Once upon a time, I would have enjoyed a nice meal in a pleasant restaurant, and would likely have told people who weren’t there about it later, using colorful and descriptive language. Today, that is no longer even close to good enough. Between the twin evil temptations of the iPhone’s built-in camera and Facebook (all too easily accessible through the same phone that takes pictures), I can now share the bite-by-bite experience with the world, in real time, with images and commentary. No longer content to simply go out to a nice restaurant for dinner—or cook something wonderful myself—the act of dining is now somehow less satisfactory if I haven’t been able to brag about it (or bemoan its horribleness) with non-present others. No longer is it sufficient to share a pleasant meal with the people who are actually seated around the table; now I have to involve people all over the world with the visual and critical components of the meal. The photos aren’t great, even if the food often is. I used to just eat food. My iPhone has made me a foodie, and a rude one at that.

Sashimi Sampler at Sushi Studio, Long Beach CA

This particular post is uniquely not designed to show off photos of which I’m particularly proud. In fact, I’m possibly anything but proud of the photos here, in terms of technique and artistry. But the point is not really that I took these photos (something about which I’m normally quite self-promotional and hubris-y), but that I was able to take them.

(For those of you who care about such matters, the specs for my phone(iPhone 4, model 8E200) are these: 5.0 Mpixels (2592 x 1936); 1/3.2″ back-illuminated CMOS sensor; 4:3 aspect ratio; 35 mm film camera crop factor: 7.64; Low ISO 80; 3.85 mm lens focal length; f/2.8 lens aperture; Autofocus: tap to focus.)

I’m not alone in this. Just last night I was in a fairly upscale, fairly dimly-lit celebrity-chef restaurant in San Francisco, and alarmingly bright iPhone flashes were going off at every table, every time a new (beautiful and delicious) course was brought to the table.

Delicious, melt-in-your-mouth duck breast at Michael Mina's in San Francisco

Fancy-shmancy grilled cheese sandwich and tomato bisque appetizer at Michael Mina's in San Francisco

Let me be clear, I don’t do this every time I go out. Thanks to the nature of my profession, though, I have frequent opportunities to eat in remarkable and/or relatively exotic places. Those occasions seem to be “special” enough to be shared with others. However, there’s still that whole photus-interruptus thing that niggles at the back of my conscience–but I’ve learned to ignore those conscience-niggles for some time now.

For example, I was in Japan last month, and was served a large squid who, despite having been partially sliced up, showed a number of signs of still being quite alive: its tentacles were waving about frantically, the eye visible to me was moving.

live squid on a plate

Live squid served at a restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan

The Japanese diners at my table merrily dug in without a break in the conversation, and I don’t criticize them for it, cultural norms being the relative and fluid things they tend to be. I, however, very quickly learned the limits of my appetite for culinary experimentation: If it’s trying to get away from me, then I’m probably not interested in eating it. (I should note that I am a huge fan of sashimi, which is a fancy way of presenting chunks of raw fish; however, the chunks are, while fresh, inarguably deceased. They are neither looking at me, nor trying to wiggle across the tablecloth and thence to the sea and safety, making them therefore fair game for my chopsticks.) Had I had my wits propertly about me (I was, admittedly, a little horrified at the time by the squid’s plight; I have already in a previous blog post admitted to a certain fondness for snails, and squids and common bivalves don’t seem to be that far removed from one another) I should have used my iPhone’s video capability to record a few seconds of squirmage. Opportunities for additional, more showy rudeness lost.

In any case, being presented with a living, wiggling creature who was clearly not 100% content with its status as an entrée is a remarkable and (for me) singular event, possibly appropriate for recordage. Being mindful of not offending my local colleagues, I tried to be as subtle and quick as possible in photographing the critter.

But just because a plate is particularly prettily presented, or just because a dinner is especially good, or even not particularly dead, shouldn’t give me tacit permission to withdraw from socializing with the real, flesh-and-blood people around me in order to chronicle the experience for others.

I made this pizza myself, and had to show it off on Facebook immediately, whether anyone cared or not.

Further, those Others, I should mention, may or may not be particularly interested that I’m having some yummy sushi. Oh, no one has complained yet, and everyone seems to have fallen into a social convention in which conversation and dining momentarily suspends while I (or someone else at the table) focuses our plastic slab. It may become, if it hasn’t already, part of the social rhythm of dining events.

I don’t think my qualms will stop me, though. Technology has a way of making itself insidiously essential, and the interruptive photo event is not likely to go away, any more than all the laws in the world will stop some folks from merrily chatting away on their (non-hands-free) phones as they barrel down the freeway, or failing to turn off ringers in theatres, or surreptitiously “check their email” every thirty-seven seconds during a particularly dull business presentation.

I don’t feel good about my Interruptive Photo Events; in fact I feel quite bad about them. But often I feel quite bad about a surprising number of things I do, and I’m unlikely to stop this one any time soon. At least not until the next technology leap permits new and as yet unexplored rude behavior.