Earphones at dinner

We were at dinner at a restaurant last week when a father, mother and their daughter (likely a teenager) sat down in the table next to ours. We were engrossed in conversation as we were catching up with a friend we hadn’t seen in ages.

A few minutes later, our friend said – “Check out the quality conversation at the next table.”  Sure enough, all three of them were busy on the phone.

Minutes passed. Dinner had been served but that was just a side show – they were still on the phone.

A few minutes later, we saw the teenager abandon all pretense and put on her headphones. The Dad seemed busy on WeChat. The mom alone was silently eating her dinner.

It isn’t unusual to see phones being used at the dinner table. Earphones, however, are a completely different matter.

That is, at least, what I thought.

But, are they any different? Pulling out our phone at dinner is us implicitly saying – “This is more important than the food and the people on the table.” So, what makes putting on earphones any worse than texting?

This, to me, speaks to the danger of marginal cost thinking. Just as saying “just this once” is a recipe for disaster, making an excuse for a “small thing” isn’t any better.

Small things, done repeatedly, become the big things.


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0 thoughts on “Earphones at dinner

  1. totally agree! always thinking why we asked friends for dinner who are now sitting next to us, but we do not talk while texting others for dinner; and the others come out but we will text others for dinner…a vicious circle

  2. This is a hard less to learn.

    I’m the world’s worst when it comes to staying late “just this once” to get X done. The marginal cost is a small inconvenience, but the full cost isn’t very pleasant.

    All that has done is set the precedent that Ryan will always take one for the team and stay late while everyone else goes to pick up their kids, tend to their personal business, etc.

    I know you’re familiar because you’ve cited before, but Clayton Christensen’s work on the full vs. marginal costs in “How Will You Measure Your Life?” is some of the most clear and succinct I’ve encountered. I’d endorse the whole book for those who haven’t read.

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