Unsuccessful Case Study: “Stop Phubbing” Movement
With the mobile phone, we are at the centre of post-modernity. The mobile phone embodies many parallel and contradictory dimensions of meaning: utilitarian use with leisure, the facilitation of everyday life versus dependency, freedom and control, richness of interaction or introversion, private practices and public use, social cohesion with separation.
Mobile phone has become an indispensable part of everyone’s every day, we can either use to facilitate our daily life or develop dependency. It unprecedentedly connects us to the world, also gives us constant “fear of missing out”, irresistible urge of swipe-opening of the smart phone. It changes our social practices, as commonly seen a in cafes and restaurants, people looking down at their mobile devices but ignoring friends or families who are at the same table. Is it possible that we are expecting more from technology and less from each other (Turkle, 2012)? When people gather for social events, mobile phone make us feel more alone, research showed this contributes to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction within the relationship. (Chang, 2015)
In this paper, I introduce a movement that tried to raise awareness of the concerns in 2012 with the slogan “Stop Phubbing”. The campaign did not get the effect one would have hoped for. But I hope that by taking a deeper look of this case study, we can justify why it is challenging.
The “Stop Phubbing” Movement
In 2012, a Sydney University student started with the idea, and with the help from an advertising agency (Mccann) and sponsored by Macquarie dictionary of Australia, a group of experts created the word “Phubbing”, a portmanteau of ‘Phone” and “Snubbing”, in order to make the movement legitimated and easily adopted by people (Pathak, 2013), and it was also captured by the Macquarie dictionary of Australia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSOfuUYCV_0&t=6s , 2013):
Phubbing (v) ‘The act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention.
Its website www.stopphubbing.com polls people’s standpoints on either “I’m ALL FOR PHUBBING” or “I’m TOTALLY AGAINST PHUBBING”. The result shows 71% out of 156,769 total votes are FOR PHUBBING, completely different from the 2013 result: 72% out of the 4,622 total votes were AGAINST PHUBBING….
Below images show the difference in opinion polled (www.stopphubbing.com)
To this date, the “Phubbing” phenomenon is still widely seen. Neither the word nor the movement has made its impact.
Globalisation and Communications – Impact on social relations and interactions
“Time and space compression” (Harvey, 1990) is an adequate description of globalisation. We are technically and socially connected through social medias, instant messages all the time, one’s perception about space is evolving – we simultaneously locate in one place physically and connect to those situated other places via mobile phone. But somehow, the personal face to face bonding seem to be distanciated.
Mobile phone has often borne the brunt of fears and anxieties around contemporary notions of belonging, dislocation, mobility and defining a sense of place and home. This resonates with Arjun Appadurai’s model of globalisation, locality and region are not fixed geographic boundaries, but rather, mutating and ever-evolving scapes in the disjunctive flows of global objects, media and people. In this case, the disjuncture of the technoscape and mediascape influence culture by enabling technological co-presence, enables the extension of individual identity. (Appadurai, 1996)
Intimacy also has a paradigm shift, mobile phone becomes the most intimate device that accompanies us everywhere (Fortunati 2002), reading of the mobile phone has become a symbol of intimacy and co-presence. (Hjorth, 2008) This explains why “phubbing” can make other people feeling left alone.
Leaving the mobile device, we feel very inadequate in human to human conversations. This has been recognized globally and some responses from artists like Tino Sehgal, whose exhibition “These Associations” almost tested human solidarity. (These Associations, “Uniliver Series”, 2012)
Modern theories are all pointing to an irreversible trend of the ubiquitous presence of mobile device and the irresistible urge of being connected at all times. On the other hand, to have a healthy living means to overcome the increasing tendency for addiction, we do not want to comprise the normal relationship and social etiquettes, which essentially makes us human.
Analysis – Why the “Stop Phubbing” movement is not successful
The success of an activism movement needs to have a scale of reach, awareness that leads to the changes of people’s mind and behaviours.
Its Youtube video on “Phubbing” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSOfuUYCV_0&t=6s 2013) have 170,000 YouTube views up to date, but impact was minimum, and when its own website shows the contrary message that 71% of the voters are supporting “phubbing”, this calls for a definite failure.
I question firstly the naming of ‘Phubbing’. It’s not intuitive. I have interviewed around 20 people from different ages, nobody can give me an immediate response. It is difficult to grasp the meaning. Instead of inviting language experts, turning to the netizens for ideation may create better awareness.
Secondly, can ‘Phubbing’ really be stopped? It will get more and more challenging since mobile phone practices can be viewed as an extension of the users’ identity and lifestyle, they are viewed as socio-cultural rituals of the everyday (Hjorth, 2008). People’s need of ‘Phubbing” will only get stronger with the advance of mobile technology.
The hardest part is to overcome the addictive habit and resist the urge. There have been some gentle nudges hoping for minor adjustments to people’s behaviour: Signs in some restaurants “We don’t have wifi, talk to each other”, social organisation started projects like “Your Mobile Phone needs a Rest” (http://www.jcihk.org/en/event_detail.php?id=551) are merely moving the tip of the iceberg.
The involvement of authoritative government body with strong research findings can alert and guide people. In Hong Kong, the Department of Health has found that the median age of toddlers to use a smartphone for the first time was at the age of one, mobile devices are used as ‘e-pacifiers’. (SCMP, 2017). If we don’t change now, how is it possible to ask this generation and their future children to refrain from using electronic devices?!
We easily adapt to the advantage of the technology globalisation. But we do not want to let technology make us think less of humanity. The technoscape influences manifest through social media, which connects people virtually together, even when promoting the less use of mobile phones, we still need to leverage mobile social practice. Whether or not we can stop the “Phubbing” phenomenon, efforts need to be made now especially with the digital natives becoming the leading force of the world, keeping the heritage of conversation can be more challenging but more urgent than ever.
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(Word Count: 1103)
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Turkle, S., 2012. Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. Basic books.
Chang, L. (2015) “What is Phubbing, and is it ruining your relationships?” Available at: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/what-is-phubbing-and-is-it-ruining-your-relationships/
(Accessed: 7 August 2017).
Pathak S. (2013) “Mccann Melbourne Made Up a Word to Sell a Print Dictionary”. Available at:
http://adage.com/article/news/mccann-melbourne-made-a-word-sell-a-dictionary/244595/ (Accessed 7 August 2017)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSOfuUYCV_0&t=6s , 2013 (Accessed: 7 August 2017)
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Fortunati, L., 2002. The mobile phone: Towards new categories and social relations. Information, communication & society, 5(4), pp.513-528.
Hjorth, L., 2008. Mobile media in the Asia-Pacific: Gender and the art of being mobile. Routledge.
These Associations (2012) “Uniliver Series”, Tate Modern, London. 24 July – 28 October 2012
SCMP, 2017 “Screen time on rise as Hong Kong toddlers given electronic devices as ‘e-pacifiers’ from before age of one), 3 August, available at http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2105329/screen-time-rise-hong-kong-toddlers-given (Accessed: 7 August 2017)
http://www.jcihk.org/en/event_detail.php?id=551 , Accessed 7 August 2017