Smartphones have done wonders for keeping us connected with friends and up-to-date on current events, but they have also dramatically affected how we interact with one another. Smartphones facilitate connection with those who are distant, for a price—the self-adopted isolation of the user.
A friend of mine put it nicely when he said, “Using social media in a social setting is the most anti-social thing that someone can do.” He’s absolutely right. For some reason, we have become more focused on documenting and sharing our experiences with others rather than actually enjoying those experiences in the first place.
A restaurant is the perfect example. Every time I go out to dinner, I invariably witness a remarkable number of people on their phones, while they are waiting to be seated, while they are at the table, and even while they are eating.
I see the bored couple who cannot seem to find a topic of conversation, looking downcast at their phosphorescent newsfeeds with the occasional glances at the waiter when their glasses are running low.
I see the classic parent-child bonding scenario, in which the parent is too engrossed in a business call or email to notice the look of disappointment in his or her child’s eyes. (A look that lasts just long enough for the child to reach for a Gameboy).
I see entire families who bring tablets (not phones—tablets!) to a restaurant, with no pretense of interaction whatsoever.
I see the instagrammer who spends so much time editing her photo of her meal and thinking of a clever caption that her food is cold before she takes the first bite.
I see the twitter addict who tweets the occasional one-liner that he overhears at his table in order to validate his check-in on foursquare.
I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I honestly lose sleep over this. I am just as guilty as anyone for using my smartphone too often, and I am making a conscious effort to be more considerate of my present company.
The fact is, this behavior has become so commonplace that we barely notice it anymore. Would you bring a book with you on a date or out to dinner with your family and read it at the table? Probably not. So, why is it acceptable to stare at your phone at the dinner table?
When you get out your phone in a social setting, you are sending the following message to whomever you are with at that moment: “What you are saying is not important to me. I would rather be somewhere else.”
Even if you don’t intend to be rude, your company could take offense to such behavior. Perception is reality—be aware of how your actions are being received.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all go back to flip phones and cancel our social media accounts. I’m a firm believer in the power of mobile technology, and I’m continually amazed by how it improves our lives. However, I sincerely wish that we would all be more present when we do have face-to-face interaction.
In an attempt to avoid the overuse of my phone in social settings, I came up with the following guidelines for a restaurant scenario.
Five Smartphone Etiquette Tips for Social Outings
1. “Check-in” sparingly. If you are really excited about where you are–if it is a unique place, or a sentimental place for you, then use the “check-in” feature, and then put your phone away for the remainder of your time there.
2. Take first, post later. If you want to take a quick photo, feel free to do so–but don’t spend 20 minutes editing, tagging, personalizing, and posting the photo. Wait until you are home to post the update. You will have more quality time with your loved ones, and you can put more thought into your post later.
3. When a disagreement comes up in conversation, try to avoid immediately resorting to Google to settle it. As convenient as this feature may be, it spoils the fun of friendly debate and speculation–and usually leads to more distractions.
4. Put your phone on silent, unless you are expecting extremely important news. Whoever is trying to contact you can wait an hour. Seriously.
5. Don’t bring any electronics other than cell phones to a restaurant. If it doesn’t fit in your pocket, leave it at home.
Simply put, enjoy yourself in the moment with your present company. Your social media peeps will be there when you get back.