Last Saturday, my husband and I got a babysitter for our two girls and ate dinner at a nice restaurant: one with a long wine list and without a children’s menu. The food was superb: locally foraged wild mushrooms fried in a tempura batter, hydroponically grown local lettuce, local tomatoes, and shrimp caught off the coast of South Carolina. Because the weather was cool enough for the first time in months, we sat on the restaurant’s patio while we dined. We had a leisurely meal, talked, did not have to get up to get anyone more milk, and didn't have to tell anyone to leave her sister alone.
The folks dining at the next table were about our age, and I presumed, although I did not ask, that they also had someone looking after their children that night. Instead of talking to each other and savoring their meal, however, they used their cell phones to text or to surf the Internet between courses and any time they were not actually eating.
Maybe they were doing something important that really couldn’t wait at 8 PM on a Saturday night, but I imagine they were texting other friends, updating their Facebook statuses, or shopping for shoes. No wonder half or more of all marriages end in divorce, and no wonder families don’t know each other. How could they if everyone is attached to individual cell phones and no conversation is deeper than one communicated by text message?
I use the Internet too, but I don’t take it to dinner with me. I enjoy many hours free of TV, computer, and cell phone, and I feel somewhat like a rebellious child when I am unreachable; of course I had my cell phone with me in case the babysitter needed me that night. I irritate people by forgetting my cell phone is on vibrate and not realizing it’s ringing, or by escaping to the garden during the girls’ rest times without the phone. Technology enables me to be in contact with everyone, all the time, but that doesn’t mean constant contact is necessary. Life will go on, even if people have to leave a message that I return later.
Cell phones and the Internet were supposed to make our lives simpler, but they complicate our lives. These technologies capitalize on the quickly changing minutiae of people’s lives, whether it is the latest celebrity gossip, computer games, or your friend’s status update. None of this will matter by the next year, and much of it won’t matter in the next hour. Is it really worth sacrificing time with a real person to find out that someone you graduated high school with but haven’t seen in years cleaned out her garage today, or that another friend had his picture made with a celebrity?
If you’re going to the expense of having a nice meal out with your spouse, please put the cell phone away. In fact, maybe your cell phone should be put away any time you eat. Go to the garden or for a walk and leave the phone at home. Talk to your children and to your spouse in person, about real things, with no electronic distractions. The Internet will still be there, that important call can wait, and you might find some peace.