My first memory of a cell phone at the dinner table was a friend of my older brother's, "Joe." He always managed to drop by when my brother was otherwise occupied -- cleaning fish guts off his hands after fishing, whatever -- and Joe would have to kill time at my family's kitchen table. This usually seemed to happen as my mom was preparing dinner. She'd work away, chopping onions and boiling pasta and generally being a hospitable Midwestern mom. Instead of making conversation, Joe would anxiously look down at his phone, making calls that amounted to "What are you doing? Me neither. Bye." It drove my mom absolutely nuts.
"It's like he can't stop playing with that phone," she'd puzzle. She was right. He seemed a man obsessed. This was the mid-'90s, when phones were still phones and people looked at you askance if you whipped yours out in public. I can only imagine how much more far removed Joe would have been from the dinner-table experience if he'd been able to kill those few minutes entangled in a heated Words With Friends battle. (Really? Ne is a word? Use it in a sentence.)
I think of this memory often as I adapt to my new but oh-so-consuming obsession with my iPhone. I'm late to the smartphone game, but I'm making up for it by Foursquaring and Instagramming my way through every social interaction I've encountered since that auspicious day last week when the FedEx man delivered the device to my door. ("Can you get all of my customers to answer the door this fast?" he'd quipped when I greeted him, hopping from one foot to the other, just as he'd knocked.)
Pre-iPhone, I rolled my eyes and silently seethed when we'd go out for a meal and my fiancé would momentarily check out of our very real conversation so he could "check in" to the venue. "Who gives a shit about these points and mayor B.S.?" I'd think, judging away as his thumbs would skip across the phone's sleek face. Now I'm the one trying to beat him to the punch as we prepare to dig into our grilled pineapple quesadillas during a first visit to El Jefe Luchador. "Don't touch the plate until I take a picture," I say, immediately posting the image so I can make my friends drool over my lunch even as it gets cold on the plate in front of me.
The same behavior that was so loathsome three weeks ago -- Again with the closeup shots of my vegetable sandwich? And, no, I don't want to order a round of slippery nipples just because they're the Foursquare special. For God's sake, they're going to think we're Yelpers. Put it away! -- seems... totally socially acceptable.
My old cell phone, with its ancient slide QWERTY keyboard technology,
belongs on the desk of an archaeologist. This new device, with its ready
email access and 24-hour Facebook feed, belongs in my hand. All the
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time. Even at the dinner table. Especially at the dinner table.