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Random Thu Aug 21 2014
I was chatting with a food blogger in her late 40s when she asked me for my Instagram account handle. I shrugged. "Nope, I don't have one," I replied. She stared at me for a good (and awkward) ten seconds before she shook her head in confusion, and returned her gaze to her smartphone.
In fact, her question was the first time our gaze actually met. Before that, I wasn't sure if her head was physically and irrevocably aligned with her Blackberry's magnetic axis. She never looked up from that thing. She missed waiters explaining dishes, she missed my (and anyone's) feeble attempts at conversation, and I'm certain she wouldn't have noticed if the entire restaurant burned to the ground.
Many food bloggers act similarly, and perhaps that's due to the demands of an online profession. They take food pictures, Instagram that shit, and caption their collage with "YUM lobster roll with truffle fries #mylifeisperfect" They don't eat the food, and if they do, it's a small bite before they're back on Twitter or whispering quietly to their guest, who is probably tweeting the person right next to them. Taking pictures used to capture a memory, to crystallize an experience for future reminiscence. Now pictures demonstrate to others how happy, exciting, social, and/or privileged you are. It's about taking multiple pictures of mundane crap, trying to find that perfect professional angle that is ruined the minute they apply sepia filters all over them.
That being said, I understand the incredible marketing power of social media. But I take one singular picture before I proceed to decimate the plate with my mouth. I don't need 42 panoramic shots of my steak tartare in all its glorious stages of consumption--aerial uneaten, profile uneaten, partially eaten, completely eaten, my bulging belly. I don't include stupid hashtags like #omggymtime. I don't need to tweet that shit out the minute I eat it--my rabid followers can wait.
It's not just food bloggers; it's diners in general. I've seen friends, business colleagues, even dates spend their meals attached to their phones. I understand sharing pictures or weird texts with your meal partner, but people are checking their phones in solitude. Is it the awkward silence you can't handle? Is it your boss sending you an urgent business request? Is it your pregnant spouse giving birth during Lakeshore Drive traffic?
Some restaurants (e.g. Lebanon, Los Angeles) have offered discounts to diners who relinquished their phone, whereas others have banned phone usage completely. Though I understand their indignation, I'm ambivalent about such practices, because I think the point is this: a meal is convivial. It's about unwinding after the daily grind and sharing great food. It's about observing your environment, about temporarily turning your brain away from constant technological stimuli. We need to embrace these moments for our own sake, not for the Instagram community.