When (If Ever) Is It OK To Email/SMS At Dinner?

When (If Ever) Is It OK To Email/SMS At Dinner?

The Times’ tech writer Nick Bilton sat down with ABC anchor Diane Sawyer to discuss the dos and don’ts of digital etiquette, spending the majority of their time talking about the etiquette of using smartphones in social situations, like dinner with friends.

Bilton’s stance is simply that it depends entirely on context:

I wouldn’t feel comfortable texting a friend while I’m in a meeting with my boss. But I often sit at dinner with friends, chatting in person while simultaneously engaging with distant friends in a digital context. Depending on the age group I’m with, that can be considered perfectly acceptable.

Regardless of context, Sawyer doesn’t entirely buy the idea that simultaneous digital and face-to-face conversation has any place at the dinner table (and makes a pretty good joke demonstrating her scepticism at the end of the video). We completely understand the siren song our mobile phones sing while we’re doing something else, and we try to, like Bilton, play it by ear (though that doesn’t mean we’re on the exact same page). Still, it got us wondering what you think. When — if ever — would you say it’s OK to email, SMS or poke away at your phone at the dinner table? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Bilton on ABC: Dos and Don’ts of Digital Etiquette [NYT]


  • Never OK. Depending on the social group, I don’t think it’s ever OK to text while with others. It dilutes your attention from the person who has come to visit you, or even worse, you is hosting you.

    A bit different when you are just hanging out, or if you are staying somewhere overnight and stuff though

  • How did we ever communicate before mobiles, emails and texting?
    We cant even sit together and have dinner without all this digital communication crap.
    Time and place people. . . TIME AND PLACE!

  • I think it would be perfectly acceptable to message/email someone at the dinner table if you were all waiting on that person. As in,
    “Where is John?”. “I Don’t know, i’ll message him”.

    Otherwise i’d generally consider it pretty poor form

  • I use it as a form of flattery or to show I’m not interested. If the conversation is lacking or dull, I don’t mind replying to an sms or shooting off a facebook status. But if you’re on a date and the phone rings or you get a text, a great way to show you’re listening and interested is to ignore the phone – shows that you’re here, now.

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