Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sharing Your Dinner: Food and social media

Some New York restaurants are banning diners from taking photos of plates of food and from using flash photography. Among the reasons for instituting this ban are the distractions caused to other diners from flashes and the fact that the photos may not do justice to the chef's grand creations. The assumption with the latter is that the photos will, within a flash of flash, be plastered over social media: "foodstagramming" with Instagram.

There are other reasons why a diner should be less than rapid in whipping out the phone and snapping away. The diner who, for example, insists on getting up from the table and framing the shot is likely to look like a complete berk, but is there a wider issue we need to consider? That berkdom has taken hold on a universal scale. Why is there such a need to take photos of every damn thing we encounter?

In social media land, photomania is all part of a newly discovered human trait of sharing. It is sharing of the remote variety, not just because of the mode of communication but also because it doesn't involve sharing anything of any value. Sharing, caring social networkers will happily share a photo of a plate of steak and chips, but what else would they share? How about their home? Their wife? Their oxen? Or their neighbour's oxen? Or their well-endowed bank account? Social networking is sharing-lite, sharing that assuages conscience for otherwise not sharing, sharing for the typically and normally selfish, which is quite understandable. I mean, I'm not about to share my bank account with anyone else, even if it were well-endowed.

Social media have tapped into the latent, dormant human characteristic of displaying sociability via sharing. They are a get-out clause for the hoggish and offer a hands-off amelioration for selfishness, but by the same token they are equatable to other definitions of selfishness - egotism and narcissism. Or just plain and simple showing-off and braggadocio. Which brings us to food.

"Oh look, here I am in a Michelin-starred restaurant and this is the plate of minimalist, vastly overpriced, nouveau nosh that has set me back 70 quid." Even such self-deprecation cannot disguise the fact of the Michelin-starred restaurant. I'm here; you're not. Lol. Of course, it would be unlikely that the caring, sharing foodstagrammer would stoop to self-deprecation, because this would undermine one of the principal reasons for foodstagramming. The showing-off.

Not all of it is. Some of it is even justifiable, though to be honest, I can't think of a terribly good justification, other, I suppose, than it possibly being good publicity for the restaurant. But if it is good publicity, and not all restaurant owners are as against photography as some in New York, then how about they give a discount on the bill? Why should I, you or anyone potentially increase a restaurant's custom without getting something by way of return?

There is, though, the other side of all this foodstagramming. The downside side. "Oh look, here I am in Restaurant X with this pile of shit that they reckon is going to cost me 20 quid. They can reckon it, but I ain't paying. Would you?" Cue comments such as "no bloody fear" plus several recommendations and curious likes of the unliked. Oh, and some sharing.

And what of the potential for malevolence? The strategically placed dog turd next to the sausage, for instance. "If you don't give me a free meal, this goes straight to Trip Advisor, sucker." This would be an extreme case, I'd grant you, but there are those who might well contemplate scraping up the remains of Fido's dinner from the street and placing it by the rasher of bacon.

Scams that tourists try on in Mallorca's restaurants and bars are legendary. There really ought to be a manual that the tourism ministry compiles and hands out to all owners, just in case they haven't fallen foul of one of the many. And now, foodstagramming can be added to the manual. For every genuinely altruistic sharer of pork wrapped in cabbage, for every egotistical, five-starrer sharer with a serving of gold-encrusted lobster with hoopoe vomit sauce infused with nitroglycerin, there will be the snidey, pikey bill-non-payer who comes into an establishment with a bag of tricks with which to pull a trick and impregnate a potato with it.

Sharing? Don't just ban photos in bars and restaurants. Ban the phones.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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