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The Press- News column Nov 19

Have you been Phubbed lately?

As a regular on-the-go user of social media, its immediacy and informality is undeniably enjoyable. I like to dip in and out of it, principally for work-related activity. But I could never imagine becoming a slave to it. Nor do I understand why for many people, every murmur, every muse, every heartbeat and every burble of their day, needs to be splayed on Facebook and shared with the Twitterverse. Maybe it’s because I’m 42 – way too old to be a Millennial. The average 18-30 year old is apparently hyper-social, constantly connected and craves share-worthy content. The great irony about Millennial behavior is that, in many respects, a binge-diet of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, Tinder, Foursquare, Vine and Mobli disconnects them from the real and tactile world, in favour of the virtual, ephemeral and vicarious. Have you noticed how Millennial tourists are more likely to see a city’s main sights through the lens of their phone camera, than their own eyes? In Hong Kong last week, every time I entered a metro station, it was like navigating through a human stew of narcissistic Helen Kellers. Thousands of fellow commuters thronged the concourses, deaf, blind and oblivious to anyone who crossed paths with them, as they frenetically swiped on their smartphones. Dodging the phone freaks in Westfield Riccarton is bad enough now – God help us when Google Glass becomes the norm. And don’t you just loathe those techno-show offs who swagger about flaunting their Bluetooth earphones, conducting shouty-loud conversations, living out their mission-controller fantasies? Where is this all heading? I’m currently on a work trip in Europe and have become swiftly acquainted with a freshly coined word, “phubbing”. It’s the act of phone snubbing someone in your presence, while you talk, tweet, text or web surf on your mobile phone. Recently in Britain, a collective public cheer was raised to an unnamed Sainsbury’s supermarket check-out assistant, who refused to serve a self-absorbed customer until she stopped faffing about on her phone. The shopper ran to the tabloids claiming she’d been humiliated. Sainsbury’s issued an apology (and some cursory vouchers) , but the rebuked check-out assistant was hailed a household heroine. Across the UK and Europe, the fight back against “phubbing” is on fire. In tweet-speak, it is trending –  particularly in retail and hospitality. The “Stop Phubbing” website provides printable posters aimed at shaming phubbers into submission.  One poster reads, “ While you finish updating your status, we’ll gladly serve the polite person behind you.”  I hope the turning tide against the tech-obssessed and the etiquette crusade washes our shores too. We could certainly do with a dose of rebalancing.

Mike Yardley’s weekly column in The Press, November 19.



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