I would likely be considered reactionary if I flat out said that personal electronic gadgets are turning us (Americans, anyway) into a society of perpetually distracted, inattentive douchebags. I am just as guilty of this as the next guy, though lately I have been trying to work on it.
My phone is often nearby during gaming sessions. I keep it silenced; it doesn't even vibrate. Sometimes the missus needs to send me a text or email during the game. She has had to call once or twice, though she seldom does. (She respects my game time, and I appreciate that infinitely) If I have to talk to her, I take the call in the other room. Sometimes, if the party is split, or I'm playing a non-combatant in a game where everyone else gets a half dozen or more attacks per round, I will browse Advanced Book Exchange for relevant gaming material to order. (A RIFTS supplement, the core rules to the edition of Shadowrun we might be switching to, etc.)I am always listening to the game, however, (I usually play a support character and I need to know who needs healed/doors hacked for them/whatever next round when I get my measly one or two actions) and I certainly don't bother the other players by sticking my phone in their face or showing them that I just ordered the book we need for super cheap-o.
We have players who have laptops. We have players who take smoke and pee breaks. We have a group dinner break (because M is a fantastic host and feeds our unruly lot!) during which we generally do not continue the game. (Though we frequently plot and scheme...or not.) Generally, de-focusing happens, but the group has a sort of rhythm whereby we drift back together and crack out a couple more hours of productive (?) gaming.
We have recently admitted two new players into the game, several months after the "core" of the group finally stabilized after losing the members who could no longer regularly commit. One of the new players has an ipad (it's not actually an ipad, it's something ipad-like) that he brings to the gaming sessions. It annoys the shit out of me.
Now, the reason I have not yet made my displeasure known directly is because I figured that I didn't have room to talk, since I sometimes have my phone out to order books. But... my phone generally doesn't distract. The new guy is constantly showing those photo-shopped demotivational posters (you know what I'm talking about if you have spent any time on the internet, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and don't look it up. Seriously.) Sometimes he plays Youtube videos. He often uses them to start side conversations. Generally I gently redirect, asking if he can maybe save it until after the combat or until the dinner break. I guess the only reason I feel entitled to be irritated is that my phone is totally silent and doesn't involve my seeking anyone's attention. I am also the not the only player who has expressed displeasure. The GM and host sent out a kind email reminding everyone to keep focused.
I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt. He probably doesn't realize how distracting it is. His old group (in another state, I believe) might have had different chemistry/etiquette. I'm sure it will work itself out one way or the other.
I might also mention that the other new player had his phone and checked it once or twice, but I found the more recent addition to the group to be a bit smoother in terms of integration into the flow of the game and the social dynamic.
Of course, I can be a cagey, xenophobic jerk sometimes, so maybe this is just my natural charm at work.
What about you, dear friends? What is the role of gadgetry in your gaming group? What is your group's tolerance for gizmos and for distraction in general? (Food breaks, smoking, using the little gamers' room, etc?)
I think next session I'm going to leave my phone in the bag and only check it during dinner break. (As I said before, we don't game during din-din.)