From social media sound-offs and flash news updates, to texts and live streams, our screens tend to attract more of our attention than the offline world. The information age offers incredible opportunities to stay connected and up to date. What happens when our digital devices overtake our real-life interactions? It turns out that there’s a word for when someone shrugs off your company in favor of their cell phone: phubbing (“phone snubbing”).

The phubbing phenomenon is becoming increasingly common in social circles, as one Baylor University study found in 2017. According to researchers, cell phones may have been designed as a communication tool, but “may actually, ironically, impede rather than cultivate satisfying communications and relationships.” While we’ve all been guilty of getting distracted by our handhelds, constantly choosing phones over face-to face conversation is unhealthy and damaging to our relationships. To ensure that your friends and family aren’t the next phubbing victims, consider these three tips in honor of National Etiquette Week.

  1. Time Out: We’ve all been there: you open your Facebook app to check a notification, and an hour later you’re still scrolling through your newsfeed. To avoid getting sucked into social media for hours at a time, consider setting a 15 minute timer the next time you want to get up to date on your friends and family. When the timer goes off, turn your focus back to the task at hand.
  2. Personalize Notifications: With many social media apps such as Instagram, Facebook, and Gmail, you can personalize your notifications so that your phone only alerts you to top-priority news. Consider turning off notifications for apps you don’t use to stay in touch, or create a list of contacts you want to keep up with more intensively. This will save you time and reduce the number of mobile notifications that turn your attention away from those around you.
  3. In the Moment: Remember that the opportunity to be among friends and family is something we don’t want to take for granted. Show how much you value their presence by being 100% in the moment. That means phone on silent, TV switched off, and laptop shutdown. After initial greetings, make a suggestion such as, “Let’s put our phones away for a while so we can appreciate our time together without interference.” Take time to enjoy the conversation, and cherish every offline minute spent with loved ones.

Let’s remember that phubbing is considered inappropriate in today’s digital world, and continue to resist the temptation to stay glued to your screen – especially when others are around. Follow these three tips for a healthy balance between digital connection, and real life conversation.

Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.

Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.

Photo: Pxhere