In the past seven days I’ve seen the final echelons of family communication thrown into the mixer and it’s of grave concern.
In the 1950s our grandparents would have viewed the monstrous, glowing wooden cabinets throwing out flickering messages in much the same way. But at least when watching the TV the whole family could share their viewing experience with one another – laugh, cry or shout. Conversation was killed between those in the room, but you’d absorbed content as a collective.
The tablet is an altogether different beast. At a restaurant I watched a young family with four children being devoured by five wireless devices. Dad, who you’d assume contributed to buying the gadgetry, floated around the table taking orders, while acting as technician to those suffering Wi-Fi dropout. When he was allowed to down tools, he sat looking gormlessly into the pixelatedly glowing faces of his kids.
This continued throughout the meal. Movies, games, Facebook, either wearing headphones and plugged into their own little world or with speakers kicking out localised fun. Either way, all the entertainment was deemed much more exciting and enriching than talking to their nearest about their daily woes and achievements.
With long working hours and relentless after-school activities, the last bastion of the family oneness is/was the mealtime.
I don’t blame the children, after all, which is more exciting – listening to your sister gush about her exam success or watching a Ninja Warrior decimate an entire battalion with a broom handle?
On an intimate level families are losing contact with one another even though they’re sitting two feet apart. Maybe they’re reading each other’s status updates to see how they’re enjoying their supper?
More widely, a person’s ability to communicate and empathise on a one-to-one basis is vital for human development. We live in a privileged digital age, but deciding when to gorge on the terabytes of goodness is key.
A restaurant’s USP of no devices at the dinner table would be a brave stand; although it would be a good starting point for conversation.