Advisor: The case against iPhones in the bedroom


Illustration by Rob Beschizza

When Brian first brought his iPhone home, it was like he'd taken a mistress. All day, all night, he fondled its touchscreen and gawked at its shiny face. He couldn't keep his eyes off of it for more than five minutes at a time. Like a good Japanese girlfriend, I let him get the lust out of his system instead of trying to stop the inevitable. I pretended not to care while he lay in bed smoothing his finger across the unlock bar, and sat stoically at the other end of the dinner table as he and the iPhone whispered sweet nothings to each other.

I get it. It's exciting to be in love with something new. But after several months of this, I started to question whether something was being lost because of my boyfriend's intense iPhone infatuation. Did we still have stuff to talk about other than new apps and ATT's shitty cell phone signal in our neighborhood? Was I just hating because I subconsciously want an iPhone, too? After he got over their initial honeymoon phase, we decided to lay down some ground rules. It took nearly two years to figure out the right balance, but I think we've finally got it down. 

Rule #1: It's not romantic to have an iPhone in the bedroom. Brian once said that every time he goes online, he feels like he's meeting a bunch of friends. Well, I don't want a bunch of friends in our bed. He tried to use the "my phone is my alarm clock" excuse, but it was worth investing $10 in a cheap alternative at Walgreens not to have a phone in the bedroom, especially one that commands so much attention.

Rule #2: It's not cool to invite the iPhone over for dinner every night. This one's a bit tricky, because as much as I despise sitting at a table with someone who is tinkering with his phone the entire time, anything longer than a half hour without it makes Brian antsy. It's a delicate balance. I usually let a short half-minute peek slide every now and then, so he can scratch what itches. 

I don't mean to sound like a luddite. I also like to send text messages and check email during the random intervals in my life. I just think that for a relationship to work, we can't forget to make real human connections, especially in bed or over a good meal. 

Advisor is a new weekly column about how to juggle technology, relationships, and common sense. Got a story to tell? Email it to mango [at] tokyomango [dot] com.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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43 Responses to Advisor: The case against iPhones in the bedroom

  1. caldrax says:

    This seems, now, so obvious, yet in the heat of the moment when I got my iPhone (in april), I had the same argument with my (now ex) girlfriend. I should have agreed to these terms, but I stubbornly argued and acted like a pig. I wish I had read this then, to have another sensible human drill it into my head so I would get it. I don’t think that this alone killed the relationship but it was certainly one of the straws…

  2. Eicos says:

    Agreed, and then some. My girlfriend and I, both iPhone users, have a mutual understanding that when we’re at dinner, the phone doesn’t come out of the pocket for non-urgent matters. If one of us forgets, a reach across the table to the “standby” button serves as a playful reminder. The same goes for the bed, only moreso.

    These rules, agreed upon by both of us, help enhance the notion that our time together is precious, and best enjoyed without incessant interruption from the outside world. Then again, it’s all very easy when you live apart. It’ll be interesting to see how these habits change once we move in together next month.

  3. Enochrewt says:

    anything longer than a half hour without it makes Brian antsy.

    Wha? If that’s the case, it’s time for an intervention. Or at least a strong backhand to the temple while shouting “Tighten up, Sally!”

    Gadgets should be enhancers of real life, not a requirement to live it. For example: you can go out into the sun without sunglasses, but it’s nicer when you have a pair to put on. No one refuses to go outside without sunglasses. That’s my opinion at least.

  4. HeatherB says:

    I have an iPhone and am not in love with it. As a matter of fact, when I go out it’s my husband who asks to see it to check his email. I for one don’t really care. I honestly use it more as an alarm clock. Damn expensive alarm clock.

  5. Ito Kagehisa says:

    I sometimes refuse to go outside without sunglasses.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lisa, we all want to be in bed with you. Ditch the boyfriend and keep the iPhone.

  7. maxoid says:

    iphone or no, i know many people who cannot stop texting. in any given situation, they are having half a dozen conversations with people via SMS. going on a date, seeing a movie, at a bar with friends, pulling shots at their barista job. it’s a problem only exacerbated by smartphones, no doubt.

  8. Bugs says:

    Surely this is just common good manners, applying to all phones and not just smartphones? The people who are actually spending time with me get priority over those who’ve simply pressed a button to demand my attention.

    anything longer than a half hour without it makes Brian antsy

  9. veronica says:

    “Girlfriend, I am so there with you. I solved the problem by taking a lover of my own — the iPhones can come out once the check has been paid at dinner, and not a moment before (unless he wants an earful from me).”

  10. circa86 says:

    Fantastic article Lisa. I kind of want to see a little short film based off of this article actually. Gizmodo should get to work on that.

    . . .”But Brian, iPhone would enjoy spending more quality time with you. . ”

    “No, iPhone, this is just not the ti. . .”

    “Oh, look another new email, hope it isn’t important. . .”

    “I will check it in the morni. . .”

    “It seems I am facing 9 degrees due North, interesting . . .”

    “. . . . . . . . . ”

    (Grabs iPhone giggling like a schoolgirl, while significant other looks on unamused)

  11. bbonyx says:

    Wow. Cute Asian GF across the table from him or on the other side of the bed and he’d rather tinker with a Jobsian gadget?
    You need a serious priority rearrangement there, Bri.

    /Going back to searching for new Sayaka Ando and Yukie Kawamura pics until my next Asian GF comes along

  12. Finchypoo says:

    “Like a good Japanese girlfriend”

    Wait wtf is that? is there something inherently different about a Japanese girlfriend? There is some sort of stereotype about the elusive “Japanese girlfriend” yet I’ve never actually heard what that stereotype is. I even know people who specifically want a Japanese girlfriend but can’t for the life of them tell if someone is japanese. I always passed it off as an delusion one has from watching too much anime that it is an accurate representation of japanese women.

    It’s very strange to hear a woman treat it like something more than an odd obsession with asian women, which is usually what it seems to be.

  13. techdeviant says:

    I am usually the one constantly playing with my G1, but this put a little perspective on how sad/annoyed my bf gets when I am constantly playing with my phone instead of paying attention to him (at mealtime, especially).

  14. boo says:

    Perhaps this is generational.

    If you are with a person, they come before the rest of the universe, including all the ones lined up from here to the horizon waiting on your cellphone.

    I am amazed by the number of people who tolerate “I just have to get this” from partners/friends/guests in public places.

    No, actually, you don’t ‘have’ to get this. It can wait the half hour or more that you are spending with your friend/partner/etc.

  15. superguera says:

    Being courteous to your companion, at the dinner table or elsewhere, does not make you a Luddite. However, not doing so (as Caldrax points out) might leave more people without partners.

  16. Dave says:

    Can we get some moderation in here to get rid of all the Asian GF BS, especially the “/Going back to searching for new Sayaka Ando and Yukie Kawamura pics until my next Asian GF comes along.”

    I mean…ick!

    And Lisa, ditto with all the folks saying the gadget should be an accessory to life, not the reason for it…I honestly don’t understand why you are so patient about this. Frankly, I think it is absurd that you wouldn’t have picked the damn thing up and thrown it out the window by now. At the dinner table? In BED? WTF.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Finchypoo, that’s because women are better than men, and Asian-American women are the best.

    What? It’s the truth, you know. They are genetically superior. Somebody had to be. I’m sure it’s more a burden than a gift.

  18. oohShiny says:

    I consider it to be one of the most obnoxious things I can think of to even take your phone out during dinner, let alone texting people at the table, or (especially) taking a call. If you’d rather be on the phone than having dinner with me, then fine: you don’t have to come out to dinner with me. But if you want to stay in my good books, you can turn off your phone. If you can shut it off for a movie, you can shut it off for dinner with me, and that’s all.

  19. Yah, iPhone at the table is a no-no, unless you’re doing taxes. Dinner time is for eating.

    As far as the bedroom, I let my wife play Risk on the iPhone, and make sure it doesn’t make any noise. I like to surf in the morning before getting out of bed!

  20. drscience says:

    I definitely second (third? nth?) the dinner-time rule. Maybe just because I never really had a consistent sit-down dinner routine growing up and am now over-compensating.

  21. skramble says:

    any dude who’d rather fiddle with his iphone than mess around with Lisa Katayama is a fool.

  22. Raian says:

    From the vantage point of my belfry, it seem perfectly reasonable that he uses his iphone in bed at the end of the night… If he sat their with the lamp on reading a book, and subsequently said that every time he engaged with the characters of the novel he feels like he is with old friends– it would be no reason to build up a bubble of malice inside of you and write a passive aggressive article to beat the man into a state of apathy. The second situation could go either way…. but if he pulled out a newspaper after dinner would you be so resentful?

    Anyway it sounds to me like there is more going on (or not going on) than is being let it up.

  23. Derek says:

    My advice for Lisa: Find a guy who is more interested in you than his iPhone.

  24. editjunk says:

    “These rules, agreed upon by both of us, help enhance the notion that our time together is precious, and best enjoyed without incessant interruption from the outside world. Then again, it’s all very easy when you live apart. It’ll be interesting to see how these habits change once we move in together next month.”

    Eicos, are you for real? Step back for two minutes & reread your post. If you really conceive of your life in these terms then you need a big dose of reality & now.

    Holy Cow!

  25. Bigbadbikernerd says:

    You chose to date an editor at Gizmodo. You should know his gadget tendencies (as well as his responsibilities.)

  26. Sam says:

    Wowsers. I consider myself a little bit of a net addict and a technophile (and a male). I got a new iphone a week ago (my first decent phone in years) and despite jailbreaking it and tinkering with everything I can get my grubby mits on, I still dont use it in the bedroom with my partner present.

    Those shouldn’t be ground rules. Its just common sense in a social situation. He doesn’t make you wait until he’s finished an msn/aim/whatever conversation with a friend before he lets you talk to him, does he?

  27. strider_mt2k says:

    I’ve always been a total tech head, but even I know when to put the toys away.

    We celebrated 19 years together this year, and it’s partially because I know to pay attention to my woman. -work or no.

    Besides, she EASILY watches enough junk on TV to give me ample fiddling time.

  28. Rob Beschizza says:

    I’m having fun deleting weird autistic-spectrum misogynistic rants from the pending comment queue.

  29. alex says:

    just google; Scrambler device for GSM phones 😉

  30. alex says:

    sorry i mean: jammer gsm 😀
    and yes i agree no pc or smartphone in the bedroom

  31. Ken S says:

    I surf the web on my ifone whilemy wife is brushing her teeth, washing her face, etc. It goes down once she comes to bed – just being polite. At times though, I honestly think me and my phone are getting closer what the humans in Wall-E did – walk around, looking at their screens, and not noticing the real world around ’em….

  32. dculberson says:

    Rob, were those wrong? Should I not have posted them?

  33. Eicos says:

    #24, you’re right, I’m kidding. My girlfriend and I compete to see who can most obnoxiously place electronic interactions above personal ones. Ha! You discovered my clever ruse, you wag.

  34. Di Sherman says:

    I think the obvious solution is to buy your partner an iPhone, too! Then you can both fondle and fidget the night away… in the bedroom!

  35. Crashproof says:

    I can see answering a phone if it rings, perhaps. But messing with it, texting people, tweeting, placing a call or whatever… no. Not if there is someone/something physically present who you should be paying attention to.

    Whether it’s a girlfriend or your buddies or the library assistant who just decided NOT to offer to renew the stuff that’s going to be due tomorrow because you weren’t listening.

    Also, placing phone calls while in a restroom? Tacky.

  36. Jon says:

    In Brian’s defense, he has a tough job, that requires 24/7 checking in. Gizmodo is my first stop for tech news because of the sacrifices of Brian and the other bloggers. Giz always has the tech news I care about first and it’s because Blam is always “on”. I feel it would be rude if he were normal job Joe Schmoe iphone addict, but it is his job to be connected and to report fast and first. There is no reason to take it to bed with you though Blam. Your going to sleep, etc..I appreciate the sacrifice Blam makes to keep the world informed. It’s is important to some of us, and he acknowledges that. my .02..

  37. kleinishere says:

    Great article. I really like the subject matter of the column and look forward to more articles like this. I know even older adults, outside of what I would consider our tech generation, have these exact same problems with iPhones. It really isn’t exclusive just to the younger crowd.

  38. things says:

    mmm, I have the same issue with my girlfriend. She claims not to mind, but I feel very self conscious whilst ipod touching in bed, so I just check my email when she slips out to the bathroom or has fallen asleep (I should be able to be entertained during insomnia).

    We’ve agreed I don’t have a problem with it because sometimes she’ll steal it out of my pocket and hold on to it until I notice it’s gone, but I almost never even notice!

  39. Lupus_Yonderboy says:

    Lisa-great article. Good to see it from the other side of the fence. As long as you have decent (non-draconian) ground rules that you both agree on and abide by, it all seems sensible. I can get behind the “no gadgets in the bedroom” rule (it’s one that I have myself-unless you live in a studio apartment, you should have a separate space that you can dedicate to sleeping/other interesting activities with your partner and not to being reachable at the expense of everything else-I wouldn’t even have a phone in my bedroom, if I was still the kind of person who had a home phone). I can also get behind the “no gadgets at dinner” rule…sometimes. If it’s a special occasion, yes. If we’re just stopping for a sandwich while we’re running around the City, not so much. If we’re having dinner with friends, no phone. If I made Chili and we’re eating it while watching a movie, I figure that I can check my email every once in a while.

  40. Finchypoo says:

    thank you Anonymous, for a completely stupid reply to my post :-/ I guess its to be expected due to the subject matter.

  41. fungusbutt says:

    When I shared your story with Kabir (bf), he admitted that the other night, he took out his iphone when I fell asleep and played with it under the covers. Would that make it more like a secret affair?

  42. Allison says:

    Lisa, I read your column and I read his. I’m being simplistic because I don’t know either of you, but that makes it easier.

    I have two words: Dump him.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Finchypoo, I’d rather be stupid than tedious. Your politically correct posturing is insufferably boring; personally, I can think of a dozen interpretations of what Lisa said but you chose the one that let you display pretentious moral outrage.

    Green is prettier than pink, creme brulee tastes better than sewage, German cars are better than American ones, and Japanese-American girls are the best. Deal with it, or post your own preferences, but don’t try to tell me I’m a bad person because I prefer some groups of humans to other groups. I ain’t opressin’ nobody, fool, I’m just likin’ what I like.

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