The Curse of the iPhone at the Dinner Table

"Is it just you dining?"

"Yes, my waitress, I'm a sorry solo sap. Thank god my iPhone can keep me company."

I tweeted that exchange from Princi Italia, the subject of this week's restaurant review, while enjoying one of the nicer lunches I've had in some time. Two days later, a story ran in the Washington Post about diners dating their iPhone's. The article explores solo diners who turn digital devices into companions while eating. Several chefs interviewed in the story expressed disdain with the practice, and some, including four-star chef Cathal Armstrong, admitted to indulging their devices while dining themselves -- but only between courses, of course.

Tim Carman, the Washington City Paper food critic turned Washington Post reporter, jumped into the mix, offering his own thoughts about his iPhone supplementing a date night with his wife. He's been advised that the behavior is frowned upon.

I thought about Carman's article while eating at Jackie's in Oak Lawn. Across from me two men sat at a table -- one in a suit, the other in a ball cap, one eating fruit and yogurt, the other drinking only coffee. The suit had a nifty little stand for the phone he consulted often. Way often. At least once a minute the gentleman poked, swiped or adjusted the device, all while maintaining a constant flow of dialogue with his table mate.

Is this OK?

I've had friends in the past who have buried their nose in their phone while we're out for dinner or drinks -- the practice made me want grab the device and punt it. And then, in perfect hypocritical fashion, I've found myself doing the exact same thing while out with other groups. When I do put the device down, it starts an itch, and soon I find myself running to the bathroom to check for texts, Facebook updates and tweets. ("Hey, look Leslie Brenner is tweeting about the exact same meal. Super.")

When dining alone I'm twice as bad. And it makes me wonder how many people, stories and other experiences I'm missing because I have to check my email, even though I just checked it five minutes ago.

Does the presence of your iPhone reflect your interest in your present company? Would you pull it out (your phone) with your parents at the table? What about a lifer friend you haven't seen in a few years? Would you pull it out (your phone) on a bad date? What about a good one?

Or is the presence of an iPhone at our tables just a sign of the times -- not an indicator of the level of importance we assign to our present table mates, but instead an indicator of the growing (perhaps perceived) importance of technology in our lives. Either way it's hard to disagree that we could use a bit more eye contact when dining out -- solo or otherwise.

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