I love to people-watch, especially when I am in unfamiliar places. So, naturally, when my boyfriend and I finished up our lunch during our day trip to Sedona, I was content to simply observe as my food digested. The patio, hugging the sidewalk outside the restaurant, provided generous opportunities for me to survey both my fellow diners and those passing by. However, it was not the occasional mountain-lady walking by and sporting a “vegan love” T-shirt that gave me reason to shake my head, but rather the other patrons in the pizzeria, those who I have begun to call “modern couples.”
Modern couples have become a national epidemic, originally contained to the younger generations yet slowly infecting the middle-aged and soon perhaps the elderly. Even worse, the behavior exhibited by modern couples is not even limited to couples, but can exist in any friendly gathering of two or more. These modern couples, as I have dubbed them, are those who have replaced mealtime conversation and interaction with mutual (yet separate) texting, browsing and gaming.
Increasingly advanced technology has given nearly everyone affordable and convenient access to smartphones and all the capabilities that go along with them, but I believe such accessibility has come at a disturbing cost. As I glanced around the restaurant, I saw a woman tapping away at a colorful iPhone screen while her husband took a phone call; a group of women who were all either engaged with their phones or had them laid out on the table; and the only other diner — sitting alone and thus most justified to use technology for preoccupation — left his phone in his pocket, if he had one at all. This is not an isolated case either; I have seen parents play a movie on an iPad to placate their child at a restaurant, and when I worked at Starbucks, people who came in together would order, wait and leave without taking their eyes off their phone screens and without saying a word to each other. For me, shared meals have always meant shared conversation; I see the modern couples’ perversion of it as cold, impersonal and borderline disrespectful. If a meal is spent with so little interaction with your companion, why dine together at all?
Technology, including the smartphone, has given us incredible capacity to reach and process information anywhere and at anytime. But such progress should be an aid to us, not a distraction that interferes with our real-world relationships. Modern couples are an example of such a distraction. When I accept an invitation to eat out (or in) with someone, I expect that they are doing so because they find me engaging and interesting, and in accepting the offers I probably think the same of them. I eat with my friends to laugh and share stories; I eat with my boyfriend to relax and to enjoy each other’s company and love; I eat with my family to appreciate and relate. There is no one I eat with so that I can share an uninterrupted meal of tweeting and messaging. If someone can’t put away their phone or tablet for the duration of a short meal, it’s unlikely that they will be able to unplug completely in most aspects of their life. I don’t mean to be the person knelling the toll of the computer-apocalypse, but when half of a restaurant is holding their phone instead of their date’s hand, I think there’s some sort of disconnect.
We are a technological generation, and I’m not trying to change that. Our collection of computers and screens has given us more than it has taken away, but we are allowing it to take more than it should. Every time I see a modern couple, smiling at Instagram posts instead of the person across the table, I get a rush of nostalgia for the pre-cell phone era I never even experienced, and I can’t help but feel like I’m witnessing some profound death. We are constantly juggling an endless list of tasks and activities, half-engaged and always in motion; mealtime is traditionally a break in the cycle, allowing us to breathe in the present and focus just on our fellow diners and our palates. With so much of our modern day lives crammed with noise, why pollute the small sanctity meals offer with more of the same?
And so I call for a reformation, for a dramatic rejection of the modern couple inside the microcosm of Princeton, and a return to the pairing of fine food with fine conversation (or, in the case of the dining halls, the elevation of mediocre food with superior conversation). Next time you ask for a table for two, make it truly a dinner for two; ignore the buzzing in your pocket, replace the “lols” with real laughter and make your own memories instead of living vicariously through status updates.
Mitchell Hammer is a freshman from Phoenix, Ariz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.