More often than I’d care to admit, I’m one of those lonely diners cuddled up with my iPhone, the kind depicted in J. Freedom du Lac’s smart story today about solo eaters savoring their smartphones as much as their meals. Sometimes I play with my phone in the presence of my wife, too. I’ve been advised not to do that.
The question, as tangentially raised in du Lac’s article, is whether electronics have emboldened diners to venture into restaurants alone, as if their devices somehow insulate them from the pitying gaze of that party of four across the way. It’s a good question, at least from a cultural point of view, although I have to say that I’ve never had a problem eating by myself. I have always enjoyed the quiet contemplation involved with dining solo.
But since Steve Jobs joined my table — oh, about two years ago when I got an iPhone — I have developed a form of dining-room ADD that has (sort of) sullied my supper. Even when I tell myself to put down the phone and focus on the food and the ambience or even (insert B-horror-film shriek here) strike up a conversation with real live people, I too often find myself typing in my password and checking e-mail for the umpteenth time in the past 15 minutes.
This is madness.
The phone itself, of course, is not necessarily the problem. In some ways, my smartphone is a terrific tablemate. It’s an amazing device for reading a newspaper (or a blog) without spreading out a paper on the table or plugging in a laptop. If it weren’t for the device’s distracting glow, I’d say the iPhone is as harmless as a pitcher of house-filtered water in a restaurant. I’d prefer it almost any day of the week to the distraction of an unruly child. (Oh, yes, I did go there.)
The problem for me is when I start conducting work inside a restaurant. When I start answering e-mails. When I start taking pictures of dishes and Tweeting about them. When I start reading job-related stories. That’s when the line blurs between work and life’s simple pleasures, like drinking a glass of wine and savoring every bite of a well-crafted dish. Or striking up a conversation in an attempt to remind myself that we still move in a social (and not completely wired) world.
Now, there is a caveat here for me: I write about food for a living, which means it’s almost impossible not to blur the lines between work and pleasure. But believe me, I know when I’ve crossed the line in a restaurant. I know it when I can’t let that pointed e-mail go and have to answer it right there and then. Or when I check my work e-mail in the first place (which could then lead to the scenario above). At that moment, dinner is doomed.
I’m beginning to think that iPhones and Droids should come with a work-blocking app that you can flip on whenever you enter a restaurant. Now that would be a smartphone.