There’s been a flood of handwringing op-eds lately about how glassy-eyed mobile-phone zombies are ignoring each other at the restaurant instead of talking to another another. I think these pundits are somewhat overblowing the frequency of this behavior, frankly. Very similar alarms were raised about the wave of supposedly society-ending isolation that would wreaked by previous newfangled media — like the telephone in the late 19th century, and the Walkman in the 80s. We didn’t suffer a social apocalypse then, and I don’t think we’re going to suffer one now.
That said, I actually think the op-ed handwringing is useful in its own way. It’s part of how a society creates social codes around new technologies. When mobile phones inched into the mainstream in the 90s, people who bought them used to answer them, every single time they rang, whenever and wherever they rang: At the dinner table, at the funeral, while having sex. It took about a decade of this behavior peaking before society collectively began to realize this was kind of terrible behavior, and we starting poking fun at it — you saw lots of jokes about it, like that “inconsiderate cell phone man” ad that used to run before movies. And eventually we moved away from the behavior. We’re probably in the middle of this curve with social media.