After-Dinner Links

It used to be that having drinks after dinner was a sign of something substantive. First dates that led to after-dinner drinks signified something promising; group dinners that moved the conversation to a bar signified a good time; a professional dinner meeting that started and ended with martinis, a success.

But the drink is no longer the only signifier of substance, I’m finding. It’s post-dinner links that are really indicative of substance.

I’m in San Francisco judging the Communication Arts Awards, and as such, the jury is being treated to big dinners each night. These kinds of dinners — full of bright people with lots of opinions and ideas — are the very ones that end in a list of links the next day. Last night’s dinner, full of designers from both coasts, was followed by an emailed list that included the following: Picco Restaurant, A 16, Otto Restaurant, Pauline’s Restaurant, Designing for People, and The Design of Everyday Things.

What’s notable about the post-dinner links is that they’re somewhat unself-conscious and non-persuasive in tone. (Note the complete lack of discernible order to the list above; it’s chronological, in fact.) But because people at dinner are focused on, well, having dinner, the notes for the lists are quickly tracked in phones or sketchbooks. The result: the transcription the next day is just that — a record. It doesn’t matter if the list is alphabetical or messy.

And the frequency and formality of the lists is dictated by the relationship of people around the table. Close friends won’t bother with long emails with explanatory notes; new acquaintances may polish the transcription up a bit before forwarding on. But either way, what happened this week isn’t rare. Just about every lunch or dinner that I’m at these days has a similar follow-up email the next morning.

It strikes me that it may be time for technology to step in to make the passing of these lists a bit easier, but that may be overkill. Links, maps, references, lists, more opinions, and contacts will continue to pass from one person to the next. And this, not the drinks, is today’s sign, somehow, that good stuff happened and that the conversation should continue. Just not necessarily over drinks.