Thursday, February 21

Electronics at the Dinner Table

My friend @FamilyFoodie is an amazing food blogger ... I love her premise that #SundaySupper is a chance for the family to unite and bond and discuss.  I thought of her multiple times throughout the day this past Sunday as I had a few #SundaySupper moments of my own.

First of all, we went out to lunch on Sunday which is something I don't normally do.  I'm not a "brunch" person and I kind of like eating lunch at home.  But we were running around and didn't have a lot of time, so we popped into a chain restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat.  It was actually pretty good and it was nice to sit together and talk for a few minutes.  As soon as we sat down, though, I noticed an electronic device sitting at the table that was just screaming to be picked up.

It was from a company called "Ziosk" and it was a gaming device that you could play while sitting at the table.  Sure you could order appetizers and desserts, but you could also order games and music and tool around for awhile while waiting for your food.  I remember instantly thinking that this would have been great when my kids were young.  I thought nothing more as we finished our lunch and actually paid our bill on the Ziosk.  Didn't even have to interact with the server all that much.

Later on in the day we made plans to go out for #SundaySupper at one of our favorite Italian places in town for our traditional Sunday night spaghetti and meatballs dinner.  This wasn't our typical place made infamous in my first book, but another restaurant that we like a lot.  The pasta is amazing.

I couldn't help but notice the family that sat down next to us shortly after we arrived.  A Mom and a Dad and then another Mom with their combined four kids.  Every one of them had an electronic device in their hands except for one of the Moms.  I'm talking laptops that they plugged into the wall, iPads, smartphones, gaming devices ... it was a buffet.  And there was much ado about these devices getting charged and making sure that they all had their thing to keep them occupied while at the restaurant.

They barely looked or talked to each other the entire time.  Dad was checking his emails and all the others were engrossed in their electronics, with various levels of intensity from almost screaming to barely having a pulse.  They took no time to talk to the server to basically even order their food, let alone talk to each other.  The one Mom without anything in her hand might as well have been eating alone.  Actually she was eating alone.

I instantly thought back to my lunch ... feeling grateful that we didn't have a Ziosk when my kids were young and feeling a bit guilty that we hadn't chatted with our waitress more.  And feeling very fortunate that years ago we instituted a "no electronics" policy at the dinner table (or lunch table for that matter).  It was quite an eye opening #SundaySupper.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe North America
Author, The Experience Effect series
Marketing Professor, NYU


  1. My husband and I have this discussion at least once a week.
    People are losing the ability to communicate with one another face to face, and its so incredibly sad.
    Before long, the art of conversation is going to be one of those things that you can only read about from whatever hand held device is prevalent that month.
    I am a member of @FamilyFoodie 's #SundaySupper movement - I think its a wonderful thing to use the very element that is placing a wedge between so many families and and using it to gently remind them just how wonderful a family meal can really be.
    Great post - thank you!

  2. I do not like electronic devices at the table. I feel it is rude and a complete loss of the most valuable time a family can have - that of sharing conversation and a meal around the table.

  3. We see this so often and it makes me so sad.
    I have to stay on top of my own and we do have a policy - no electronic devices, and even if the phone rings, chirps, or otherwise makes any noise (low batter) we ignore it.

    It is so sad to me to see people with their heads bent everywhere I go. Everywhere. People have completely lost the ability to communicate and interact with one another, without some electronic device in their hands.

    I feel terrible for that one woman. I've seen that scenario before too and it is just a sad, sad occurrence.

    I'm so proud to be part of the Sunday Supper Movement and remind my own teenagers every week what matters - family, interaction and communication. We enjoy our Sunday's so much, and that, will matter more someday than who's tweeting who, etc.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article!

  4. ` barely having a pulse´ oh, I loved that part. The only response for my boredom when I was growing up was `go play outside´.
    Technological progress is good, but I think it´s been going on for too long...

  5. Great points! I am part of #SundaySupper too, BTW. Being a food writer, I have to admit that I will do live Tweeting and Facebook pics when we go out to eat. But, it doesn't dominate our time...we love to talk and connect over some nice food and wine. We recently ate a a Japanese fusion restaurant, where every table has an iPad menu for you to order from...and you can even pay too. It was a very cool thing, and we enjoyed the high-tech aspect of it. But...we also missed the human interaction. We did have a server too, but I can see this automation as the wave of the future. Sort of conflicted how I feel about it.

  6. This is a sensitive subject in my house as well. Specially since my husband is a big techy person and has all the gadgets. My 2 yo is now getting into certain ones and when my husband brought them to the dinner table the other night I lost my cool :) Though I love the technology and I know how much kids are learning from them, their is still something that doesn't sit well with me. So for now I'll just forbid them at the dinner table since that is the only place where we meet once a day and catch up on our day.

    I'm a very proud member of Isabel's group #SundaySupper. I couldn't be happier that I've met such a great group of people because they've reminded me how important it is to have that meal as a family.

    Great article!! Great reminder!

  7. Unfortunately that's what's happening in today's society where everyone is hooked to their IPods, IPads and other mobile devices.In my family there is a ban on any electronics during meal times since that's our time to discuss the days events and enjoy some family time :)
    I'm also a part of #SundaySupper and enjoy the support and company of such lovely people getting together in making family meals so important!

  8. A few years back,we were in an expensive beach condo with my husband's family to celebrate Thanksgiving week in a special way. We never do this. And we see these family members twice a year if we are lucky. So as an advocate for GOOD interpersonal communication, I was disappointed that everyone chose to spend a quiet evening on their electronic devices while sitting together in the living room. Three of them on smart phones. Two of them on laptops. I sat there staring in disbelief. Then I got on FB to see if anyone was there and sure enough a few were. I posted a greeting to them FROM THE SAME ROOM but my disguised humor didn't make a difference. That was my AHA moment that life as we know it is changing and I became sad. I am hopeful that the novelty of all this technology will wear off a little bit and that people will crave HUMAN interaction again. And while people say that digital is the future for media, I have a magazine that people love to pick up and read. People still crave something that is good, positive, encouraging, helpful and not a commercial sell out. Print isn't dead, and hopefully neither is a good old fashioned conversation. Thanks for the post! And Family Foodie is the best!

  9. I think with all of our "connectedness" we have through all this technology we carry everywhere - that it is amazing how DIS-connected we are from one another. The only electronics allowed at our dinner tables are the camera. No ipods, no phones, etc.

  10. I am also a member of the #SundaySupper crew! I fell in love with the whole idea as soon as I was invited to join. As a kid my parents and I ate on TV trays in front of the TV and I knew I hated that. I mean my Dad even called it "The Boob Tube" but here we sat, a bunch of boobs, staring at the dang thing and munching away.

    As I had kids I knew I wanted different, so we sat around the table together (for most meals) and, being the only parent available most of the time, it gave me the precious opportunity to tune into their lives and bond as a family.

    My kids have since grown and moved out, but we still try to share a meal once a week so we can sit around the table, like before, and share our lives happenings with each other!!

  11. I just love hearing all of these stories!!! JIM.

  12. I actually wrote about a similar experience in one of my #SundaySupper posts. It was so sad to see the lack of family interaction.

  13. That's one of the reasons I loved the idea behind #SundaySupper and am proud to be a part of it !! We don't have electronics at our table at all and try to make a point of eating dinner together most days when we can. We don't even answer the phone unless it's super important. I can honestly say out mealtimes together have improved after I joined Sunday Supper movement. Like practicing what I preach & believe in !! Isabel is the brain behind Sunday Supper and so proud to be a part of it !! It has & will change the way families interact!

  14. Great conversation ... I concur with all of the above and even for singles, this behavior is infuriating (and disrespectful). It really comes down to a rapid decline in civility. Before social media, it was considered rude to wear headphones/earphones at a party or meal. If you passed too close to a phone booth, you got the stink eye. Now, anything goes. Even 5+ years ago, a male friend asked me to meet him for dinner to discuss his recent break-up. After he spent more than half the meal on the phone and texting, I politely informed him I was leaving. He was clueless and had no idea why I was leaving.

    About a year ago, someone came up with the idea of "Stacking" ... where people put their devices on top of one another in the center of the table. The concept being, whoever reached for their phone first, paid the bill. I'm sorry this hasn't caught on. I'm so tired of people being so rude and self-involved. Has it occurred to anyone that our ancestors arrived hear on ships and met their loved ones at Ellis Island at the appointed date and time -- all without texting, email, or telephones?

  15. Jim~ I have to tell you, my daughter, a sophomore at University of Florida, gave you the biggest compliment. She said, that was such a well written article, I hope to write that way one day! You have inspired me from day one... and I thank you for inspiring Alexandra! That really is what it's all about!

  16. This is totally what it's all about!!!! That is such a huge compliment, thank you so much for sharing. And thank you for all that you do. JIM

  17. Beautiful blog post Jim! Yes, breaking bread with people and actually conversing together is what a beautiful meal is all about:) I've had to institute a "no electronics" policy with my nieces and nephews too. It's awesome that you incorporated @FamilyFoodie into it ... very supportive! And yes, she is a movement;-)

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  19. I am posting obviously 11 months since this post, but since Jim resurrected it I feel I'd like to reply. There are many times when I see a whole table, couples, families, etc. with their noses buried into their devices and I cringe. One recent time I saw parents at a table with their daughter talking to each other as the daughter watched a movie! They totally ignored the child. Many of these posts are about intercommunication, but I imagine this type of parental behavior can't be good. I mean not ONE word was spoken from parent to child during the whole meal! I do not have children so I do not want to be judgmental, but if I did I don't I would ever do or allow that, or completely ignore my child.