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Opinion We are more concerned with beeps from our phone than the person in front of us

We’re becoming increasingly disconnected from our immediate environment and from the people around us due to the constant use of mobile phones.

IF YOU GO into any Irish restaurant, pub or coffee shop you’ll see groups of people sitting together in complete silence – sometimes an almost meditative atmosphere prevails.

There is no talking and no eye contact. This is not some new wave of Trappist Monks or a new fashion in meditation or yoga. This is phubbing.

Phubbing‘ was recently considered as an addition to the Oxford English Dictionary. It means to ignore the company you are in while you use your phone. It would be the most timely addition to the OED in years, given how widespread the practice is. Phubbing is also the single most annoying, rude and perverse activity a person can engage in.

It beggars belief that a person or group of persons would gather together in a social environment, and then spend the majority of the time ignoring each other.

What exactly is the point of going to a coffee shop or restaurant if you are going to sit there with your head bowed over your phone like a praying monk, an activity you presumably do at home?

Are phones destroying our social skills?

Phubbing is not only illogical, it’s rude. You have made an arrangement to meet someone or a group, with the express intention of spending time with them, talking to them and generally paying attention to them. Yet, once you are together, one or all of you spends at least some of the time looking at a screen, completely shutting out everyone else.

It is the equivalent of wearing a sign saying “I have no interest in whoever I am with”. If you find the company so boring that you would rather spend the time checking your Facebook or texting someone else, why have you turned up in the first place?

Even more ridiculous is seeing too people who are obviously supposed to be on a date with their noses in their phones over a romantic dinner or drink. If this is the start of the relationship, you can only wonder what things will be like when they move in together.

Is romance so utterly dead that what passes for acceptable behaviour with someone you like is to ignore them utterly in favour of your smartphone? Perhaps our parents are correct when they say that the use of technology is destroying social skills and relations.

Reality bites 

The modern relationship with mobile phones appears to have taken over all other aspects of a person’s life. No matter what situation or company they are in, people cannot be parted from or even dissuaded from checking their mobile phones. Any beep or buzz instantly takes priority. Conversation, company and basic good manners come a distant second to junk emails and Instagram.

For years, those who have raised concerns about the effects of technology on human interaction have been dismissed as Luddites, merchants of doom and general technophobes. Yet if you look around any given coffee shop or bar in Dublin, chances are you will see more than half of people on their phones. At a lot of tables, every single person will be glued to a screen, oblivious to everyone else.

This is not a healthy development in human relationships. We are social animals, we thrive on basic things like eye contact, verbal face to face communication and warm, direct relations.

No matter what various tech gurus tell us, virtual reality can never substitute for real interactions. It is not healthy for people to spend all their times staring at screens.

Communication cannot be reduced to the bare bones of information in text or visual format. Human interaction requires all the nuances of tone, facial expression, body language and the simple experience of being in the same physical space as another person.

Time to re-evaluate 

Mobile phones mean that people spend massive amounts of time on the internet, on social media or news websites or anywhere but where they actually are. Through mobile phones we become disconnected from our immediate environment, and – even more importantly – from the people around us.

It is perhaps time for us to re-evaluate our relationship with technology, how much time we spend using it and more importantly where and when we use it.

I also think it is also time we re-evaluated our relationships with each other. If society has reached the point where attending to our phones is more important than attending to each other, then perhaps we could all do with developing some technophobia.

Niall McGlynn is a graduate in history and science from Trinity College Dublin. He has written articles on Irish and global affairs for Trinity News, and blogs on both with his brothers at and tweets at @NiallMcGlynn1.

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