Observations by Anne Bahr Thompson

As far as I know, modern rules of etiquette still dictate that mobile phones, tablets, etc. should not be used at the dinner table. But more and more I’m finding that when the conversation becomes truly engaging, someone always reaches for an electronic device to look up the meaning of a word or history of something referenced or even find a YouTube video to illustrate a point. While Emily Post, Letitia Baldridge and my grandmother would likely be upset and I do believe it’s impolite to answer a call or text at the dinner table, I also now think that using an electronic device as a reference tool helps to keep conversation flowing and even makes it more fascinating. The other night was no exception to this.

We were still in Marblehead and crew and friends had joined us for dinner. The party around the table ranged in age from 19 to 51. Well ranged is possibly the wrong word. It was more that we had two groups of dinner guests that hovered mostly around each of these end points.

As is common after a day of racing, the conversation began with a debriefing of the events, who did what right and what wrong and the status of protests. With the wine flowing and the food flavourful and plentiful, the discussion somehow comfortably transitioned into social media and our varying attitudes toward it. I think one of the early twentysomethings created a segue when he mentioned he had tweeted about his boat’s performance and his “Captain,” a gentleman just teetering over 50, in turn made a follow up comment about tweeting, Facebook, blogs and how his daughter wants to teach him how to use social media to promote his business. Although he was intrigued with technology, he ultimately felt that if he started to use these things, he would have no time left to earn money rigging boats and being paid crew. The early twentysomething pulled out his phone and started showing him other professional sailors’ blogs and tweets in a sincere effort to demonstrate how his Captain’s daughter was right.

The professional sailor then stated he preferred personal relationships and talking to people on the phone and thought it was faster then texting or sending an email. A 19 year old girl retorted you couldn’t multi-task as well when you talked on the phone, a comment that mystified many in the older age set.

One woman then declared she refused to get texting for her phone and insisted that her teenagers and husband still call. She then proudly pulled her phone out of a canvas bag to show us she still used her original Motorola Razr. Her elder son rolled his eyes in agreement as he noted his mother didn’t want to accept that people his age just did not talk on the phone and said that it was a good thing he had at least had been allowed to teach her to use the GPS in her car, although it was painful to watch her input an address. Although most everyone at the table laughed about her well-known technophobia, I couldn’t help but wonder if her desire to ensure her family genuinely communicated with one another was partially at fault here.

My husband then noted how one of the greatest pleasures of racing his boat was that you weren’t allowed to use navigational equipment and had to rely on your skills to read the wind, clouds, etc. Everyone laughed as he licked his finger and held it up pretending to feel the breeze. As someone else chimed in that GPS in cars and map apps for phones had taken the magic out of wandering and unexpectedly stumbling upon “a find” when we were lost, I noticed my son had disappeared from the table.

He momentarily returned with my iPad and said this whole conversation reminded him of an ad, Social Network, for the Toyota Venza, which he pulled up on YouTube and played for the whole table. The “technophobic” woman then asked him if he could play another car ad - one for Volkswagen that had a boy as Darth Vader. Her husband smiled and said even though his boys were older now, he loved that ad as well. Everyone - regardless of age - agreed that if these two ads were examples, the car companies seemed to suddenly be getting it right, leveraging humor and brilliantly reflecting today’s family/age dynamics. I looked to my right and saw the technophobic woman was on my iPad surfing the web as the conversation turned to my new Mini and then shifted to Congress and the deficit.