Phubbing it up

Published 9:38 am Saturday, August 5, 2017

By Erin Smith

I have a group of women I call my soul tribe. These ladies are intelligent, kind, and successful, besties I’ve been friends with since college. These women fill my spiritual cup. A night of connecting, whether we’re talking, laughing, or crying, leaves me feeling whole. Together, my soul tribe has weathered life’s highs-weddings, new babies, new houses, dream jobs — and its lows — miscarriages, failed businesses, a particularly nasty divorce, an extra-marital affair and some serious medical scares.

My soul tribe recently spent a long weekend together at the beach. At dinner one night, we were seated beside a table of four women who looked remarkably like younger versions of ourselves. We joked about this “millennial soul tribe” and smiled at the thought of a new generation finding the spiritual sustenance for the long haul. We also talked about the hardships that lay ahead for these young ladies and gratefully noted that they seemed to have found their people, those special souls that can help them stem the tide of life’s heartaches.

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And then we noticed that, rather than hugging and talking and toasting each other, they were all looking into their laps. At their phones. Throughout our entire three-hour dinner, there was at least one gal on her phone at every moment. Several times we looked over and they were all tethered to their devices. They were not relating on a real, personal level. Instead, they were phubbing, or ignoring, each other.

Phubbing, which means “phone snubbing”, is a fairly new phenomenon. But one we should all find disturbing. A study from Baylor University suggests that phubbing is becoming a huge source of relationship conflict and lowers our overall satisfaction with life. When you ignore the person you’re physically with for digital entertainment, you’re being rude and dismissive of that person. My soul tribe left the restaurant, worried for these girls and sad that they missed out on an opportunity for real connection.

I thought about these young gals for days. It’s easy for me to be judgmental in this situation, as I abide by a strict “no phones at the table” rule. But I “work” on my phone in the car all the time, times when my family is driving to a movie or to dinner. As the sole owner of a small business, I use my phone a lot — for marketing and branding on social media, to return texts and calls and emails from prospective clients, to schedule classes and workshops and to keep the website updated and relevant.

Where else might I be phubbing in my own life? Am I ignoring my daughter or husband for my phone? Am I creating a digital distance between myself and the people that I most love? Do my people feel unwanted, unseen, unheard? Children learn through imitation. Am I teaching my daughter that a smartphone matters more than a human being?

Judith Lasater, the legendary yoga therapist and founder of Yoga Journal, says her life philosophy is, “Stop. Look. Listen.” It’s a basic mindfulness technique, helping us to be fully present in the moment. When someone speaks to you, stop what you are doing. Look them directly in the eye. Listen closely to what they have to say.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But we all understand the struggle to be present in a hyperconnected world. Our connections have become our Facebook friends, our personal validation the number of likes our Instagram photo received. The rise of texting has given way to a collective feeling that replies should be immediate (I mean, if it could wait, they’d just email you, right)? I love social media and it has helped me create a thriving business that has survived in a small town for almost 18 years. How, as a wife, parent, and friend, do I find the balance between the digital and real world?

I believe many of us are actually unaware that we might be phubbing someone. We don’t intend to be rude or ignore someone; we just need to send “this one last text.” Personally, I’m trying to Stop, Look, & Listen a lot more.

If you speak to me and I don’t set my phone down and look at you, please call me out. Not to shame me, but to gently remind me that phubbing doesn’t resonate with my core values. I don’t want Izzie’s memories of me to be that I was on my phone all of the time. I want to use technology appropriately, without letting it steal the moments that reallycount.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. Send her a shout out at or play along at