We live in funny times. Once, the concepts of etiquette were widely known, because they were direly important in establishing and maintaining one’s place in society. Thankfully, we’re free of that rigidity—but our newfound freedom means we don’t all see eye to eye on what’s socially acceptable.
Technology is excellent at highlighting that discord, since some people react very negatively to its use while others find it perfectly acceptable and even enjoyable to have constant access to the world of the Internet at their fingertips. I personally fall somewhere in the middle, perhaps leaning slightly more towards technophilia! (I wouldn’t self-identify as such, but my family members would all say I’m tech obsessed, so I guess that tells you something.) Grant and I strike a comfortable balance with each other and with close friends in our age range. But then, of course, there’s the less comfortable end of the tech spectrum, as evidenced in this Miss Manners column:
I will be in a conversation with a friend, just the two of us, and she will pick up her tablet computer to search the Internet for some detail related to something one of us just said.
Then she will notice a link to something else of interest, and she never again fully rejoins the conversation. She continues to look at the computer and browse, while also continuing to approximate conversation or sometimes just narrating what she is viewing.
Obviously, this is obnoxious between good friends, but good friends should also have the communication skills to discuss it and figure out what works for them (or the ability to consciously decide to pick your battles and let this one go). It’s a very different story, however, when you’re first meeting someone, or first getting to know them.
On an early date, it’s best to keep technology completely stowed away, unless you have a very relevant reason to check something out that’s of clearly mutual interest. (Examples of “very relevant” are that your date expressed an earnest interest in seeing a painting from the exhibit you were talking about, or you both want to look up whether the ice cream parlor you want to visit after dinner is still open, since it’s several subway stops away.) I suppose there are exceptions for folks like designers who want to show off an app, etc., but for the most part you aren’t going to have a reason to be phoning it up all night.
PLUS, what if some nosy well-meaning friend texted you something rude-ish, like “OMG is that online weirdo a total fatty like you thought!?” Look, you’re probably not out with someone who would warrant a nasty text, or friends with someone who would send one, but you get the idea. You don’t have a ton of control over what shows up on your lock screen, unless you’ve deliberately tweaked the settings. It can be awkward, even if you yourself are on your best behavior! And realistically, it’s very hard to be on that best behavior. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted by home screen notifications on most smartphones.*
When you DO look at your phone, let alone actually text someone or take/make a call, it comes off as so incredibly rude and dismissive to the person you’re with. It basically says that they are not as worthy of your attention as whatever you’re doing, no matter what caveat or special circumstances you might cite. There are some valid exceptions, like a family medical emergency, and if something’s truly urgent you can always verbally indicate that you’re sorry, but you need to check in on something pressing and it should be just a second. But even that type of polite excuse is still going to come off as dismissive and self-absorbed on an EARLY date.
How early is too early? This is just a ballpark, but I’d say once you’ve started sleeping together, you can start to phase in a comfortable level of tech usage, but pay attention if your date pipes up or seems annoyed by it. You can always start a discussion with them about it to see how they react and communicate about that stuff. When you’re prudent with phone behavior at first, you’ll be rewarded down the road. You can both allow yourselves to slip into the comfort and freedom of more typical tech behavior slowly, as you become less your Date Selves and more your Real Selves over time. It’s not deceptive to do this, it’s just good manners and common sense: most of us slightly adjust our behavior to attract a date, and revert slowly to our more natural patterns once we’ve snared them, heh.
So if at all possible, during those early dates, AVOID the smartphone addiction syndrome in those early days! No matter how entertaining you think that link might be, or how badly you want to reply to a quick text from your boss, those first few dates are important data-gathering material for the person across the table. If they see you gathering more data about your life online than about them, well, that sends a pretty loud signal that you’re not into them, whether that’s how you actually feel or not!
*Often, the OS isn’t helpful in this regard, because it’ll mark stuff as read and remove unread notifications just because you opened it when there happened to be a new text message or email, ya know? This drives me crazy, and I think it’s actually a bug. (It’s meant to do this on an iPhone when you swipe on the notification itself, but I often find this happening even when I swipe the default swipe thingy. Grr.) Our phones should make it convenient to access only the information that we want during that session, and easy to catch up on whatever may have escaped our attention if we didn’t unlock the device for the purposes of checking in with our mounting list of notifications! I’m hoping this behavior improves on the iPhone when iOS 7 is released this fall.