Dinner, friends, and phones

Intern pointed me to this recent NYTimes article, Keep Your Thumbs Still When I’m Talking to You, by David Carr, about the use of phones/tablets during social gatherings. Intern knows this is a sensitive subject with me as he was witness to my outburst at lunch during his first week of work. Intern, Cub Scout (formerly known as Intern, but had just become a real employee), Fuckin’ Hipster, and Artery Clogger went out to lunch off campus. Fuckin’ Hipster and Artery Clogger were on their phones while we drove there. They were on their phones while I held the door. And they were on their phones while I requested a table. I do appreciate the feminist movement, but it has killed chivalry and made it possible for men to remain little boys forever. But that is another story. When we sat at the table, as soon as Fuckin’ Hipster and Artery Clogger had decided what to order, they checked out of the conversation again and psychologically left me, Cub Scout, and Intern at a table for three.

I flipped out.

Granted, since then, Fuckin’ Hipster and Artery Clogger have seriously curbed their phone use at the table when I’m around. Probably because they know that just like Anthony De Rosa, a product manager and programmer at Reuter said, “I’m fine with people stepping aside to check something, but when I’m standing in front of someone and in the middle of my conversation they whip out their phone, I’ll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they’re going to be rude, I’ll be rude right back.”

The best way to describe why I flipped out is to analyze this TechCrunch article,I Will Check My Phone At Dinner And You Will Deal With It, referenced by the NYTimes article, where MG Siegler tries to explain that, “Love it or hate it, this is becoming the norm.”

First off, is the title, “I Will Check My Phone At Dinner And You Will Deal With It”. No, I won’t deal with it. I have options. I’ll choose not to eat with you. You won’t miss me at the table because you’ll have all your internet friends, the same friends who wouldn’t take precious time away from something better they were doing without you to have dinner with you. Those are real good friends you have. Keepers.

I’d pretend to read the menu or fix my napkin to just be slyly looking straight down at my device beneath her line of sight — you know the drill. And while I was doing that, I would look around. Sure enough, there were a half-dozen other people at the tables around me doing the same thing.

I will take that opportunity to look around the restaurant to find the good-looking guy at the bar who is actually willing to make eye contact with me. While you are “fixing your napkin,” I’ll write my number on a piece of paper and then excuse myself to the bathroom and hand it to the guy who actually wants to be having dinner with me.

Love it or hate it, this is becoming the norm. And when it fully becomes the norm, there will no longer be the same stigma attached to checking your phone at a restaurant. Naturally, my mother refuses to believe this will happen, but it’s happening already. Go out to dinner with people in their 20s or 30s. Or worse, go out to dinner with teenagers.

Oh, so now, grown men are supposed to take their social cues from teenagers. Please see my earlier comment about chivalry being dead and men being allowed to continue acting like unruly children.

When I go out to dinner with my peers these days, it’s not considered weird at all to pull out your phone. In fact, the situation has sort of reversed itself: you feel awkward if everyone else is using their phones and you’re not. It happens. A lot.

So now, because I was actually taught manners in the backwoods of Maine, I have to feel uncomfortable for trying to show my peers respect. Great.

Obviously, at a fancy restaurant this behavior is less prevalent than at a bar. But it’s still increasingly happening all around you.

Does this statement not send up a RED FLAG for you? The difference in manners between people in a fancy restaurant and people in a bar? Which would you rather emulate, the people who make things happen and can afford to eat out at lavish places or the ones making minimum wage and getting drunk? Oh yes, you’d rather emulate the manners of a teenager. I forgot. Manchild.

And it has made going to dinner so much better.

For you, because you no longer have to work hard to keep conversation going, or to make sure that all your guests are having a good time. You leave that to the person at the table who actually has manners. And make her feel uncomfortable all at the same time. But no worries, by now, I’ve left you with the check and took my dinner to eat with the guy who wants to have conversation with me. Even if I know it is only because he wants something else. At least he knows how to get what he wants.

I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but I will: using your phone in this context does not mean talking on the phone. That is still very frowned upon in restaurants for a very good reason: it’s annoying. A person talking on their phone is making noise, a person using their phone (as in surfing the web, sending texts, using apps, etc) is often doing the exact opposite.

Of course, the stigma around using the phone at the table stems from the same idea: it’s considered rude. But again, it’s not rude as in annoying, it’s rude as in you’re ignoring those around you. It challenges the social norm that when you go out to dinner with people, you’re supposed to have conversations with them.

At least you can admit that you are ignoring me. That makes me feel better to know that when you check your email/twitter/Facebook that you are purposely signaling to me that I am not enough to entertain you. And that you don’t feel any responsibility at all in holding up part of the conversation. If you don’t like the conversation, you will just check out. It is fine. Now I know you are a follower, not a leader. You aren’t someone who makes things happen, you let them happen around you. Lemming.

That itself is a bit odd since it’s also considered rude to talk and eat at the same time, but I digress…

See, this isn’t a problem for you because you aren’t making eye contact with me while we are eating. Just in case you didn’t notice, my mouth is a lot closer to my eyes than my boobs, so if you were actually making eye contact, and I were talking with food in my mouth, then you would have to watch it on spin cycle. And then you would see that occasionally it gets spit out onto you and your plate. But you aren’t even looking at my boobs, you are looking at your phone, so never mind.

Here’s the thing: the common misconception that my parents and others have about using the phone during dinner is that it’s antisocial. But increasingly, it makes dinner even more social.

In the situations where I go out to dinner with my peers, use of the phone often augments the conversations being had. Don’t know who won game 3 of the 1995 World Series? Don’t know who directed that movie you all saw? It’s all right there in your pocket.

We can agree here. I’m not completely against phone use. I will occasionally check something to find facts, show someone a photo I took, or to help someone with directions if they can’t find where we are. Or if I went to the bar alone, purposely to blog. I will even do work on my laptop with friends, if the whole purpose was to go early to get a table for quiz night. But as soon as someone who isn’t working shows up, I put it all away.

But even more fascinating is when the topic of conversation now often revolves around the phones themselves — or more specifically, what is on them. Tweets, Instagrams, Belugas, etc. These all now spark new conversations or tidbits of personal connection.

But I do not want to have a conversation about the people who can’t be bothered to have dinner with us—the ones who are tweeting about what amazing things they are doing without us and didn’t invite us to join. My friends are the ones who are here, in front of me, sharing a meal with me. Laughing, analyzing, inventing. Sharing a special moment in time.

And if you can’t think of something interesting to talk about all on your own, I’d rather be out with those people who are saying the interesting things you are reading while you are ignoring me.

And then there are the shared experiences of doing things like checking-in or Foodspotting. One person at a table doing it often trigger everyone else to as well.

Spineless lemmings.

Forgive me, but it’s Dinner 2.0. And again, I’m having more fun at these dinners than I ever have.

Because you didn’t have to do any work. You didn’t have to come up with conversation topics. You didn’t have to make sure I was having a good time. Because, for once, you feel included in something, but it is all fake. You think you are part of something, but you are not creating it, you are just consuming and sharing what others created. You are a middle man.

Is part of it antisocial? Sure. Can it lead to distractions if you read a work-related email that you need to respond to? Of course. But this is the way the world works now. We’re always connected and always on call. And some of us prefer it that way.

And some of us don’t. And we won’t be dining together. Oh and that need to read work-related email isn’t impressing me with how important you are, it tells me that you are bad at scheduling/managing and couldn’t get the work done right and in a timely fashion. It tells me that work is more important than spending time with me. It also tells me that you aren’t the most important person at work because if you were, they could wait for your response when you are done dinner.

What’s annoying to me isn’t someone using their phone at the table, it’s the people who really believe I shouldn’t be allowed to use my phone. Why? So I can repress the desire I have to check the phone while failing to engage in a conversation so I can be able to quickly excuse myself to go to the bathroom to check the phone?

Sorry, bathroom is busy because I’m in there fucking the guy from the bar because he actually noticed I had nice boobs. Oh, and you might want to curb that addiction you have to your phone.

My mother’s answer: yes.

Makes sense. It’s exactly why things are changing. Get with the program, or get out of the way.

No worries, we won’t be friends because you are a guy who can’t show respect to his mother. And if you’d just look up from your phone, you’d notice that I’m not in your way anymore. Although I’m not sure where you are going, lemming.

What’s more likely? In ten years, everyone goes to a restaurant and talks to one another without pulling out their phones at the table — or in ten years, the table is designed in a way to enable you to more easily use your phones? That’s an easy one.

Yeah, because tables “designed in a way to enable you to more easily use your phones” already exist. They are made out of glass so you can see your phone through the table so that it looks like you are looking at your food instead of giggling at your cock.

(Note Bene: I have not, and do not intend to have sex with a stranger in a bathroom, but fantasizing about it is not out of the question.)


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Yo momma on April 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Oh how I agree. If you come to visit then visit! If you came for dinner, then lets have a conversation. If you need to use your “device” to communicate then one day, you will be totally unable to have a conversation. Oh the things you will miss.


  2. Posted by s on April 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I loved that last line. :-)

    Phone etiquette, texting, email, all that… ladies (of which you are one, not just a female) deserve much better, they deserve chivalry (sigh, I wish I could use door knobs).

    Don’t deal with it. Find better friends.


  3. It’s ironic as all hell, K, that you texted me while I was reading this post. I know I’m A.D.D., but that’s just ironic awkward humor at its absolute best.


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