Are you a member of the bowed head tribe?

With the creation of technological devices, came the creation of entirely new wordsA few years ago, words such as selfie, hashtag and ghosting were non-existent in the everyday vocabulary. However they are now engrained and typical features in our vocabulary.  


The average person spends over 4 hours a day mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds, replying to messages or using their smart phones. Similarly, it has become commonplace for the majority of communication to take place via technology virtually. Unfortunately, whilst technology has allowed human beings to communicate in ways never thought imaginable, this obsession with smartphones comes at a cost to social relationships. 


Phubbing – the combination of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ — is a term coined to describe being ignored by someone using their phone. A recent US survey reported 9 out of 10 individuals used their smartphone in some form during their last social interaction. Given this, it is likely we are all culprits of being both the receiver and giver of phubbing at some point. Ask yourself to remember the last social interaction you had — did you pick up your phone when you got a notification, choosing to devote your attention to that instead of the person next to you? 


Snubbing has become an accepted part of modern life and may seem harmless, however, with the average person checking their smartphone approximately 150 times per day (once every 6.5 minutes), phubbing is an increasing and real issue that must be addressed.  


A decade ago, smartphones were a thing of the future. Now, individuals find it hard to imagine a day without such devices. Technology companies purposefully feed on humans’ need for interaction and acceptance. When we use technology and feel connected to others through likes, comments or messages, a surge of dopamine is released. Dopamine is released during pleasurable or rewarding experiences and helps us to seek instant gratification or communication. If seeking is rewarded, then we are likely to seek more communication, making it harder to stop. For example, after receiving a text message, it is harder to avoid checking your smartphone for new notifications. Humans are hardwired to be social with real connections crucial for health and happiness. Consequently we look for more social connections via technology, however, this comes at a detrimental cost.  


Technology is a double edged sword. It can foster relationships — enabling communication with people on the other side of the world — but also hinder interpersonal connectedness with those around us. The presence of a phone during conversation – even if it just sitting in plain sight, interferes with interpersonal connections. At the core of relationships is an authentic connection. The presence of a phone decreases feelings of closeness and conversation quality. If a phone is present in a social situation, an individual often tends to devote some of their attention to looking at their phones, as opposed to the person in front of them. 


Word of Advice: Put your smartphones away to feel more empathy with the individual you are conversing with.

Lifting your gaze from the phone to the person enables you to read their facial expression, recognise body posture and detect voice tone – important factors for flourishing connections with others and displaying empathy. A true social connection with others relies on  sensing what others are feeling. Communication via smartphones is superficial and solely involves words. However, communication is more complex and beautiful than mere words written on a screen. To positively engage with others, we must respond, empathise, engage and truly listen to others.  


Somewhat ironically, people enjoy using technology to connect with others. However, whilst we are able to achieve this virtual goal, our ability to connect in the present moment with others is severely disrupted. Brain imaging studies have found that when we are the victim of phubbing, an actual physical pain is recorded in the brain. This is expected as a recent study that looked at people imagining being ‘phubbed’ when viewing a simulated conversation felt more negative and had less satisfaction about the social interaction.  


Word of Advice: Set boundaries to schedule phone free times.

This may involve setting a time each day when phones are out of sight and ear, or creating phone free environments, for example at the dinner table. Such simple changes can increase opportunities for bonding between individuals and improve relationship satisfaction. A recent study found those who used their phone at the dinner table enjoyed their meal less and felt less engaged with others. The most critical moments often occur at the micro level such as a smile or having a conversation with someone over breakfast. It is important we do not replace these critical moments with looking down at our screens. Being present to individuals in front of us, rather than their virtual holograms will significantly improve happiness.  


In businesses today, it is easy to feel a need to drop everything to respond to emails or requests when not at work. In a sense, technology has created an expectation of being tied to our work  and being available 24/7. As we create a boundary between phone areas and phone free areas, we need boundaries between on and off work hours to make sure being tied to work does not come at the cost for some of our most precious relationships. 


Technology promotes virtual communication. However, one of the major dangers of its usage is feelings of loneliness. Using smart phones for communication, connects us to the virtual sphere but disconnects us from physical reality and others. Recent studies have reported that the invention of social media and messaging comes at a significant cost as such usage is related to depression, distress, and increased feelings of social isolation.  


Word of Advice: Engaging in stress reducing activities such as mediation and exercise can have positive mental impacts.

Such activities promote unplugging from the phone, and instead plugging into taking notice of the physical world around you. 


Having insight into how our behaviour impacts others and why individuals engage in such behaviours is crucial. For example, we know that individuals turn to their phone in search of social inclusion. So next time you are the victim of phubbing, turn to the person next to you and have a meaningful conversation with them in real life – it’s what you both need.

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