Wait, Lemme Google It!

Dear Helena,

I am obsessed with my iPhone and cannot stop fondling it. I use it to Google stuff during conversation. Or, since I’m food-obsessed and many of my friends are too, I pull it out and show them food pics, like the weird unidentifiable vegetable that came in my organic produce delivery. But this behavior has gotten mixed responses. Some people are OK with it, but one friend was like, “Why can’t you put that thing away?” What’s the etiquette for using your iPhone during conversation? Is it rude to use it, or are my friends just jealous? —Early Adopter

Dear Early Adopter,

These days, only a Luddite would ban iPhones from conversation. The reality is that in the near future we’ll probably all have some sort of web-enabled smartphone, and Google will be a regular guest at the dinner table. But, like Twittering, texting, or answering your cell phone at dinner, it’s not OK to be glued to any gadget in a social situation. Since all this technology is relatively new, owners can get overexcited about a device and become a little boring. It’s like how some people get when they have a baby.

So when does an iPhone enhance socializing and when does it detract from it?

It’s a great tool for looking up discrete facts. Justin Leavitt, a lawyer in LA and a compulsive iPhone user, says he turns to his when “people get stuck on a factoid or quick snippet of information.” For instance, you’re trying to remember the name of a movie star, work out the origin of a word or phrase, or identify a song that is being played, and you pay a quick visit to IMDb, Wikipedia, or Last.fm. Rather than stifle conversation, you eliminate the 10 minutes you and your friends would otherwise have spent saying, “God, it’s on the tip of my tongue.” But you should abandon the hunt if it proves complicated; it’s boring for your friends to watch while you plug different search terms into Google.

Don’t use your iPhone for any activity that requires your friends to huddle around it. The device isn’t designed for group viewing, and your friends want to hang out with you, not with your phone. So refrain from pulling up Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman.

Also, you should not use your smartphone to send email when you’re hanging out with friends. This may seem like an obvious faux pas, but in some situations, people think it’s OK. For instance, I was having drinks with friends a few months ago, and an absent friend came up in conversation. One guy whipped his iPhone out and started tapping out an email saying, “We all wish you were here.” I wanted to tap his shoulder and say, “We wish you were here.”

I’ve noticed that iPhone devotees will even send email to people who are present, so they can share links before they forget. Why not just make a mental note or scribble on the back of your hand? Don’t waste precious minutes of quality time with your friends.

Finally, don’t use your iPhone to win an argument. It’s not good sportsmanship, and it’s boring for your friends to listen while you read out statistics or facts that prove your point. It’s like using one during a pub trivia quiz: You might be victorious, but you’re missing half the fun.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.