This week, we heard about the just-opened Bushwick dive Left Hand Path’s idea to install USB ports and outlets into the bar so that patrons can charge their phones. This came as incredibly joyous news to some. But it kind of sounds like a nightmare to me.
Lest you write me off as your average whiny wearer of a proud Luddite badge, I can assure you that I have the utmost enthusiasm for my iPhone, which is bright pink and contains embarrassingly high scores on both 2048 and Candy Crush as well as an embarrassing amount of terrible photos. So I know that as much as anyone that a dead battery sucks. (How else will we know for sure exactly what minute it will start raining? By looking outside? What?) But there are moments in life when batteries need not be juiced up all the way to 100%, practically shattering our phones with the convulsive energy of maximum capacity. And these moments pretty much all take place during mealtimes, and also, I’d argue—during drink-times.
Much like coffee shops have become little more than beacons of free WiFi (to the point where if one doesn’t allow electronics, people absolutely lose their shit, even though it’s completely understandable that a cafe wouldn’t want to encourage lone laptop robots from posting up for five hours at a two-top that could’ve been occupied by paying, sociable customers, but that’s beside the point), the restaurant table has become an increasingly acceptable place to leave one’s phone during meals. We all do it, perhaps without realizing how insanely off-putting it is, or rather, not caring how off-putting it is.
When I worked as a hostess at a fancy restaurant in Tribeca, the people that would ask us at the stand to charge our phones were a generally decent sort; sometimes they’d leave a tip, or, you know, a smile. At least, the bulk of them understood that it was a favor they were asking of us, to be able to use the only tiny area that we had to ourselves to take care of their stuff. Sure, it wasn’t a huge hassle, but it certainly came with a palpable side of entitlement. We, the hostesses, weren’t even allowed to keep our own phones on the floor—a perfectly logical rule, I think, that might do well applying to patrons.
But it takes a certain kind of person to ask that their phone be looked after and recharged by a stranger without having a defendable reason for it—similar to the kind of person who asks you for Ibuprofen one too many times and never thinks to bring a bottle themselves. In other words, there’s an element of selfishness when it comes to our phones. As they become increasingly more important extensions of ourselves and of our own private matters—those 20,000 emails, that dating app, those sexy selfies—the presence of a cell phone has never been more okayed by others, with the understanding that if someone else is attending to something that doesn’t concern you on their phone, it’s not impolite to be engrossed in your own. But it is. It’s incredibly impolite. And it’s incredibly selfish. Because why are you even together in the first place? Why did you come to this bar? Why did you go outside at all?
Put down your phone. Look into somebody’s eyes, and if you can’t, look at the people around you. Look out the window, stare at the ceiling. Talk to the bartender and smile at the waiter. And when there are awkward silences, feel them, be fascinated by them. Resist the urge to diddle on a screen. What did you come here for? You came here to be out in the world. Be here, and live in it.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa