This scene in a restaurant is far from unique to New York City, but what particularly struck me was the absolute resoluteness and immediacy with which these two women wielded their phones after sitting down. One immediately began texting, the other speaking on her cell phone. They continued through the entire meal without saying a word to each other.
Reading through numerous articles and online forums, I was actually surprised to see what appears to be an overwhelming majority who find the use of cell phones at dinner (at home or in a restaurant) rude and unacceptable, including younger people. The reasons cited were many, but most felt that eating is a social activity. Some also made the point that pulling out a cell phone during dinner makes a statement of relative importance - an insult to those who are physically there. Others, however, stated that among teenagers particularly, texting and phoning maintains a continuity of contact with their social circles. The whole phenomenon has created quite a furor, with many individuals seeking counseling.
A lot has been written since the rise of the Internet and cell phones about the nature of electronic communication technologies and whether they are tools that isolate people or bring them together. Like any other tools, they can be used or abused. There are many individuals who, for any number of reasons, have a limited social circle, and communication technology has allowed them to make new acquaintances. For some, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have much live social contact with others, perhaps due to health issues or living in a remote geographical location. For others, communication with existing friends and family is broadened beyond the time they are able to spend together physically. One could also argue that in aggregate, all the new methods of communication - texting, calling via cell phone, instant messaging, emailing, video calling, voip - have increased communication.
Personally, I try to limit cell phone conversations at dinner to receiving calls that are extremely important or where the caller will be difficult to contact. Like most things, this is a matter of degree and circumstance. People have answered landline phones during dinner for decades. In the case of these two women, they are both involved simultaneously and look quite happy sharing time together doing something they both enjoy. I'm sure the debate will rage on - whether what we have here is rude, antisocial, or perhaps a new form of social behavior -togetherlessness :)