The Experts Weigh In: A Crash Course in Tech Etiquette at the Thanksgiving Table

The Experts Weigh In: A Crash Course in Tech Etiquette at the Thanksgiving Table

Taryn Williford
Nov 26, 2013
(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Thanksgiving has just about arrived and two things are certain: 1. the grocery store is out of canned cranberry jelly, and 2. somebody is already deciding which filter to apply to their pumpkin pie Instagram. It's time to face the music: texting and sharing online are ubiquitous, even at the dinner table. But there's still a necessary code of conduct as host or guest for a well-mannered Thanksgiving meal.

We've collected the best advice from experts around the web about what is and is not appropriate cell phone use. Use this guide to brush up on being a polite guest, or bookmark it now to passive-aggressively send later to your table's turkey day offender.

On Phones on the Table:

"Even if you have no intention of checking it, a phone left on the dinner table is a shifty kind of power play: a vibrating broadcast of your divided attentions. Sure, you might ignore each chirp or buzz, but these interruptions disrupt dinner whether or not you choose to acknowledge them. If you are expecting an emergency call or message — and think long and hard about what truly constitutes an emergency — warn your co-diners to the fact, and explain why you need to keep the thing close at hand. Otherwise the proper place for your phone is out of sight in your pocket or purse."

Jordana Rothman, Grub Street

"We found evidence mobiles can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality [at the dinner table]. The presence of a mobile phone may orient individuals to thinking of other people and events outside their immediate social context. In doing so, they divert attention away from a presently occurring interpersonal experience to focus on a multitude of other concerns and interests."

Andrew Przybylski, researcher at Essex University, as quoted in The Telegraph

"You should never leave your phone on the table, since not only will you be constantly staring at it, but it ensures that everyone is interrupted not only by the call you are expecting but by your phone's every beep, burp and flicker. Put the thing on vibrate, and put it in your pocket."

Ramona Emerson, The Huffington Post

"Phones should remain put-away during dinner and lunch with friends, but it should also be permissible to ask for and take a mutual 'phone break' if the meal goes on for longer than an hour."

David Carr, New York Times

(Image credit: argo74/Shutterstock)

On Calling and Texting:

"If you’re having dinner with friends and family, be with them. The guideline is that you do not text message when you are involved in any type of social interaction – conversation, listening, in class, at a meeting or, especially, at the dinner table. If you really need to communicate with someone who is not at the event—or at the table—excuse yourself and then return as soon as you can."

Cindy Post Senning, Emily Post Insitute

"The idea, which I'll call the Bathroom Rule, came from a reader named Marie LaFerriere, and it was seconded by many others. Here's my concise version of LaFerriere's rule: If you're in a situation where you'd excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, you should also excuse yourself before reaching for your phone. Otherwise, go ahead without asking. Either way, don't play with your phone longer than you'd stay in the bathroom."

Farhad Manjoo, Slate

"Be courteous to those you are with. If you don't want your friends or relatives to think that your mobile device matters more to you than they do, then don't make or take calls when you're in the middle of a conversation. By doing so, you're making whoever you're with feel second best."

Emily Post Institute

On Browsing:

"General checking-in, e-mailing, and messaging are off-limits. That sort of lazy, absent-minded phone browsing is rude. You are presumably at a restaurant to eat with someone else; focus on their company, not the communications of all the people who aren't at the restaurant."

Jordana Rothman, Grub Street

"I think it's more OK to use your phone at the table these days if it's directly related to the conversation. It's fine to pull up a picture or video of something you're talking about, whether it's your dog in his Halloween costume or your yard's 'before' and 'after' shots. You can also use your phone to clear up a point of contention or identify a song that is playing. Whatever you are doing, the important thing is to explain it to your companion: 'I'm going to Google the etymology of the word martini' or 'You have to see so-and-so's latest Facebook update—she's clearly lost it."

Helena Echlin, Chow

"Minimal fact-checking is fine. Used thoughtfully, a phone can be a powerful tool to enrich or clarify a meaningful dialogue — like figuring out if it was Fred Savage or Sean Astin who played the kid in Little Monsters. But make your first and only stop at IMDB. Spend just a beat too long gazing at a text or e-mail and you've derailed a good debate."

Jordana Rothman, Grub Street

"First off, the checking-for-no-reason checking (Twitter, Facebook, absently swiping through menus), needs to stop completely when you're with friends. Like constantly glancing at the door of the bar, it makes people think you're looking for something better. And this doesn’t mean try to be all secretive about it either, like checking your phone under the table or pulling it halfway out of your pocket. There’s something inherently creepy about someone who treats their phone like a secret, and not a very good secret I might add—you may not have noticed but the screen glows."

Ramona Emerson, The Huffington Post

"We are at a place today where text, email or instant messaging has essentially destroyed the art of 'having dinner' with friends. Rarely do I see a table of five who all 'remain present' at their dinner. It somewhat goes like this: as soon as one feels the topic may not involve them what do they do? A quick email or text glance. After a few minutes it's the next person's turn and the cycle continues with everyone taking their turn 'checking in' while their dinner experience is being broken up into bits and pieces without them really realizing the impact. It's not absurd to say some people may check or glance at their phone or Blackberry maybe ten to twenty times over the course of a long meal. Try to remember what that was like, to really commit to having dinner, engaging your friends, and blocking out the outside world for two hours. Can you stay at the table?"

John McDonald, Restauranteur and The Huffington Post contributor

(Image credit: avlxyz under CC BY-SA 2.0)

On Food Photos and Other Sharing:

"When the food [is served], there is no move more presumptuous and self-indulgent than forcing your tablemates to sit on their hands while you frame up the perfect shot for Instagram (or Foodspotting, or Forkly, or Nosh, or whatever). This is never okay — your tablemates are just too polite to tell you."

Jordana Rothman, Grub Street

"Don't get me wrong, I love food. I love cooking. I love nothing more than the beauty of a well-plated meal. I love ogling pictures in cookbooks and I even love posting pictures on Instagram. But believe me when I tell you that no matter how hungry or excited you are about what you're about to post on Instagram and Facebook, it NEVER looks as good to anyone else as it does to you."

Kimberly Brooks, The Huffington Post

"Do not think that tweeting about having a drink with me validates my importance. Having a drink with me validates my importance. Memorialize it later or when I am in the restroom."

David Carr, New York Times

Any other advice to add?

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