The Laptop Who Came to Dinner

Perhaps it’s true that the laptop’s presence at the dinner party has made New Yorkers in particular—always famous for knowing it all—a little insufferable. “We’re used to immediate answers now,” Ms. Henderson said. “When I was in college, the Internet had like five things on it. Nobody used it to resolve little disputes with friends. You’d just go home thinking you were right and the other person was wrong. Now we don’t mind stopping everything to find out who’s right!”

And what of personal digital assistants? “I look shit up on my Treo to solve disputes while at Barbuto,” e-mailed a 30-something writer living in Chelsea. “Does not make me popular.” (“Sent from my Goodlink Wireless Handheld,” ended the message, as if to gloat. “Sender is not at his desk. He’s out living!”) Somehow, though, the pervasive Treos and Blackberries seem far ruder than the laptops at dinner. Hosts may barely notice if you spend 20 minutes buried in Wikipedia during the appetizer course. But take out your Treo and text another human, and you’ll get weird looks. You’re allowed to interact with the laptop because it’s there (“my Precious,” is what one television writer calls it, pace Lord of the Rings, caressing his Mac’s titanium contours). But texting people who aren’t in the room is rude.

With a laptop, everyone assumes it’s for the benefit of the group. Hey, you’re about to show them a totally hilarious YouTube sendup by three white rappers in Vermont!

And while we may be ADD-addled know-it-alls, we’re also crammed in rather tightly in this city, and quite often the laptop isn’t so much invited to dinner as it “just happens to sit five feet from the dining room table,” as Ms. Luria lamented. “I mean, if we had an office, nobody would leave the room to go find it. It makes me think I should just put it away when people come over.”

Ms. Henderson agreed, though she was unperturbed by any larger social implications. “The laptop is always in the same room as dinner,” she said. “There’s no physical space between the person looking something up and the rest of the group. I don’t even blink when someone opens it at my house.”