The Laptop Who Came to Dinner

Eleanna, a 27-year-old artist who lives in Williamsburg, was at a dinner party at her friend Matt’s house the other night when an extra guest suddenly appeared. “We were sitting around eating appetizers and drinking wine,” Eleanna said. “Then we somehow started having an argument about yams and sweet potatoes. As in, ‘Is a yam a sweet potato?’ And Matt was like, ‘That’s it, I’m going online.’ So we all crowded around his computer and learned that yams were not sweet potatoes. This was like, the evening’s entertainment.” Once the laptop was out, there was no extinguishing its cold LCD glare. “I think we started arguing about what to play next on iTunes after that,” Eleanna said.

Somewhere between Facebook and YouTube, the notebook computer became so essential to our lives that we began inviting it to dinner. It came quietly, ingratiating itself into the social ritual with such ease that we barely noticed. Until one night, halfway through the main course, seven dinner companions were suddenly crowded around our unassuming little MacBook watching “Dick in a Box.” What had happened? Once merely a guest, Mr. Laptop had become the guest: the know-it-all who could produce, in an instant, any funny thing that another attendee had read or seen in the previous week, saving that person the trouble of actually explaining it. Not to mention settling pressing intellectual disputes such as, “Who was the bassist in Jem and the Holograms?”

“The laptop is always good for 80’s questions,” noted Michael, 29, a magazine editor living in Chelsea who e-mailed that computers attend his friends’ dinner parties “ALL THE TIME. We often use it to look people up on MySpace and Friendster,” he said. “Like, my friend will say, ‘I met this guy.’ And we’re like, ‘What does he look like?’ And then we all Google him.”

“A lot of times it’s IMDb,” said John Collins, 37, a theater director who lives on the Lower East Side. “You’re trying to figure out who’s the actor in some movie. It’s also replacing wallet photographs. Now people just take out their computer and start a full slide show!”

“One of my friends will be like, ‘So-and-so was on season two of 24, and I say ‘No, she was on season one, I watched every episode,’ so then we look it up to solve the dispute,” said Taja-Nia Henderson, a young lawyer who lives in Brooklyn. “It’s always something ridiculously random.”

‘A One-Upping Thing’

Most of us share intimate relationships with our computers. They’ve become our TV sets, our banks, our photo albums, our encyclopedias, our shopping malls. They make us laugh, and we find them fascinating, just like a good friend. To many of us, the fact that we bring them to dinner is barely worth mentioning.

And yet surely when the laptop comes to dinner, a certain sociability quotient is lost. Like the great democratic equalizer it is, the Internet ensures that you, the party guest, don’t actually have to be funny, you just have to have seen something funny. That you are merely the vehicle for this humor matters little, because the end result is the same: Everyone laughs! As a dinner guest, the laptop is very gracious about deflecting credit onto the person who invited it to the table. Which is, perhaps, why it keeps getting invited back.

Dana Luria, 27, an internship coordinator who lives with her husband, a doctor, on what she calls the “Upper Upper Upper East Side,” said that at her dinner parties, it’s become all YouTube, all the time. “There was definitely the Obama Girl at two or three different dinner parties,” Ms. Luria said. “And then that presidential dinner when Colbert made fun of the president. You know, silly political stuff. I don’t have a job where I’m sitting at a computer all day, so I’ve never seen most of it. But my husband reads Chowhound and Gothamist and all that; he’s always finding things online and showing them to our friends. And then they show him stuff. It becomes sort of a one-upping thing.”

The Laptop Who Came to Dinner