Do You Use Your Smartphone to Solve Tableside Arguments?


Time was, it seemed rude to text or take a phone call at the dinner table. And even though it seems like society has yet to come to a definitive stance on when it is and isn't acceptable to whip out your cell phone, that particular etiquette issue is so early 2000s, when texting, calling, and BrickBreaker were the only things most people did with their phones. Today, the Times highlights a new phone-at-the-table question, as more and more people have smartphones on their person at all times: If you're in the midst of a heated, passionate argument — about, let's say, the world's best-selling potato chip flavor (ahem) — while dining, is it socially acceptable to end the argument by just Googling the thing rather than fighting about it for another hour?

Nobody's sure. Obviously, people who write books about etiquette as if it still matters a whole lot don't like tableside Googling: "Emily Post’s Table Manners for Kids, published in 2009, says bluntly, 'Do NOT use your cellphone or any other electronic devices at the table.'" No surprise there. And over at The Atlantic, Derek Brown, a bartender in Washington, laments that smartphones are “obliterating” the bartender’s traditional role as "the professor of the people." His role, that is:

"Once upon a time the barkeep was expected to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of sports, history, politics and science," Brown explained. "If an impasse was met in opposing sides, the attention of both claimants naturally turned toward the bartender. If the bartender said so, you were wrong.”

Still, the Times' Bruce Feiler seems mostly in favor of Googling at the table:

What if a few clicks of the smartphone can answer a question, solve a dispute or elucidate that thoughtful point you were making? What if that PDA is not being used to escape a conversation but to enhance it?

Most people the paper spoke to seem to support it, too:

Despite these downsides, I’ve found far more people willing to support bringing much needed truth into dinner-table debates. These advocates include some of the most vocal critics of technology’s intrusion on contemporary life. Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley inventor warned in his jeremiad, You Are Not a Gadget, published earlier this year, that technology is limiting the ability of humans to think for themselves. Still, even Mr. Lanier, a well-known critic of Facebook and other social media, told me that brandishing my BlackBerry at an ice cream party was not a threat to social cohesion. "In my opinion, if your wife tells you not to Google at dinner, then she’s right," he said. "If anybody else tells you, then you're right."

The Village Voice cedes most people are doin' it, anyway:

Everyone has anecdotes like the ones Feiler uses in his article, some probably as many as three daily. If trivia and critical engagement about the arts and politics are part of your mealtime fun, and you often eat socially with either friends or family, then you know what he means.

We're going to say: No, don't do this! The point of the tableside argument isn't really to anoint a winner or a loser, but to have a largely pointless fact-based argument until everyone's exhausted and eventually changes the subject (while still thinking about whatever the previous issue was). That's the fun part of eating with friends and family as opposed to alone when you can Google to your heart's content. And then, when everyone pretends to have calmed down about the best-selling potato-chip flavor (it's BBQ sour cream n onion BBQ), someone can bring it up, like, months later, using Google as evidence that they were right, and by that point everyone's over it and cedes that their opponent won. And then everybody wins. Well, what say you?

Should You Google at Dinner? [NYT via Runnin' Scared/VV]