Competing with Siri

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Is it wrong to be annoyed when friends are more interested in their mobile devices than pleasant dinner conversation?

You’re sitting at 1889 with your friend who invited you there for dinner. She seems nervous about something and keeps fiddling with her napkin. She starts off with small talk about classes and the weather to which you respond “good,” and “yeah.” After taking a big breath she whispers to you “Ok I just have to spit it out…I’m pregnant.”

Of course you don’t hear any of this because you’re playing Words with Friends on your iPhone.

The presence of an extra guest of electronic origins is common at any social gathering, most of the time right on the table next to the silverware. Students’ addiction to technology has become apparent as Apple comes out with Siri, the human-like app that performs your every request at the sound of your voice.

Siri is just a portal to the other features of the smartphone like Draw Something, the seven-week-old game that has already been downloaded over 35 million times according to the New York Times. This game pairs you with another player miles away with whom you engage in a Pictionary type war of doodles. We just can’t seem to place more value on face-to-face conversations than interactions with someone miles away.

At a visit to 1889 last night, I took a look around me to see if other diners were experiencing the same feelings of angst as I was. Of the seven groups there, at least half of the customers at each table had their phone safely within eyesight. One table of two gentlemen did not even seem to be exchanging conversation with each other but were just fiddling with their phones.

A recent article in the Greensboro News and Record provided information about restaurants that now provide cellphone dishes to cover the device that you will undoubtedly place next to your plate, so that no food debris fall on it during your meal. “That’s disgusting,” snorted my roommate after I read this article to her. She was disturbed by the news, which is ironic because I’ve never been to a meal with her where her phone wasn’t in plain sight. I received similar reactions from friends when I read this article to them, leading me to think that we know this addiction to technology is wrong, yet we constantly overrule this instinct because that emergency text message could come at any minute.

At what point does this behavior become rude? I can’t help but feel annoyed when I’m at a restaurant with three friends and a conversation ends, only to be followed by the sounds of Facebook bings and email beeps. I have no choice but to sit there and wait while my friends finish their level of Tomb Runner or text their reply back to their other friend.

The fact is, our outlook on social etiquette is changing as fast as our cellphones are evolving. Are my feelings of offense based on the laws of basic human courtesy or cultural norms that are as outdated as Miss Manners? I guess I’ll just have to ask Siri.

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