By All Means, Use Your Cell Phone At The Dinner Table

Tell me if you’ve ever come across a blog post or status update or some sort of public proclamation to this effect:

When did humans stop interacting with each other? I go out in public, and all I see are people glued to their devices now. Kids at a restaurant, staring at their screens in silence. Parents at the park, talking on their phones while their children play on their own. Do people even know how to connect in real life anymore? What has technology turned us into?

Image by John

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before. You may even have shared such a sentiment yourself at some point.

Well, I had an epiphany about this recently. It was a Sunday night, and as Melissa and I are often wont to do, we had spent the whole weekend doing our own stuff …

We woke up Saturday morning, laid around in bed for a while, played with the cats, and then decided to go out to brunch. Since it was a last-minute decision, we didn’t bother asking if any friends wanted to join us.

And that pretty much set the tone for the next two days. We did whatever came to mind, whether it was chores, fun stuff, or just putzing around the house. We didn’t do anything particularly adventurous or noteworthy, and yet, the weekend felt jam-packed.

By Sunday evening, we had had zero contact with our friends. As a couple, we get like this sometimes. And personally, I think it’s awesome that we can spend days on end with just each other.

So Sunday evening rolled around, and we decided to walk down the street for dinner. We ended up at this casual joint where you order at the counter and they only take cash. The place could barely register as “going out to dinner.”

As we sat and waited for our food to arrive, finally getting a quiet moment, we both instinctively pulled out our phones. And then we spent the next 10 minutes or so in silence, each of us immersed in our own devices.

And that’s when I had my epiphany …

To some random stranger, we probably looked like one of “those” couples — people who had nothing to say to each other in real life, who only knew how to interact with others via text or social media.

I imagined someone seeing us, sighing to themselves, and then tweeting a lament about technology and humanity. Maybe they would even sneak a photo of the two us, captivated by our phones, failing to acknowledge each other’s mere presence.

I could just feel the condescending looks bathing down upon us.

Actually, that’s a lie. There were like six people in the whole place, and I don’t think any of them gave a crap what we were doing. And that’s as it should be.

Still, that moment stayed with me. If someone had been with us the entire weekend, they would have seen that we spent the whole time away from technology, enjoying real life. At the end of the weekend, we were ready to catch up with our online networks, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. Yet, someone who only caught this snapshot of our relationship would probably think there was something dysfunctional about it.

Well, snapshots convey only a single moment. They never tell the whole story.

If we’re at a restaurant, and we see the oldest kid in a family of four detaching himself to stare at his phone — that could be a symptom of a dysfunctional family, or just a teenager taking a couple minutes to catch up with his friends.

If we’re at a park, and we see a mother immersed in her phone while her young son is left to entertain himself — that could be a shitty mom, or just a mom so exhausted from, well, being a mom that she decides to take a few minutes to escape to the internet.

We don’t know.

But more importantly, neither should we care.

Now, to be clear, there are times when we should care, when it is appropriate for us to pass judgment on strangers and even intervene. If the snapshot we catch is, say, someone physically striking their partner or child, then we don’t need context to judge that this is inappropriate.

On the other hand, if a stranger is simply acting in a way that we’ve pre-determined to be socially inappropriate?

In these cases, are they really bad human beings? Or is our passing judgment nothing more than a desire to fill a hole within our own egos — a desire to believe we’re better than everyone else around us?

Well, I for one don’t think I’m better than everyone else around me. I mean … I’m definitely not better than you. Because you’re reading my blog, and that automatically makes you an awesome human being.

That’s why I’m going to live my life how I think I should live it, and you can live your life how you think you should live it, and everyone else can live their lives how they think they should live it.

So by all means, use your cell phone at the restaurant if you want.

Just, you know, avoid talking loudly about the medical procedure you went through earlier in the day. Because that I don’t need to hear while I’m trying to eat the abnormally large meal I usually eat.

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  • “Because you’re reading my blog, and that automatically makes you an awesome human being” – true, true. What can I say, sometimes being so awesome it’s a burden, but I try to bear my cross with dignity. Fortunately, I’m also immensely modest, which helps… ;D
    But seriously, good point. Despite being a long time fan of the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”, sometimes I do find myself being judgmental over strangers on phones. It’s hard, because passing judgment is an instinctive reaction, and fighting against it requires active thinking and force of will. I mean, it’s not hard for me, since I’m awesome, but I can imagine that lesser mortals might encounter some difficulty in fighting their bias… 😉

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