Some of you may be like me and had never heard of “phubbing.” I first heard it a few months ago as 2017 was winding down. Some people were talking about new words that had come into use. One of those words was phubbing. Though I had never heard the word before, when I found out what it was about I realized that I had seen it and might have done it a time or two.
Phubbing is when you’re talking on your cell phone or looking at a text message or e-mail, causing you to ignore and not be engaged with the people around you. I have at times been talking directly to a person and in the midst of our conversation, a beep would emanate from their cell phone or it would vibrate and the person quickly picked it up, punched the appropriate buttons, and walked off talking to someone else while I was in the middle of a conversation with them. That is what phubbing is all about, so much so that it may be used by someone who is walking down the street or comes into a room where you are and doesn’t want to talk to you. They simply take their phone, put it to their ear, and act as though they are talking to someone else so they won’t have to put up with you. Phubbing is the technological act of ignoring people.
The practice is so prevalent that it has coined its own word. It is seen throughout our society. I need to also advise you that it is not illegal. It is doubtful that any criminal charges will be brought against you, but I can tell you that it’s not good manners as well as rude, demeaning, and thoughtless. It is not helpful to developing healthy relationships. It is the intentional practice of snubbing someone or some group of people in favor of your mobile phone.
Strange, isn’t it, that the cell phone we can hardly live without having in our hand has taken on a new capability — to help you be disconnected from the folks around you and clearly and intentionally ignore folks. The practice has become so widespread and harmful that some people have tried to start a “Stop the Phubbing” campaign. The truth is that long before there was ever a cell phone, long before there was ever a telephone, long before computers and all the social media hype, there were actions that enabled people to ignore the needs of other people.
In Scripture, one of the best-known stories Jesus ever told was the memorable experience of a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and falling among thieves who beat him and robbed him and and left him for dead (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus tells what happened afterward when this man was on the side of the road, apparently taking his last breaths.
Along came a man who probably had been to worship and was going back home. This priestly guy saw the man on the side of the road, but instead of going over and helping him he moved to the other side of the road and kept walking. I suppose you could say it was First Century phubbing, for he just kept on making tracks away from the need and toward home. The poor fella who had been taken advantage of by the thieves had now been left alone by the religious guy.
Then a Levite came along. He at least wanted to see what was going on. He came over to the man, stood right there where he was, and saw that he was nearly dead. Instead of doing anything about it, he just turned and went on his way, too. How sad. I don’t know if he prayed for him. I don’t know if he went and told others, “You should have seen this old fella in pitiful shape on the side of the road.” We don’t know what he did, but we know what he didn’t do. He didn’t help at all. Another First Century phubbing.
According to Jesus, another man then came along. He was a Samaritan, an outcast. When he got there he cleaned up the helpless man’s wounds, picked him up, put him on his own beast of burden, and took him to an inn where the victim could get some rest and recuperate. Not only did he take the poor man there, he told the inn keeper to let him stay there until he got well and whatever was needed, he would pay. A phubber? Not at all. He was one of God’s fine saints and servants who would not ignore, would not walk away, but would take the time, energy, investment, love, and action to take care of the victim.
Phubbing may be a new word, but I wonder how many times in your relationships have you used some device or just turned your head to phubb someone? I wonder how many times in our churches we just pass by somebody who may be visiting, a stranger in our midst. We notice them but don’t take the time to find out anything about them because we have too many of our own needs and friends and things we want to do. We just go ahead and phubb them.
I think Jesus would say to us, don’t use your cell phone or anything else to erect barriers between yourself and other people. Let concern and care override your uncertainties, your lack of knowing them, or even your lack of being able to meet the need in their lives. Care for them. What a great blessing it would be to a hurting person — and ourselves — if we did what God gives us opportunities to do in this regard.
Whatever your rationale, stop phubbing and start loving.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.