Social Discomfort at Unanswered Questions

It happened twice last week: the urge to Google in a social setting.

The first time was a business dinner, and the conversation centered on travel bucket lists. As a group, we were stumped on the name of a temple in Hangzhou, China. The gentleman seated next to me whispered, “I could take out my device. I could take out my device….” His smartphone was a temptress in his pocket that he refused to give in to because he thought it bad manners.

The second time was a family dinner at a restaurant, and we were discussing the definition of sunrise. Is it when the smallest bit of sun first appears? Or when the sky is fully bright? Or when the entire sun is visible above the horizon? My teenage son reached for his iPhone. “I could get the answer in twenty seconds,” he said. I scowled in response. Next to us, a young couple sat in silence, each with an elbow on the table (which my mother would bristle at) to hold their respective phones six inches in front of their faces (which I bristled at).

Both times, there was a sense that it would be “wrong” to do a quick search in the middle of a conversation. In the first case, my companion resisted. In the second case, I caved. (By the way, sunrise occurs when the first sliver of sun is visible on a flat horizon…in case it ever comes up when you’re at a restaurant.)

The bottom line, I think, is that we’ve become so accustomed to having infinite information at our fingertips, that it’s uncomfortable for a question to remain unanswered. Which reminds me that I also engaged in at least one phone conversation last week in which a question was posed, and someone said, “Hold on, let’s see what Google says.” (Sound of typing in the background.…)

Googling during a social situation: Poor etiquette or in service of the conversation?


  1. Interesting question! Personally I find it okay to use google for the purpose of finding an answer. Before smart phones we used to get the encyclopedia out to find answers when we were at home. Then we couldn’t wait either to have our question answered.

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