Life, unplugged

Willing to surrender your Blackberry or iPhone for an hour or two? You’d be surprised at how much you could get done.

Sometimes the urge to be connected is actually a barrier to staying connected.

ATLANTA — Willing to surrender your Blackberry or iPhone for an hour or two? You’d be surprised at how much you could get done.

Faye Naruke and Jennifer Proctor caught up on the past five years of their friendship. Barry and Vicki Flink got reacquainted after 36 years of marriage.

As technology has become both an indispensable and irritating part of our lives, our cellphones and PDAs have practically become another family member. But for sleeping and showering, there would barely be time to recharge our communication devices so that we can keep texting, talking and Tweeting.

Wednesday nights in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighbourhood offer a solution, Neo: Unplugged. The experience at Neo, the restaurant housed at The Mansion on Peachtree: A Rosewood Hotel and Residence, requires diners to relinquish their phones and PDAs to the maitre’d.

The premise is that the very thing that keeps us in constant connection is keeping us disconnected from what is really important: our friends, our significant others, our lives.

Beth Allen, director of sales and marketing for The Mansion, said the goal of the evening is a one-of-a-kind experience for guests.

“The team … was talking one day and some of them were complaining about how they could never tear themselves away from work, how significant others are always checking their phones during meals, how there’s never an opportunity to just relax and unplug,” Allen said. “And then, it came to them: Why not have a night like this in the restaurant? The idea grew from there.”

The sentiment is one shared by customers and other restaurant owners alike. Dining rooms from Tazza in New York to Cole Valley Cafe in San Francisco have a no cellphone policy, and many others ask diners to use proper cellphone etiquette. In 2006, a New York city councilman even proposed a ban on cellphones in white-linen restaurants.

When Proctor invited Naruke to Neo, she thought it was a great idea.

“I left my phone in the car on purpose,” Naruke said. “We can’t stop talking.”

After the shock of not being able to check email or respond to text messages between sips of wine or bites of food, the familiar habits of sharing a meal return.

Because she wasn’t staring at her phone, Vicki Flink could admire the view from her window seat of a tranquil English garden, with black-eyed susans, fern-filled urns and towering topiaries. And she could chat with her husband without her phone constantly interrupting her.

That no one else’s phone around her was ringing was a nice change, too, she said.

“The phones go off all the time,” Vicki Flink said. “When you’re always hearing somebody else’s conversation, you’re trying not to listen, but it’s like it’s encroaching on my evening!”

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