A new study finds that using your phone at dinner detracts from your time with loved ones
Not hanging up is a major hang-up.
Simply having your smartphone with you at the dinner table can cause you to feel bored and disconnected from the people you’re sharing your meal with.
A study published this week in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology” found that people who have their phone with them during a meal are 11% more likely to check that phone, diminishing their enjoyment of the experience and increasing boredom. “When we use our phones while we are spending time with people we care about — apart from offending them — we enjoy the experience less than we would if we put our devices away,” said University of British Columbia Ph(D) student Ryan Dwyer, the lead author of the research.
What’s more, people don’t even have to use their phones at the table to ruin dinner. A 2014 study from the University of Virginia found that, “(e)ven without active use, the presence of mobile technologies has the potential to divert individuals from face-to-face exchanges, thereby undermining the character and depth of these connections.” Basically, the authors concluded, just having a cellular device out on the table while two people were talking made the interaction “less fulfilling.”
In short: Having phones at the table makes dinner less enjoyable both for you, and everyone you’re with. “Possibly what’s going on is that, when people are in these social [settings], if someone pulls out their phone, it kind of kills the conversation, and conversations are generally entertaining and enjoyable,” Dwyer speculated.
Or, as etiquette expert Karen Thomas put it, burying your nose in your smartphone at dinner is tantamount to telling your friends: “My cell phone is more important than your company.”
So how can you ask your friends to stay the heck off their phones while you’re hanging out with them (and avoid the same mistake yourself)?
Make the request like this. “I’ve said to a colleague, ‘Would you mind if we make this a cell-free dinner or luncheon so we can really get our work done?’” Thomas told Moneyish. “If it’s a friend, you could go the same route and say, ‘Do you mind if we make this a cell free evening? That way we can enjoy each other’s company.’” Keep your tone polite and non-confrontational.
Use ‘we’ language. “You have to tell your friend, ‘Listen, let’s make this time about us,’” said etiquette guru Elaine Swann. “‘I really want to spend time with you; how about we put our phones away for a while?’ Use ‘us’ [and] ‘we’ so you attempt to soften the blow. Nevertheless, there’s going to be a blow — they’re going to be offended… but you have to tell them.”
Designate ‘techno-free zones’ with family. “With children and your family, my advice is that you put in place what I call ‘techno-free-zones,’” Swann suggested. “Your zone can either be a time zone where there is a particular time of day that you don’t use your phone… or the zones can be a specific area of the house, at the table, in the living room [or dining room],” or so on.
“I have a rule — no phones at the table,” said Thomas. “Especially with children, whether teenagers or younger, phones are off,” except in the event of an emergency or other pressing matter. “When we’re out in restaurants, no phones at the table.”
Drop these subtle hints. If you don’t want to ask your dinner companion straight out to ditch their phones, you can hint at it. “I’ve pulled my phone out and said out loud to the person, ‘Let me shut my phone off,” Thomas revealed. Swanns says you can also say something “along the lines of, ‘I’m going to mute my phone; I want to focus on our time together,’” Then, she adds, “You physically pull your phone out and show them” by dropping it in your bag or stowing it in your pocket. This can encourage the partner opposite you to follow suit, without feeling publicly called out or embarrassed.
Step away when you have to. Sometimes, we can’t ignore our phones altogether. In that case, let your friend or the group now at the start of the meal — don’t wait, if you can help it — that you might have to briefly excuse yourself to take an anticipated call.
“If you have children at home, sitters at home, a loved one who is ill, or you’re in the middle of a life event… tell the party in advance, ‘Listen, I am expecting a very important call… My mother is ill; she’s having tests done and I’m waiting to hear back from the doctor. When that call comes, I’m going to step away and take it. Is that alright with you?” Swann advised. “Merely asking them if it’s okay with them puts them in a place where they feel…that you’re taking their feeling into consideration.”
Try these other tricks. It’s undoubtedly hard for you to avoid your phone too, so Dwyer proposed switching off the notification settings to prevent push notifications from buzzing about the latest Facebook post in your feed. Thomas personally uses the iPhone’s “Do Not Disturb” setting to keep calls and texts from interrupting her during important meetings or meals. At the very least, switch your phone to silent to prevent the ringer from ruining dessert.
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