (This might be called the ego phub.)
- The second one is the intentional phub which takes place when a person runs into someone in a public place and doesn’t want to talk with him. (She) immediately pulls out the cellphone, pretends to be engaged in a very important conversation. And just waves as she walks on by. That’s a real phub, in my book.
No matter what the circumstances, it is clear that the smartphone/cellphone/or other device has become a tool which, at times, is an interference in the normal, accepted rules of social engagement. I suspect that there have been severe consequences in a number of relationships over this issue. The perpetrator of the social injustice pleads innocence, based upon what some people consider to be acceptable rationales for phone use. The injured person knows that the incident has revealed a feature of their relationship which needs adjustment or abandonment.
In any case, it is clear that the day is coming when someone needs to write the book which will become the “bible” for those who use social media. The only problem is that we live in an age in which authority figures are not trusted simply because they write a book. It starts long before that. Parenting needs to include a new segment, in which children are instructed and trained in the proper use of social media. The problem may be that at this moment, the experts in social media are the children. It may be another generation before it all becomes clear.
I have more to say, but you’ll have to excuse me. My cellphone is ringing.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
*My thanks to Paul McFedries, author of the blog, Word Spy, who introduced me to this word.