Spice Up Your Dates with Technology
That night, I was torn between the flank steak served on a bed of arugula and the foraged mushroom Arborio risotto. (Are you getting hungry now?) I love risotto, and I know it's traditionally made with Arborio rice, but on this occasion I couldn't help musing out loud:
"What is Arborio rice? Is it rice from a place called Arborio? Or is some actual kind of grain?"
Less than a decade ago, couples must have had entire evenings—perhaps entire relationships—destroyed by the pain of waiting for an answer to this kind of pressing question. Your spouse thinks it's a region, but you think it's got to be an actual type of rice. Worse yet, he suggests it's a pointless question and you shouldn't care about the answer. The next thing you know, you're arguing over why he has to be such a know-it-all or why you have to devote so much time to useless information. Ultimately, your osso buco gets cold, and someone ends up sleeping on the sofa.
Was Steve Jobs thinking about all those endangered marriages when he drove Apple to create the ultimate date-night instant answer device, the iPhone? With my iPhone in hand, the Arborio dilemma was easily resolved by Wikipedia:
Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice. It is named after the town of Arborio in the Po Valley, where it is grown.
"Huh," Rob replied when I finished reading. (I've trained him to make some kind of sound of acknowledgment whenever I say something to him, even if he has no interest in what I'm saying.) Our mystery solved, we were ready to order our meal and crack open the anniversary champagne.
Our delight at diving into the soup of online knowledge turns the Web and the world into our marital playground, never more so than on date night. If you still think date night means dinner and movie, or if the very concept of date night has been lost to the challenge of leaving work or finding a babysitter, it's time to take a look at how the social Web can help you rediscover the joy (not to mention relationship-saving importance) of spending a night out with your sweetie.
"Do you want to go to Topanga?" "Not again." "Tojo?" "We get Japanese delivered all the time." "How about the new Judd Apatow movie?" "Might as well wait till it's out on video." If your date nights have gotten boxed in by routine, a date-night dashboard can help you find new options. I've customized my Google homepage to keep track of date-night possibilities. I subscribe to calendars of upcoming events in our area, updates from bloggers who review new restaurants and announcements of upcoming salsa nights. If we need inspiration for what to do when the babysitter arrives, a quick look at the dashboard can turn up the most appealing options.
"Can you shoot me that image?" Rob drags the cartoon he's just doodled onto my hard drive, and I drop it into the blog post I've just finished. We've spent the evening at one of our favorite date-night spots: It's got a great prawn curry, cozy private booths and WiFi. So if we've got a few hours worth of sitting and want to enjoy an activity that's more interactive than staring side-by-side at a movie screen, we aim for a united geek-out. We sit beside each other so we're not separated by our laptops and choose an activity we can do together: writing a blog post, making a family DVD, playing a multiplayer game or trying out a few collaborative Web applications. If you share a tech-enabled hobby, a date-night geek-out is a great way to use your computers to explore your creative connection.
Bring Along a Third (or Fourth)
I know that we did enjoy date night before we got our iPhones, but I can't remember how. An iPhone is like a date-night magnifying glass: It can enlarge your experience, sharpen light into fiery heat or refract giggle-producing distortions. We've used our iPhones to snap menus for our collection of egregious copyediting failures, to exchange sarcastic notes about the people at the next table and to tweet adoring love notes midmeal. And yes, a couple of those tweets have provoked our friends to tweet back, "Get a room!"
As I'm browsing in an aisle of our favorite bookstore, my phone vibrates. I've got a text message from Rob: "Marco!" "Polo!" I type back. After a few rounds of back-and-forth, we're reunited in the cookbook section, where we giggle and kiss. Shouting might be a more efficient navigational tool, but texting is less obnoxious and a lot more fun. Whether it's Marco Polo, online Scrabble or a trip to the arcade, a night of digitally enabled gaming is a great way to bring the play back into your relationship.
Our date nights aren't limited to our hometown—or even to nighttime. When we travel together on business, we make a point of reserving a day for the two of us to spend on our own, reconnecting as a couple. During one recent trip to San Francisco, the first item on our agenda was to find a lunch spot that would satisfy our craving for Mexican food. Stepping out of our hotel room, we whipped out our iPhones and strolled slowly down the street while we each did a search for recommended Mexican meals nearby. Looking down at my screen, I navigated to a highly recommended hole-in-the-wall while Rob held onto my elbow so I wouldn't trip or bump into someone. Fifteen minutes later, we were eating the best tamales of our lives and settling into the bliss of a day uninterrupted by kids or work. Forget gazing into each other's eyes (at least for a few minutes): Looking down at your iPhone or PDA can help you find an outstanding meal or attraction that will turn a day out into a lasting memory.
After our Mexican lunch in San Francisco, we decided to walk over to the Castro, but it was a good distance and we wanted our walk to cover an interesting route. Once again, our iPhones saved the day. With Yelp.com—which maps nearby restaurants, stores and attractions— we were easily able to figure out which street would have the most boutiques of interest to browse as we meandered toward the Castro. Once we'd chosen our route, we actually (gasp!) put our iPhones away so that we could stroll hand-in-hand and take in the sights. And a good thing we actually looked up or we would have missed the ice cream shop with the sandwich board advertising flavors like salted caramel, honey lavender and balsamic strawberry. It was only after we were happily enjoying our cones that we noticed the proud display of magazine articles that (deservedly!) praised the Bi-Rite Creamery as one of America's 10 best ice cream shops.
Whether you're looking for an evening that busts you out of a longtime rut or for a playful night out with a new beau, your tech toolbox can set you up for a great date. Just be sure to put that phone away when it's time for your good-night kiss.
Alexandra Samuel, PhD, is the director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the principal of Social Signal, a social media agency that has launched more than 30 online communities. The mother of two young kids, Alex blogs about how to make technology a meaningful part of your life, work and world. Follow her on Twitter.