Can you imagine your social life without your cell phone? Picture yourself sitting in a restaurant with your friends or your family. The conversation is about traveling and you just can’t remember the name of that [insert place here] you visited, so you go to your phone to Google it. But you don’t have your phone. You can’t find it and you start to worry for a second.
Then you remember that it’s actually locked up at the hostess stand among all the other evil cyber users’ phones. You aren’t allowed to get it back until you finished your meal. You honestly have to sit at a table with real people and have a real conversation about real things. You have to either look at people and acknowledge them or stare down at your food, waiting for the agony to end.
You are unable to hide behind your phone. There is no more awkward silence. Just an awkward social situation because you don’t know what to do with yourself without your phone. Your phone is a part of you, it is an appendage. You almost can’t survive without it.
While visiting Burlington, VT, I learned that there is a social culture against cell phones. This culture is especially prevalent among restaurants, where they don’t want you to use your phone while you are at a restaurant. Some even post signs that say, “Please don’t use your cell phone. Enjoy your meal.”
I found this culture a little shocking but also a little comforting at the same time. It truly reminded me that people matter in person, not just on the phone. Life should be right in front of you, not virtually in front of you. You can call it whatever – rude habit, unconscious behavior or just an addicted appendage – but cell phone use is everywhere. You can use it for almost everything, which makes this behavior worse among people. A University of Essex study links cell phones to decreased interpersonal connection.
A meal is meant to be enjoyed and savored with good food and good conversation. M.F.K. Fisher, a prominent food writer, is quoted, “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” She probably had no clue about the intrusion of the cell phones in our future of meals.
Some businesses have decided to fight back against the invasion of cell phones into their domains. Cell phone policies are fairly mainstream in churches, movie theaters and schools. However, restaurants are now on the verge of enforcing such policies. About a year ago, the Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles offers a five percent discount to guests surrendering their phones at the hostess stand. This incentive is voluntary, not forced on the guests. In Burlington, the restaurants encouraged you to put your phone away. At Sweetwaters Restaurant, they would rather have kids color than play on a phone or electronic device. When I was there with my kids, my seven-year-old daughter was using my cell phone to play a game and one of the managers noticed. She didn’t say anything to me, but returned with crayons and a coloring sheet and offered it to her gently. She surrender the phone and took to coloring. It was refreshing and a great reminder about life.
I admire the social lifestyle culture in Burlington by decreasing the cell phone usage in restaurants. There is nothing like going to dinner with your family with everyone on a cell phone. Do any of us even remember life before our phones? It’s hard to imagine. But we are still social creatures and cell phones are an unconscious barrier. Let’s not ignore real life because it will pass by while we are buried in our cell phones. Try to put the phone away while having a meal with your friends or family. Maybe you will see a difference in your social life.