Do you bring a device to the dinner table?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: August 11, 2012

When I was growing up, I remember seeing commercials all the time about how the dinner table was about family time. How conversation should rule the room, just as much as the food set upon the table. Thinking back, I'm not sure there was ever anything that I could have brought to the table that would have interrupted the meal, let alone any conversation. Maybe my original GameBoy, or a book. And, that probably happened once or twice. But, for the most part I think my meals with the family were relatively undisturbed.

That isn't the case these days. We have so many different devices that we can bring with us anywhere and everywhere, that it would seem almost strange not to see something at the dinner table. Your smartphone. A tablet. Maybe an eReader. Or, if you live on the fringe, maybe you've got your dedicated mobile gaming device.

The devices that we love so much have a way of integrating so perfectly into our lives that we barely even think about them being in the way. Maybe you never do. Pulling your phone out of your pocket to answer a text message while you're talking to someone face-to-face seems natural these days, half expected. It could be a generational thing, though. It wasn't too long ago that my parents used to give me dirty looks when I was on my phone while they were talking to me. Even if it was just for a moment, any kind of interruption got me "the look."

Needless to say, they have my full attention when they talk now.

I used to think it was generational, anyway. I bring this up because I saw something interesting this afternoon while I was eating lunch in a mall's food court. I had some time to kill before I caught a movie, so I got some Chinese food, found a seat, and started on my meal.

Sitting next to me was a family of four. The father, mother, son and daughter. Picturesque, even. All four members had a plate in front of them, but only two of them were eating. Now, if this "device-as-a-tool-of-interruption" is a generational thing, then the common sense estimation would be that the two kids were using their phones, while the parents were busy munching their lunch.

Not the case. Not this time. I laughed a little when I saw both the father and mother completely ignoring the world around them, while the kids didn't even have their phones out. As far as phones go? The father seemed utterly captivated by his Galaxy S III from Samsung, and the mother was rocking an iPhone. To be honest, there was a moment when I thought that maybe, just maybe, the kids didn't actually have phones, which is why they weren't busy on them as well.

But, as soon as they were all finished, which was surmised without an actual word spoken, the kids tossed their food and then pulled out their phones a little later, nonchalantly. Meanwhile, the parents never put their phones away.

Now, I don't know the details. I don't know if the parents had some rule where the kids weren't allowed to have cell phones out during meal times. Maybe they used to have them out too much, and this is their punishment. But, even if that is the case, are they being taught a lesson if the parents are too busy to eat, thanks to their cell phones? Maybe that is the lesson: don't starve yourself just to have a conversation with someone somewhere else.

I think all that time without a device when I was a kid at the dinner table has hardwired me not to use my phone while I'm eating food. So, my parents win. But I honestly don't mind. I don't think about it. Sure, I get messages or alerts while I'm eating, but I use the food as an excuse to not look at it. To take a break. Separate myself from being connected all the time. No, it doesn't last long, but it really is worth it.

So I'm curious, Dear Reader. Do you bring your phone, or other device, to the dinner (or breakfast, or lunch -- brunch, maybe?) table? Or, are you like me, and use the time to take a break from the world around you?