Is the Smartphone Allowed at the Table?

May 2009

textingRecently, I flew out to L.A. to spend the weekend with my good friends, Elizabeth and Jim. The plan was to spend four days eating, walking, and eating some more--and it started off as expected. Thursday, dinner at Studio City's The Counter. Friday, breakfast at the star-studded coffee shop Aroma. But then on Saturday, the most surprising thing happened. We'd woken late, and walked to a nearby diner, where we'd ordered strawberry compote-smothered French toast. We were dragging delicious, eggy pieces of bread through syrup when Elizabeth asked Jim for her iPhone. One of few remaining media professionals without the gadget, I hardly recognized this moment as our mealtime turning point.

But then a few minutes later, Elizabeth handed me her phone. "Here," she said. "That's Adrian Pasdar." Moments before, we'd been talking about the Heroes star. I couldn't place him. So Elizabeth looked him up--and almost as quickly as her fingers had flashed over the screen, our breakfast conversation had expanded. From then on, our L.A. meals were filled with delicious food--and the iPhone. At the family-run Italian spot Osteria la Buca, we booked Star Trek tickets over squid-ink gnocchi. During our beach picnic, we ate chocolate-pecan cake and looked up more Hollywood celebs. When returned to my iPhone-free life in Denver, I was completely enchanted by what the sleek phone could add to a meal. But yesterday's New York Times' article dissing the gadget and its mealtime uses has me second-guessing my brief swooning. Apparently, for many families the iPhone is breaking apart dinner, text message by text message. Instead of enjoying a meal and conversation, family members are checking e-mail, writing texts, or even sending e-mails over (or more literally, under) the table. Among couples, men more readily gravitate toward their phones. With teens, it's the girls who more quickly pick up their mobile devices. Either way, homemade lasagna and enchiladas are getting cold--and Emily Post is rolling in her grave. And how I hate to see a good steak take on a chill, as I imagine you do too, dear reader. So I wonder, do you bring your iPhone (or Blackberry) to the table?

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