So, there I am, sitting around a giant slab of wood at a hip restaurant in the West Village. The kind of place where they don't have menus and a salad costs more than I make in an hour. I'm out celebrating a friend's birthday dinner, with a bunch of people I rarely see. When you're in your 20's, you work like crazy. Either at a full time job with hours like 9 to, um, whenever your endless to-do list is finished or at a bunch of part-time jobs that you found off Craigslist. Rent, food, bills are your driving force and fun gets shoved away until whenever you can make enough money to afford that.
Being out, with them, was a treat. So we're at dinner and it's silent. I look up from my plate of pulled apart bread that a few minutes ago was smooching with a square of butter and wonder why no one here is talking? We're all interesting people. I mean the girl on my left just got back from a week-long vacation in Croatia, the one across from me just started dating someone new, and the one at the head of the table just got a gigantic promotion at work. Surely someone here has something to say.
But everyone, all nine of them, is looking down. They're on their phones. Texting, or using their thumbs to scroll through Facebook. One person is talking a selfie eating a piece of garlic bread.
Why are we even here, all together, when we could be on our own couches eating Chinese takeout and watching old episodes of Arrested Development?
Where's the human interaction? The in-person anecdotes that breathe natural emotion and ungodly expressions. Where the heck are my friends and why do I need to find the answer to this question by looking at their Facebook check-ins and live tweets from the dinner table?
I'm not much better, I'll admit. My phone goes with me everywhere the way a puppy follows the person who feeds them or a baby the person who changes their diaper. Sometimes it chills with me in the bathroom while I'm showering, just in case someone very important calls me from... well, um, I don't know, I'm really not that important. It rests inches away from my pillow when I sleep and when I'm submerged in a book, it's used as weight to hold down the pages from flipping over. Our relationship is stage five clingy, pathetic. I'll be the first or second (after my mom) to admit this.
I was out with a friend and he made things interesting. He put our phones back to back and said the first person to touch their phone and look at it, pays for the meal. My wallet was looking pretty thin and any chance I could get to scarf down a chicken parm for free, I'd take. But 15 minutes in, without even realizing it, we both had our phones nestled perfectly on the side of our dinner plates, showing each other Instagram pics of our friends at luxurious vacation places. We split the dinner and walked our separate ways in utter and sheer disbelief.
Is this how we're going to remember our lives? Instead of enjoying concerts that we paid big bucks for, we're spending the time looking through the tiny screens of our phones to capture blurry photographs that we'll later slap a Hefe filter on. Instead of catching up with an old friend over some coffee, we're plotting how to describe this moment in 140 characters for thousands of strangers to read. Our memories will be diluted to dissecting timelines on Facebook and I fear we'll just turn there to expose how we feel, how we really feel, instead of saying it out loud in person.
So, how do we change all of this? How do we get our intimate dinner conversations back and our online personas far away, for just a little bit every day? How do we make it through a conversation, an awkward silence, a chance to expose our inner truths without turning to hide behind our smartphone? How do we more than just flirt with the idea of using our phone's "off" button because god forbid we miss... nothing?
Well, we have to try.
And then, when we go to reach for our rectangle of Utopian pleasure. We have to try a bit harder.