Okay, everybody. It’s time to calm the fuck down.

I’m talking about cell phones.

And Facebook.

And Twitter.

And Instagram.

And “technology” in general.

It’s not evil. None of it. Not even close.

And it’s not ruining communication. Or writing. Or dinner.

It’s just not.

So chill out.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen several articles talking about a sweeter, simpler time. A time when people actually knew how to have face-to-face conversations, delved deeply into each others’ thoughts, desires, minds, and found a reflection of themselves staring back, trembling in the sudden light of their shared experiences and waiting, hoping, breathlessly anticipating an embrace from the sister soul of their companion.

This time of sweet connectivity and genuine friendship? I’m talking 2004.

Martha Stewart went to prison for insider trading.

George W. Bush was “reelected” as President.

And what else happened?

Facebook launched.

And apparently everything went to shit (and, no, I’m not talking about GW, okay? Not today).

First, I noticed the viral Craigslist “Upscale New York Restaurant” hoax. Yes, it’s a hoax. Anybody who has ever worked in a restaurant immediately knew that it was a hoax. Also, anybody who has recently eaten in a restaurant. Or walked inside one. Or driven slowly past one and glanced casually through the windows. Hoax. Hoaxy hoaxy Hoax McHoaxerson.

For those of you who were spared the constant “Wow, it really makes you think!” reposting and citing of this article, allow me to explain. A post appeared on Craigslist New York’s “Rants & Raves” section, claiming to have been written by an owner of a “popular” New York restaurant. The ranter claimed that they had received several negative online reviews, citing slow service. Even though “the number of customers we serve on a daily basis is almost the same today as it was 10 years ago, the service just seems super slow even though we added more staff and cut back on the menu items.” The ranter, in an effort to understand how such reviews could possibly exist, compared surveillance tapes from 2004 to today.

What he “found” was that people spend so much time on their cell phones that the average length of dinner had skyrocketed, from 60 minutes to 115 minutes.  Not only that, but the amount of meals having to be sent back to the kitchen for being “cold” quadrupled, because people were spending an average of “5 minutes” showing waiters “something on their phone” and an “average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.” Over half of the people at the restaurant in 2014 also asked the waiter to take group pictures of them, then asked the waiter to take multiple pictures while “chit chatting” and taking up another 5 minutes of the waiter’s time.

Bullshit. And here’s why.

  1. If patrons in your restaurant are taking twice as long to eat their meals than they were ten years ago, then it is actually, physically impossible for you to serve “almost the same” number of customers per day as you did ten years ago. Unless you have doubled the size of your dining area. If that’s the case, then perhaps the longer wait times have something to do with an overworked kitchen staff as opposed to those evil cell phones.
  2. Speaking as a former waitress, I have to say that VERY rarely did customers send food back for being “cold.” Usually, it was because something was on the plate that shouldn’t have been (like, say, the time I told the kitchen that my customer had a severe peanut allergy, so they decided to place the spicy peanut sauce “on the side” instead of directly on the salad. What part of “anaphylaxic shock” don’t you understand?). Also, if you’re just looking at dining room surveillance footage, how on earth do you know that the food is being sent back because it’s cold? Do you also have footage of your kitchen? Complete with high quality microphones that will be able to pick up on the single waitress talking to an assistant chef over the noise and confusion of a busy kitchen during lunch rush?
  3. Does your restaurant only cater to 13 year old girls? Who shows their waiter something on their phone? Ever? Do you really expect me to believe that 27 out of 45 customers (over HALF) asked to get a photo taken? Have you been to a restaurant recently? You know who asks to get photos taken? Bachelorette parties and kids going to prom. What the hell kind of restaurant is this?
  4. Think about how long 3 minutes is. 3 whole minutes to photograph food? Here, try this. Sing “Happy Birthday.” Just sit still, and sing the whole thing. That was ten seconds. Now, do that EIGHTEEN more times. You don’t think anybody on the planet would be able to snap a picture of a double stuffed potato in that time? It’s an eternity!
  5. Why the anonymity? If this was a real “popular New York restaurant,” the owners and staff would be arranging interviews on Good Morning America and calling every online review place in the universe to get their story heard. It would be incredible, positive publicity for the restaurant. People would show up in droves (and maybe a few covered wagons) just to show off how efficiently they can eat in a restaurant without technology. If it was my restaurant, I’d hire a PR firm to make sure that my “rant,” name, address, picture, and GPS coordinates were on the front of the Huffington Post homepage for at least a week. But nobody did that.

Because it was made up.

So, please, stop reposting it.

Then, just today, I read an op ed piece from the New Yorker entitled “A Memoir is not a Status Update.” In this piece, memoirist and novelist Dani Shapiro worries:

[W]e’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?”

Bitch, please.

Do you think that online capabilities and mindless scrolling through pictures of friends’ (or acquaintances’, or even strangers’) cute babies and puppies has somehow stripped all of us of our collective humanity? Shapiro bemoans the emergence of emoticons—symbols that serve to clarify tone, or emphasize a particular emotion without linguistic words—and while, as a writer, I tend to shy away from them (I stubbornly insist that my tone must always already be understood by my audience. I am a writer! I can never be misread or misunderstood!), I understand their broader appeal. The problem with online communication is that, without the human voice, or the human face, knowing when something is being said in jest, or satirically is sometimes hard to distinguish (my friends have often laughed that Facebook needs a “sarcasm font.” I would agree, but I do so love the drama that such tonal misunderstandings create). Most people aren’t writers. Most people are uncomfortable with communicating solely via the written word. Most people have come to believe at some point that they “just can’t ‘do’ English” (at least, that’s what I heard, over and over, from my students).  But nobody is mistaking a “heart” for a “phone call,” as Shapiro fears. Nobody is confusing the change in status from “Married” to “Single” as telling the “story” of a divorce. Even people who love social media (and I am one of them. Oh yes, I am) recognize that it is a representation of the self, another filter through which we strain out the unsavory and leave the humorous, the kind, the talented, the fashionable.  And a true reader will be able to see through the vapid “stories” that others post. We’ll be able to see that our friend whose status shifted, without additional comment, from “Married” to “Single” is making a statement with his silence. Perhaps a statement of denial. Perhaps one of self-preservation.  Perhaps one of masculinity and vulnerability. Perhaps one of unspeakable sadness. Perhaps one of embarrassment. Perhaps one of bravado.

It may be hidden.

It may feel digitized and manufactured.

But it’s still there.

Our humanity.

Our stories.

Yes, even our dinner.

It’s not going anywhere.

It can’t. A cell phone cannot take it away. Nothing in the hundred thousand or so years of human evolution has yet.

 

And, seriously, put the phone away during dinner. At least for date night.

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