For the love of family and country, do not bring your device to dinner
know you nominally come to this site for aggressively seasoned political takes, but as the summer winds down and the crushing routines of both the work and school years kick back in, I’d like you to make room on your plate for a spicy take of a different sort. But before you dig in, I have one simple request: put your fucking phone down.
During the last school year, my 13-year-old went to gymnastics practice every night from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. She’d arrive home VERY hungry, which happens when you spend four hours doing strength exercises and contorting your body into an ankh in midair. So I would dutifully prepare a meal for her well after the rest of the family had eaten, and have that food hot and ready when she walked in the door.
More often than not, she would try to eat dinner while watching Netflix on her phone, headphones included. That’s when I would cease being a loving father and morph into a miniature despot.
“No phones at the table, man!”
“But I’m eating alone!”
“Talk to me instead! I’ll sit with you. We can talk about your day!”
“Oh my God, no.”
I have dropped this hammer on my daughter more than a few times, and you can easily visualize her reaction. The eyes rolling. The shoulders slumping. All the sunniness in her face just zapping away. She was really looking forward to watching Jane The Virgin with a mouthful of bowtie pasta, and here I was setting her plan ablaze.
I know it’s often a losing battle, but I have now reached the age where I’m cranky enough to keep fighting such battles until I die.
But I don’t regret being a strict enforcer of that rule. Other parents enforce it too, and they often get the exact same reaction from their kids that I get. Sometimes it feels like the rest of the fucking world doesn’t wanna hear that edict. People bust out phones at the dinner table all the time. I’ve had to ask my friends, my family, and even my parents to put that shit away.
I know it’s often a losing battle, but I have now reached the age where I’m cranky enough to keep fighting such battles until I die. I was out to dinner with my mom and dad a few weeks back and at the next table over, one woman was with a big party and looking at her phone the whole time. That’s her business, she’s free to do what she wants, and I’ve got my own table to focus on.
But it was like watching some shitty Verizon ad unfold in real time, with people acting social and laughing and chatting with their dinner companions, all while this one woman never took her eyes off a fucking screen and didn’t even think twice about doing it.
It’s an easy habit to get into, and it’s easy to kid yourself into believing it’s not rude. But I know because I’m the hypocrite who busts out a phone if he’s eating alone at a diner or waiting for someone at a bar. I figure it’s all right because the phone is my only available company. I start eating while scrolling through Slack and I’m not even remembering to taste my food. Then I put the phone down.
Then I pick it back up again. As long as the phone is there, so is the itch. I use my phone on the toilet, man. I feel weird NOT looking at it, that’s how diseased I’ve become. So it’s important to take a second, put the phone down, eat, and try to feel normal, comfortable, in my immediate surroundings. That’s true if I’m alone, and necessary if I am not. I am like other parents in that I find the dinner table to be a vital hub of family interaction. Not holy, mind you. This isn’t a Rockwell painting.
We’re eating leftover spaghetti and meatballs here. But I still don’t want that chance to be together as a family to be interrupted by a fucking text exchange. If you have kids, you’ve probably felt this frustration, too. I stand with you in being cranky about this problem, and about wanting to offer what’s at the dinner table only to those at the dinner table.
In general, phones are fine. You’ve read more than enough articles about how smartphones will kill you early and be the end of civilized society. Those articles get tiresome, and they willfully ignore the innate appeal of wanting to relax by staring at one and ignoring everyone else around you. My grandpa had a broadsheet newspaper to bury his head in. I have a phone. Same shit, different form.
I bet Trump looks at his phone while eating a taco salad.
But I’m self-aware enough to know that I shouldn’t live inside my phone all the goddamn time. Breaks are both pleasant and necessary. And what better place to indulge in that break and bask in the analog world than at the dinner table? I like the food, and I like the company. That company becomes less welcome if it’s someone pulling out a phone and being like DUDE CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO. We’re eating as a family. Brogan Pheeler or some other YouTube assholes are not welcome. I didn’t invite them over for chicken. I invited your sorry ass. That video’s not going anywhere. [Highway sign voice] IT CAN WAIT.
It is not easy to wait. I know. I’ve been there at the table with my kids screaming and/or being rude and just wanted to tune them out by checking my phone to see who showed their ass on Twitter that day. But not only am I avoiding my own kids when I do that, I’m putting off the work that’s sometimes necessary to build a steadier, easier rapport with them. I shouldn’t do that, nor should they. When yo
u live in a world where it’s easy to disregard your loved ones at all times, look what happens. Things are shitty right now, and I don’t think it’s a leap to say that people eschewing face-to-face socializing in favor of dicking around on Facebook has had a hand in creating this state of affairs. I bet Trump looks at his phone while eating a taco salad.
And so putting phones down at the table is the very least I can do to take a break from the internet’s bullshit and live in the moment with just the people around me. The struggle is real: for me, for other parents, and for a lot of other people. According to this CBS report, certain restaurateurs have banned cell phone use at their tables. Women say a dude pulling out a phone at the table on a first date is their №1 turnoff.
People want your attention at the table. They want YOU. That’s not a burden. That’s a flattering, lovely development. Having your phone out at the table tells everyone else at the table that they’re not interesting enough to engage with. It’s fucking rude. Also, your food is getting cold.
So put it away. Do it right now. Are you reading this article in a Panera? You sack of shit. Knock that off. Ditch me. You’ve got the food and the company and the day, all right in front of you. That’s true even if you’re alone. You’ve got you, and you’re not so bad. Look up. You’ll never know what you’ll see.