From a young age – maybe twelve or so, my Mother had always told me to never touch my mobile phone at the dinner table. Her reason being that it was simply unsociable and rude. At the time, I thought my Mum was the only uncool Mum who didn’t let her children touch their phones during dinner. However, now I realise that she wasn’t the only old-fashioned one.
Neglecting your phone at the dinner table (especially on dates) is somewhat an unspoken expectation. Although there isn’t written rules or regulations about the use of mobile phones at meal tables, a number of studies suggest that their presence can damage personal relationships.
An experiment at Essex University concluded that mobile phones trigger thoughts about wider social networks, reducing the level of empathy and understanding in face-to-face conversations (Telegraph Reporters, 2012). This study suggested that the presence of mobile phones allow individuals to escape their immediate social context, leaving negative effects on “closeness, connection, and conversation quality” (Telegraph Reporters, 2012).
These social expectations have been recently enforced my United Kingdom PM David Cameron when he banned the use of mobile phones during meetings. Cameron says, “You can not have meetings interrupted by texting, tweeting, e-mailing and Googling going on at once” (Overell, 2010).
Michael Carl, the fashion director at Vanity Fair also addressed this issue by imposing the rule of placing all mobile phones in the middle of the dinner table. Whoever looks at their phone first, will pick up the tab at the end of the night (Tell, 2013). This rule was imposed due to Carl perceiving mobile phone usage at the table as a physical barrier that slowly ruins relationships.
Texting while eating has also become a major issue among couples in counselling. Dr. Imber-Black states “I think it has to do with the erosion of boundary between work and family, particularly for men in any kind of business situation where they are afraid to stop working practically 24-7”. This suggests that mobile phone usage at the dinner table is replacing face-to-face conversation with a virtual world.
The idea that using mobile phones at the dinner table replaces face-to-face conversation links with Doreen Massey’s concept of the way we experience space in everyday sense. Massesy describes how space is more then a flat surface, rather material and abstract concerning our relationships with each other in social spaces (Massesy 2013). Furthermore, this proposes that when individuals use mobile phones at the dinner table, they begin to socially neglect the other individual, leaving them alone in the space. Meanwhile the mobile phone user has escaped the social space, and entered a virtual social space.
I believe that it was acceptable for my Mum to refuse the use of mobile phones at the table. The above-mentioned studies drew attention to how mobile phones at the dinner table can distance you from face-to-face interaction further damaging relationships. Mobile phones allow you escape a present social space, which in fact is a positive movement. However, I believe that dinnertime is not the time to escape present space as it suggests a physical barrier.
Tell 2013, ‘Step Away From The Phone’, The New York Times, viewed 26th September 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/fashion/step-away-from-the-phone.html
Telegraph reporters 2012, ‘Putting A Mobile Phone On Your Table Will Ruin Your Meal’, The Telegraph, viewed 25th September 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/9589232/Putting-a-mobile-phone-on-the-restaurant-table-will-ruin-your-meal.html
Rimer 2009, ‘Play With Your Food, Just don’t Text!’, The New York Times, viewed 26th September 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/dining/27text.html
Massey, D 2013, Social Science Bites, Doreen Massey on Space, February 1, viewed 26th September 2015, http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2013/02/podcastdoreen-massey-on-space/
Overall 2010, ‘What is the etiquette of mobile phones in meetings?’ , BBC News, viewed 26th September 2015, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8682283.stm