Etiquette in these days of modern times

During the summer, I went to dinner with some friends, members of a tech-oriented email group that met in person every year or two. We told stories about tropospheric refraction, Thoreau’s walk to Wachusett Mountain, and Maxwell’s equations and light. Each of us used our cellphones to check facts and show pictures.

After about 15 minutes of this, the organizer of the meal said, “Alright, everyone’s cellphone on the table, face down.” A bit surprised, we cooperated. He stacked the phones in the center of the table. “The first person to reach for his cellphone has to pay for everyone’s dinner.”

This wasn’t a group of distracted teenagers. The youngest was about 50 and several had 70 in their sights.

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According to the latest Pew research on mobile etiquette, 92 percent of Americans have a cellphone of some kind. Of that number, 89 percent said that they used their phones during a recent social gathering.

People don’t (intentionally) use their phones to be rude. Typically, they take photos of the gathering and post the photos to a social network such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. (Before the cellphone ban at dinner that night, I took a photo of my dinner companions.)

It’s like driving. Every one of us has driven too fast or too slow and has grumbled about other drivers who are too slow or fast. What we do makes sense for us at the time and can also be quite annoying to others.

So, let us be mindful of when and where we use our smartphones and tablets and be patient with others who do the same.

By the way, none of us reached for our phones during dinner that night and so each paid for his own meal. After coffee was served and the bill paid, we were reunited, phone and owner, like a puppy coming home to his boy.