In the 1984 film, “The Lonely Guy”, Steve Martin enters a bustling restaurant and asks for a table. “For how many?” asks the captain, “I’m alone,” he replies, “Alone?” — and suddenly the entire restaurant pauses and looks at him. After a prolonged silence the captain says, “Follow me, sir,” and as Steve Martin walks down the first step, a spotlight falls on him and stays on him as the captain ushers him to the centre of the restaurant. (Watch here)
There is a great case that can be made on why eating should be a social activity — I made one, here.
But let’s focus on eating.
If you step into living rooms today, you will no longer be surprised at the conspicuous absence of dinner tables. Television is now the dining table around which the family gathers for food. Before television and the dining table, it was fire, around which humanity formed.
Blame it on the dining table to have not adapted to the modern man’s need and robbing the sound and drama of a meal. But instead of silence, the noise is increasing-around our food.
S/N is an engineering term that is a measure between the signal to noise. Signal is used to convey data. There are also signals that are random, unwanted and carry no useful information which create noise.
Social media is value signalling at it’s best and eating is suffering the most. Before one indulges in the act of eating, we are swept away by the desire to signal. So are others and hence the noise.
Food on the table.
Click. Click. Click. Filter. Double filter. Foodie quote. Hashtag nofilter. Send.
Ready to eat? Just a minute.
Likes. hearts. love. wow — they are all coming.
In a world of value signalling, our satisfaction is based on acknowledgement from others. Ironically, we also overestimate the extent to which our actions are noted by others. We are lone wolves seeking comfort of the herds.
Too many signals, too much of noise.
May I suggest one thing?
Practice eating alone.
No screens. No camera. No people. You and the bowl of ramen in front of you. Sip a bit, slurp a bit and don’t worry about making all kinds of sounds while doing so. Forget being a connoisseur. Forget being a foodie. Eat.
Eat at your own pace. Eat like a child. Take a bite of the cookie and look up at the sky.
Once you have done that take it to the next level and eat alone in a restaurant. Feeling adventurous? Order a fancy-smancy course meal, too.
Take a book, maybe, but a real one with pages you can hold and flip — to pass time in between the order. Look at people, observe the ebb and flow of the place, table, napkins and everything.
Absorb the menu, there is no hurry, a menu can tell you so much about the place. Do not order. Place your request with the waiter. Talk to them like a person. They are not Alexa. Thank them like you mean it.
Once the food arrives you already know what to do.
People will definitely look at you like your date ditched you or that you do not have friends. Don’t be anxious. Remember, it’s all noise.
Researchers inspired by “The Lonely Guy,” have devised a name for the anxiety called as the Spotlight Effect.
Once you have relearnt the way of the food, teach it to your friends and start going out together and observe the transformation.
Eat alone. You will start paying attention. Attention to things and people.
And when you see a person sitting alone next time, you have every reason to feel happy and envious; for that person is having a meaningful experience. They might even look at you and tip the hat, in return of your appreciation.
It is surprising how social, eating alone, can make you.