Phones at the table - as sociable as smoking

We're the first wave of our species forced to navigate the question, "Is it too rude to blank the person you're dining with to give some love to your phone?"

We're learning as we go, so the rules, until now, have been fluid and confusing. If, as has been reported, some people are so wedded to the tech in their hand they check it during sex with the person in their other hand, surely a little hiatus from someone you're sharing a time with, clothed, is in the ballpark of permissible.

Then again, you could make a pretty compelling case that hitting tech at the table is about as sociable as smoking. The former may not kill you, but it certainly stinks for the person you are with.

For mine, looking out of the eyes of your child or other loved one (or loved colleagues or your book club girls) sends the message, "I'm acting as if I would were you not here. Also, you may as well be invisible." Or, "Don't mind me, I'm certainly not paying attention to you."

If you're dining on your own, all bets are off. The phone is a great way to prevent human interaction: as everybody knows, it puts you into the cone of silence (somewhere you're not supposed to be if you've taken the kids to dinner).

The warm reception to the ban slapped by one Sydney restaurateur on diners getting out phones and tablets while enjoying his food with their family suggests more of us are joining team "ban the screen".

Attila Yilmaz, owner of the Turkish/Mexican fusion eatery, Pazar, won't take the tech anymore. He wants parents to "engage with their children" and for families to be "involved with the food and experience" while they are together in his place. That is not too much to ask.

If we can't pause everything, even for 45 minutes, to really connect with people ostensibly close to us, and sitting centimetres away, what have we become?

Digital culture expert Joanne Orlando says, although the research shows phone users are engaging with their devices "about every 12 minutes" and we are more likely to do so "in less exciting moments". "This can happen at a nice restaurant waiting around," Dr Orlando says. "Maybe the conversation isn't amazing, so people might automatically pull out their phone without realising it."

Thank you, Mr Yilmaz, you may not be the first to do so, but you're the trailblazing hero human communication needs.

  • Wendy Tuohy is a Nine Lifestyle editor.