Here’s an interesting idea for preventing phones from being a distracting nuisance during a meal, the phone stack:
It works like this: as you arrive, each person places their phone facedown in the center of the table. (If you’re feeling theatrical, you can go for a stack like this one, but it’s not required.) As the meal goes on, you’ll hear various texts and emails arriving… and you’ll do absolutely nothing. You’ll face temptation—maybe even a few involuntary reaches toward the middle of the table—but you’ll be bound by the single, all-important rule of the phone stack.
Whoever picks up their phone is footing the bill.
I’m really torn on the subject of using or not using a cell phone in a social setting. On the one hand I really want to agree with the sentiment of this suggestion, that either the people you are with are worth your full attention or you shouldn’t be with them. As Scott Simpson put it in his classic tweet, “My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever”. On the other hand there are things that I always want to use my phone for when I’m out, and I want to be able to do that in a way that’s not going to bother the people I’m with.
My main interest in my phone when I’m out is to check in on Foursquare wherever I go. Not supermarkets or friends’ houses, but bars, restaurants and venues. It’s the best way that I know of to keep a personal record of the things I do; it saves me from having to keep a journal, because a look at my check-in history is usually enough to jog my memory of events. Badges and points and mayorships I can take or leave; it’s that history of my travels that makes me not want to leave any place out.
Checking in on Foursquare (or Google Latitude or whatever other location service is your bag) is OK when you’re in the company of other people who are also doing it, or if you can surreptitiously check in just before you arrive when you’re still by yourself. Where it becomes quite awkward is when you’ve gone to an upmarket restaurant and you’ve already got your phone out before the waiter has had time to put the napkin on your lap (Why do they insist on doing that in some restaurants? I’s like it’s meant to imply that wealth correlates with an inability to do practical things for oneself. Oh, I see.)
I feel like there should be some sort of amnesty on phone use for the first minute or so at any location. You wouldn’t stand up and drag chairs around or faff about with your coat in the middle of a meal, but that’s totally OK when you’re just getting yourself and your table in order as you arrive. Similarly I think it should be normal to spend a minute after you sit down doing whatever it is you need to do with your phone—let other members of your group know that you’ve arrived, look up recommendations of what to eat, check in, feed your virtual sheep. Then it’s phones away for everyone and you can get on with the business of awkwardly failing to make conversation.