Digital akrasia: a qualitative study of phubbing

  • Jesper AagaardEmail author
Open Forum


The present article focuses on the issue of ignoring conversational partners in favor of one’s phone, or what has also become known as phubbing. Prior research has shown that this behavior is associated with a host of negative interpersonal consequences. Since phubbing by definition entails adverse effects, however, it is interesting to explore why people continue to engage in this hurtful behavior: Are they unaware that phubbing is hurtful to others? Or do they simply not care? Building on interviews with students in a Danish business college, the article reveals a pronounced discrepancy in young people’s relationship to phubbing: While they emphatically denounce phubbing as both annoying and disrespectful, they readily admit to phubbing others. In other words, they often act against their own moral convictions. Importantly, participants describe this discrepancy as a result of an unintentional inclination to divert attentional engagement. On the basis of these results, the article develops the notion of digital akrasia, which can be defined as a tendency to become swept up by ones digital devices in spite of better intentions. It is proposed that this phenomenon may be the result of bad technohabits. Further implications are discussed.


Attention Distraction Habits Phubbing Smartphones 



  1. Aagaard J (2015) Drawn to distraction: a qualitative study of off-task use of educational technology. Comput Educ 87:90–97Google Scholar
  2. Aagaard J (2016) Mobile devices, interaction, and distraction: a qualitative exploration of absent presence. AI Soc 31(2):223–231Google Scholar
  3. Anderson M, Jiang J (2018) Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  4. Baumer E, Guha S, Quan E, Mimno D, Gay G (2015) Missing photos, suffering withdrawal, or finding freedom? How experiences of social media non-use influence the likelihood of reversion. Soc Media Soc 1(2):1–14Google Scholar
  5. Billieux J, Schimmeti A, Khazaal Y, Maurage P, Heeren A (2015) Are we overpathologizing everyday life? A tenable blueprint for behavioral addiction research. J Behav Addict 4(3):119–123Google Scholar
  6. Boesel W (2013) Rudeness as resistance: presence, power, and those Facebook Home Ads. Cyborgology. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  7. Brinkmann S, Kvale S (2015) InterViews: learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing, 3rd edn. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  8. Chotpitayasunondh V, Douglas K (2016) How “Phubbing” becomes the norm: the antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone. Comput Hum Behav 63:9–18Google Scholar
  9. Chotpitayasunondh V, Douglas K (2018) The Effects of “Phubbing” on Social Interaction. J Appl Soc Psychol 48(6):304–316Google Scholar
  10. Crossley N (2013) Habit and Habitus. Body Soc 19(2&3):136–161Google Scholar
  11. Dewey J (2007) Human nature and conduct: an introduction to social psychology. Cosimo Classics, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Dotson T (2012) Technology, choice and the good life: questioning technological liberalism. AI Soc 34(4):326–336Google Scholar
  13. Gergen K (2002) The challenge of absent presence. In: Katz J, Aakhus M (eds) Perpetual contact: mobile communication, private talk, public performance. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Goldberg G (2016) Antisocial media: digital dystopianism as a normative project. New Media Soc 18(5):784–799Google Scholar
  15. Hammersley M, Gomm R (2008) Assessing the radical critique of interviews. In: Hammersley M (ed) Questioning qualitative inquiry: critical essays. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Jiang J (2018) How teens and parents navigate screen time and device distractions. Pew Research Center. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  17. Karadağ E, Tosuntas Ş, Erzen E, Duru P, Bostan N, Şahin B, Çulha I, Baradağ B (2015) Determinants of phubbing, which is the sum of many virtual addictions: a structural equation model. J Behav Addict 4(2):60–74Google Scholar
  18. Kneidinger-Müller B (2017) Mobile communication as invader in face-to-face interactions: an analysis of predictors for parallel communication habits. Comput Hum Behav 73:328–335Google Scholar
  19. Lenhart A (2015) Teens, social media & technology overview 2015. Pew Research Center. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  20. Lenhart A, Duggan M (2014) Couples, the internet, and social media. Pew Research Center. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  21. McDaniel B, Coyne S (2016a) “Technoference”: the interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychol Popul Media Cult 5(1):85–98Google Scholar
  22. McDaniel B, Coyne S (2016b) Technology interference in the parenting of young children: implications for mothers’ perceptions of coparenting. Soc Sci J 53(4):435–443Google Scholar
  23. McDaniel B, Radesky J (2018) Technoference: parent distraction with technology and associations with child behavior problems. Child Dev 89(1):100–109Google Scholar
  24. McDaniel B, Galovan A, Cravens J, Drouin M (2018) “Technoference” and implications for mothers’ and fathers’ couple and coparenting relationship quality. Comput Hum Behav 80:303–313Google Scholar
  25. Mele A (2012) Backsliding: understanding weakness of will. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  26. Miller J, Glassner B (2004) The ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’: finding realities in interviews. In: Silverman D (ed) Qualitative research: theory, method and practice, 2nd edn. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Oulasvirta A, Rattenbury T, Ma L, Raita E (2012) Habits make smartphone use more pervasive. Pers Ubiquit Comput 16(1):105–114Google Scholar
  28. Phubbing: A Word is Born (2013) Phubbing: A Word is Born [Video file]. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  29. Potter J, Hepburn A (2005) Qualitative interviews in psychology: problems and possibilities. Qual Res Psychol 2(4):281–307Google Scholar
  30. Quinn J, Pascoe A, Wood W, Neal D (2010) Can’t control yourself? monitor those bad habits. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 36(4):499–511Google Scholar
  31. Rainie L, Zickuhr K (2015) Americans’ views on mobile etiquette. Pew Research Center. Accessed 14 Jan 2019
  32. Roberts J, David M (2016) My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among partners. Comput Hum Behav 54:134–141Google Scholar
  33. Roberts J, David M (2017) Put down your phone and listen to me: how boss phubbing undermines the psychological conditions necessary for employee engagement. Comput Hum Behav 75:206–217Google Scholar
  34. Romaioli D, Faccio E, Salvini A (2008) On acting against one’s best judgment: a social constructionist interpretation for the akrasia problem. J Theory Soc Behav 38(2):179–192Google Scholar
  35. Rosenberger R (2014) The phenomenological case for stricter regulation of cell phones and driving. Techné 18(1/2):20–47Google Scholar
  36. Stockdale L, Coyne S, Padilla-Walker L (2018) Parent and child technoference and socioemotional behavioral outcomes: a nationally representative study of 10- to 20-year-old adolescents. Comput Hum Behav 88:219–226Google Scholar
  37. Taylor C (1980) Understanding in human science. Rev Metaphys 34(1):25–38Google Scholar
  38. Vallor S (2016) Technology and the virtues: a philosophical guide to a future worth wanting. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  39. Vanden Abeele M, Antheunis M, Schouten A (2016) The effect of mobile messaging during a conversation on impression formation and interaction quality. Comput Hum Behav 62:562–569Google Scholar
  40. Verbeek PP (2011) Moralizing technology: understanding and designing the morality of things. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Behavioral SciencesAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

Personalised recommendations