Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

CP: Seriously, is there any difference between us and Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge or Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener?

RN: You mean, the two of us, personally? If so, dibs on Bartleby.

CP: Just as those 19th-century characters lean over their ledger books, we are everywhere hunched over our mobile devices, equally bitter and detached from humanity.

RN: Well, I don't know about bitter.

CP: Detached, though. When was the last time you approached or spoke with a human being who was interacting with his or her phone? Not at the gym, not at the airport, not nowhere. They are emitting a giant "stay away" vibe, right?

RN: The universality of the smartphone is ironically tossing a big wet rag on the art of conversation. Last night at Burch Steak and Pizza Bar, I watched as most of a table of six spent more time bathed in iPhone glow rather than in face-to-face contact.

CP: At least when I am dining out with you, I have the good manners to hold my phone unobtrusively, beneath the table. That'll be made more difficult when I upgrade to the much bigger tablet.

RN: Although I occasionally borrow my hubby's Kindle, I remain iPad-free. I covet one, but then the practical ex-Lutheran within chimes in and asks, isn't my laptop enough?

CP: Have you not seen "The Laptop Is Never Enough"? It's a cautionary tale about a man who believed as you do, only to see his life shattered by oversimplification. The poor soul hardly needed any cables or accessories.

RN: The plug-ins are the biggest drag in all of this. A weeklong trip can mean that my suitcase will be packed with enough wires — for my phone, my MacBook, my iPod, my camera — for the TSA to think I'm an electrician. I usually check out of my hotel leaving one of them plugged in somewhere in my room. Great.

CP: I know. "Have you got your charger?" enters the lexicon, right next to "I'm on low battery" and "What is Bruce Jenner doing to his Adam's apple?" I'm just glad Henry David Thoreau isn't alive to see this.

RN: Please. He'd be glued to his e-reader, too.

CP: Perhaps. As he wrote, so beautifully, "Facebook is but the stream I go a-fishing in."

E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib