While home for the summer, I work as a waitress in a classy Italian restaurant. At Riva, we have a lot of strict rules of service, and as a server, I am expected to know a lot about wine and items on the menu, and to be more than excited to provide recommendations for dinner. As employees, it is protocol to be strictly professional, and it is our job to make sure everything in the restaurant runs like tight ship; our uniform consists of all-black formal attire, we are to strip the tabletops and provide new settings with each course of the meal, and every table must be complete with lit candles and fresh flowers. The Italian music, candlelight, and baroque decoration of the dining room make for a romantic atmosphere, which is why it is always so surprising to me when I walk up to a table only to find some or even all of the customers absorbed in their cell phones.
I commonly find myself in a situation where I have introduced myself, engaged in some stodgy small talk, and even read off the specials before at least one diner looks up at me, cell phone in hand, and says, "Sorry, what was that you were saying?” And instantly I know that in the battle between myself and a doubtlessly dreary Facebook newsfeed, I have lost. When this happens, I simply laugh, smile, and run through my entire spiel again because, after all, it is textbook waitress knowledge to be sickeningly sweet and offensively cooperative. However, behind my cheery demeanor, I am secretly judging those cell phone lovers for being so blatantly bad-mannered toward their dining companions.
I have recently learned that the term “phubbing” refers to the act of ignoring another humans in favor of one’s cell phone. The expression is derived from the words “phone” and “snubbing,” and has even been recognized by media sources like Seventeen and The Atlantic. Perhaps this practice, which results in the oblivious ostracizing of one’s company, is attributable to the trite millennial complex: despicable multitasking, the art of being too connected, an aptitude for understanding technology, infuriating intelligence, and an insatiable craving for social recognition. However, perhaps this practice boils down to something much more simple; perhaps it can be traced back to mere boredom.
When I first set out to write this article, I couldn’t really think of anything to say other than: “It is rude for people to constantly be on their phones while others are trying to spend time with them.” While still I think this sentiment is both valid and incredibly important, everyone already knows this is the case and does it anyways. Everyone does this—and we do it everyday, multiple times a day.
When we pick up our phones across the table from our significant other, friends, or family members, it is not because we are in fear of missing out on something on Instagram or because of our need to be acknowledged, but rather it is because we are not particularly interested in the topic of conversation at hand. We reach for our phones, scroll through social media, and strike up virtual conversation with other friends in order to temporarily quench our thirst for something personally stimulating, something new, something… else. With this in mind, it’s not hard to realize that the message we are sending out to our loved ones is one of boredom, one of weariness, one that can be incredibly offensive even if this is not the intention.
So, next time you're tempted to look at your phone while in the car with your mother, who is trying to tell you something she evidently finds interesting, remember that you might as well have the words “You are boring me” written across your forehead. Resist the urge to succumb to surface-level boredom; put down the phone, focus your attention, and put your remarkable mind to work. After all, brilliance is one of the most important features of the millennial complex.