Phone use at restaurant is wake up call

Last weekend, our family was on a getaway in Bar Harbor. If you were visiting at the same time, I’m sure you heard us. It doesn’t matter that you were at a different hotel; we are loud everywhere. Even critters beached by low tide on the bar skittered away from us and our noise. We do nothing quietly.

Sometimes I feel like we are a tornado of noise coming down the sidewalk. On the peaceful ocean path that winds around the coast of the harbor, we seemed to plow through couples walking quietly hand-in-hand. The boys jump, fight, push, and roll in the grass. Ford spews random facts and play-by-plays: “Oh, Lindell is headed for the dirt, folks. Can he stay up on his feet?”It doesn’t matter if no one is listening. Lindell sings and laughs and fights with Owen. And, Dustin, well, as our sixth grade teacher once told him, his voice “carries.”

So it was no surprise when we were the loudest family in a restaurant one night. It takes us about 30 minutes to stop talking and order food. Waiters and waitresses are usually annoyed by us, and I know nearby diners wish they could be moved elsewhere. Sometimes they’ve requested it.

There have been times when I get separated from my family. Maybe I’m shopping in a different section of the store, or maybe Dustin has taken the boys down the sidewalk for a awhile. But I can always hear them coming back before I see them, even if I’m in the back of a store, tucked away in a dressing room.

Their noise carries.

So we were talking over one another at the restaurant and trying to order at the same time. I felt like we were louder than usual. We seemed to be standing out. Then, all of the sudden, I looked around the restaurant, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that every table within view was filled with families staring at their individual mobile devices. They were all silent, heads down, fingers dancing across their phones in rapid fire.

I was stunned. Can you ever remember a time ten years ago when this would have been the case, when a restaurant would be oddly quiet because of everyone on their phones? One man was obviously playing a game on his cell phone. At the table. With his family.

Now, I am totally guilty of being attached to my phone. I’m sure you’ve seen me typing away at the baseball field or even in the grocery store. I’m guilty of being distracted by my phone when the kids are home and trying to talk to me. I always feel badly for this, and my guilt causes me to sneak glances at the phone or spend too long “in the bathroom.”However, the families in the restaurant that night didn’t seem to be hiding their phone use at all. They were blatantly lost in their individual, wordless conversations with people who weren’t actually at the restaurant.

It seems our society has crossed an important threshold: you no longer have to act like you’re not looking at your phone. No pretending necessary. Fully exposed phone use is accepted and overlooked. It’s become the norm.

My heart felt sad. I tried to play devil’s advocate: maybe the families are tired. Maybe they’ve had a day of sightseeing and they just want to veg out. Maybe they’ve been talking all day and they’ve agreed to have some “alone time”at the table. Maybe they aren’t like this at home. Maybe they are fighting. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

And, again, we aren’t perfect. I just told you how my kids wrestle and fight in public. And I have very little phone discipline myself. But when I saw what is sometimes my own behavior mirrored by the families in the restaurant, I cringed. Their tables looked so lonely…and quiet.

So I pulled out my own phone (yes, my phone) and sent this text to Ford, the only other person at our table with a phone, because it would have been too rude to say it aloud: “See the families around us not talking to each other and staring at their phones? Let’s not be that family.”

When Ford’s phone beeped in his pocket, he looked at me first for permission before he opened it. Good boy! I nodded and Ford flipped open the phone. He smiled as he read, then he showed my message to his brothers and Dustin.

Suddenly everyone at my table was silent, too, and obviously looking around the restaurant. We are about as subtle as we are quiet.

Ford smirked and sent the following back to me: “OK, Mom, but it’s really weird you sent me a text at dinner to tell me we shouldn’t text at dinner.”

Noted. His point was loud (naturally) and clear.