“No, it’s Ok – go on.” I’ve lost count of the number of times my other half has said this to me in a pub, with a slightly weary, resigned tone. Or, if not using those actual words, conveying the message with her eyes. The inevitable pause in conversation, the brief wait whilst I do what I have to do, before we can get back to talking about important things; last week’s Nashville, what to have for tea, etc. In case you’ve not guessed, what I am doing in that moment is the new modern scourge of pub-based drinking – interacting with the smartphone. Tweeting, taking a photo, tapping in a few tasting notes.
Is this constant need for contact, to make statements, having an increasingly noticeable effect on our drinking? Pints down*, phones out? You see pubs and bars (and other places) with a ‘no phones’ rule, although that could well be a hold-over from days of yore when people actually talked into their phones, rather than merely stabbing at them with an index finger, like a horde of sedentary, dry-roasted eating zombies. These days, the only noise disturbance phones make is one of a selection of infuriating blipcalls when a notification comes in (so, every thirty seconds or so).
* Or, more likely, schooners
Most people I go drinking with invariably have the phones on the tables, like we’re all about to become fathers at any moment. In reality, all we’re due to birth into the world are jazzily blurred photos on Instagram, or one of those Untappd badges that annoy everyone on Twitter – ‘Drinking baltic porter in Runcorn on a Tuesday? Congratulations, you’ve unlocked a badge!!!’. I think that, along with this modern need to stay connected to the grid at every possible moment, these phones also allow a comfort blanket when the conversation inevitably (at least, if I’m involved) lulls. Quick Twitter refresh while Gary goes for a piss. Easy.
Maybe it’s just a testament to how the world is now. People of a certain age tend to enjoy new technology, take an interest in shiny. Whether this is to broadcast what we are drinking to the world (and, by extension, what we think of it, what it looks like, etc), or because we are magpies who have evolved the ability to use wallets, I don’t know. Smartphones have done for a lot of things. Take gambling. Now it’s one-click placing, in-play, live-streaming. You can put on a bet with an app; we pretend we just don’t have the time to walk into a newsagent and buy the Racing Post, or meander into a bookies.
Basically, interacting with your phone is just easier. It’s the easy way to communicate, easy way out of socially awkward situations, and the easy way to annoy people who care about you. But you know what’s easiest of all? Walking into a pub and ordering what takes your fancy from the board (without having Googled in advance, and worked out your ‘one two three’). Drinking the beer, and discovering for yourself what it tastes like. Cut down on the tech; go cold turkey. Even – and how is this for a foreign concept – leave the phone at home altogether. Just make sure you’ve pre-loaded your brain with a few conversation topics, or at least, write a few down on a piece of paper…
When in the pub, are you a slave to the smartphone?