Everywhere I go today, I see people on their cell phones. If they’re not talking, they’re texting, checking Facebook or one of their other apps. I’ve seen couples in trendy restaurants doing this between courses. It’s like everyone is with someone else, just not with the person they’re sitting with. I’ve started to wonder, is this affecting our personal relationships?
Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, says, “We know that for children the best predictor of success later in life is the number of meals shared with their families.”* Why? It’s because of the conversations that take place. Children learn to listen, speak, and see the affect their words have on others. Parents have the opportunity to share their day, find out what their children think and offer guidance. This is all done through conversation. Even the silences can be helpful as children learn they can be comfortable with others when no one’s talking.
Today family meals are harder to arrange because of all the activities different members are involved in. A family has to be really committed to the importance of family meals for them to happen. And when they do, frequently the parents bring their cell phones to the table. The children have theirs in their pockets. Someone starts to talk. Another person goes to Google to check to see if they have it right. Now it’s become a competition for the right answer rather than the sharing of experiences.
Or, there’s a “No Cell Phone” rule but one of the parent’s phones vibrates. Now they’re curious. Is it important or can it wait? They try to peek and see. Their children notice that their parents are distracted, not really listening to what they’re saying, so they stop talking. Now there’s no conversation or it’s very light because everyone realizes no one is really paying attention. Gradually everyone brings out their cell phone. Now, no one is talking.
Conversation brings people together. Cell phones at the table push them apart.
I’m not against cell phones. I have one and use it all the time. It makes my life go more smoothly. But, and this is a BIG but, there’s a time and place for everything and the place for cell phones is not at the table. Conversation is too important.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle, Penguin Press, N.Y., 2015, Page 47.