You've done it, or you've had it done to you.
You're engaged in what you thought was a riveting conversation when your friend or significant other takes a furtive (or obvious) glance at a cellphone. You've been "phubbed" — snubbed in favor of a mobile phone.
It may seem relatively harmless. After all, it might just be a quick peek to check a headline or a score or to see if you missed anything. But research shows that ignoring your real-time friends in favor of these virtual distractions is damaging your relationships and your overall well-being.
"Ironically, phubbing is meant to connect you, presumably, with someone through social media or texting," Emma Seppala, a psychologist at Stanford and Yale universities and author of "The Happiness Track," told Time. "But it actually can severely disrupt your present-moment, in-person relationships."
Why it's bad
In a study titled, "My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone," Baylor University researchers James Roberts and Meredith David studied the impact of using a cellphone in the presence of a life partner. Their study of 145 adults found that phubbing has an indirect impact on life satisfaction and depression in a relationship, in part because of conflict over cellphone use.
But it's not just romantic relationships affected by distracted phone behavior. When you phubb with friends, they feel unimportant and ignored. Two studies have shown that the mere presence of a phone, even if it's not being used, can have a negative impact during discussions between friends. Researchers found that cellphones can particularly effect "closeness, connection, and conversation quality" during meaningful conversations.
Why phubbing happens
Fear of missing out and lack of self-control are the main reasons for phubbing, writes Seppala in The Washington Post.
"However, the most important predictor is addiction — to social media, to the phone and to the Internet. Internet addiction has similar brain correlates to physiological forms like addiction to heroin and other recreational drugs. The impact of this addiction is particularly worrisome for children whose brain and social skills are still under development."
She points out that the urge to check social media is stronger than the urge to have sex.
"We are profoundly social people for whom connection and a sense of belonging are crucial for health and happiness," she says. "So, we err sometimes. We look for connection on social media at the cost of face-to-face opportunities for true intimacy."
Not surprisingly, age and gender often have an impact on when phubbing happens and how it's tolerated. Studies have found that women and older people are more likely to want to restrict cellphone usage in social situations, while men and younger people find it acceptable in a wider variety of settings.
How to stop phubbing
A 2016 study found that 17 percent of us admit to phubbing at least four times per day. So, how do we stop?
There's even a StopPhubbing website started by an Australian graduate student. It's filled with fake stats (92 percent of repeat phubbers go on to be politicians) and offers downloadable anti-phubbing posters and tips on how to stage a phubbiing intervention.
An intervention may be a bit extreme, but being aware is the first step. Some families and friends use the "phone stack" method when eating, either at home or at restaurants. Everyone has to put their phone in a stack on the table. (Some restaurants suggest the first friend who reaches for a phone has to pay for the bill.) It also helps to silence the phone so there are no tempting buzzes.
Be aware of the people you're with (not the virtual friends out there in social media world), make eye contact, and truly listen to what they have to say. Your phone will be waiting for you when the real-life conversation ends.