This article has been making the rounds on the internet.
Basically, an unnamed restaurant in New York compared surveillance footage from diners in 2004 with footage from 2014, trying to figure out how service has devolved in ten years. SPOILERS: It’s the diners’ fault. Most were preoccupied with their phones to the point of slowing down the meal and impeding with prompt service.
I have to admit—I’m guilty. I try not to take pictures of food, and I try to engage in conversation with the actual people present than with those available through email or social media, but there are still times when I find a lull in the conversation and a sneak a look at my messages. Or when I’m so consumed with reviews on Yelp that I add thirty minutes to the meal, just figuring out what to order.
But it’s interesting when you consciously try to avoid technology over the course of the meal, and you realize that others in your party are having just as difficult a time ignoring it. I’ve waiting patiently for one particular friend to finish texting, to find that he’s kept his phone on the table, face up, to continue the conversation throughout the meal. I’ve winced as another friend documented every dish with a post on Instagram (including the plates I ordered). To me, it’s about more than just longer wait times at restaurants; it’s about what it actually means to be present and engaged with the people around you (waiters included). Attention is just as important as physical presence. There’s a reason why eye contact is so powerful; it can encourage or intimidate, depending on the context. Distraction can be powerful as well, but usually only in how it weakens our message. Asking how someone’s day went is a lot more meaningful with eye contact than when asked while scanning the latest updates on a newsfeed.
It reminds me of Elder Bednar’s CES fireside from 2009, where he counseled the youth to take virtual reality with a grain of salt and appreciate “things as they really are.” His reasoning came from the divine truth that the body is a gift from God, and that, “our relationships with other people, our capacity to recognize and act in accordance with truth, and our ability to obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are amplified through our physical bodies.” In short, when we are face-to-face with someone, fully engaged, we are communicating with our soul (both the body and spirit). Just as we are only partly present in our online communications without a physical manifestation, we cheat our in-person interactions of the full soul when we avert our gaze and devote only limited consciousness to the other person.
In regards to dining, I wonder whether it’s simply a shift in culture, or whether we’ll eventually come to our senses and snap back to the way things were before, when meals were about present company and food was simply appreciated, rather than being documented at every turn. In any case, I’m going retro. I want to be a more conscious (and conscientious) dinner participant. If you see me checking my phone in a restaurant, do me a favor and send me a text message to stop it. Then turn your phone off.