I was having supper recently at one of my favourite little bistros with a dear friend. The restaurant was full, in fact, there wasn’t an empty table in sight; but the atmosphere was rather dull and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. Until Jemima left the table in between courses to powder her nose that is, then suddenly it all became crystal clear. We had been having a good old gossip and I hadn’t noticed that the majority of patrons were sitting in silence staring at their mobile phones. It was terribly depressing. It took all of my willpower to stop myself weeping into my affogato I can tell you.
Looking around the full restaurant my heart sank as I observed couples sitting in silence, phones in hand, ignoring each other completely. Equally as sad was the sight of young children glued to the screens in front of them, completely absorbed in their own worlds and oblivious to this incredible thing we call life going on all around them. Tragic. I have roughly four million nieces and nephews, so I fully understand the difficulty of ‘keeping them entertained’ whilst in adult company, but this trend I see for silencing them with technology fills me with sadness. I can recall some incredible evenings spent around a dinner table as a child listening to the adults talk. Children need to know from an early age that people are fascinating. They ought to be encouraged to listen to them, and ask questions, not to ‘switch off’ and enter some sort of parallel universe. I do worry about the effect it is having. By cutting children off from their environment we are producing a generation of adults who will undoubtedly find it difficult to communicate effectively in years to come. And I fear this is due, in part, to abject laziness on behalf of the adults at the table. Yes, it might be more difficult to engage with a ten-year-old than someone our own age, I agree, but we need to make the effort. Children love to feel part of an adult world, encourage that feeling, don’t suppress it by putting a mobile phone in their hand. Oh, the irony.
But what hope do future generations have if the adults around them are setting such awful examples? I can start to forgive couples at airports etc using mobile technology to stave off the boredom of a long wait. But in a restaurant? Never. If you are at a point in your relationship where it feels appropriate to sit opposite your partner in a restaurant while all the time sitting in silence with your head down as you see what joys Facebook or Instagram has in store, then maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at your behaviour. What signals are you sending out to the one you love, and indeed those around you? Cherish the people in front of you, always, as one day they will not be there. Ask them questions, get them talking about the things they love, the things they loathe. Take an interest now, talk before it’s too late. Life is indeed what you make it.
Mobile phone technology has its uses, I grant you. Every time my car breaks down by the side of the road per esempio, I only have to tap in a few digits and out of nowhere pops a big burly man in dirty overalls ready to give me a helping hand. Marvellous. But are they necessary at the dinner table? I fear not. Getting out your phone at the table shows not just bad manners, but it will remove you from the experience. Whenever I sit down to eat in a restaurant, either alone or in the company of others, I turn my phone off. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to enjoy the food in front of me. I truly appreciate all the effort that has gone into preparing it for me, and I want to be fully present for the experience. I don’t need to look at Facebook to see what my friends are eating, I have enough stimulation in front of me and around me thank you muchly. Give it a try the next time you eat out. See if you can bear to just ‘be’, without the need for constant stimulation. Look around you and observe what is happening, integrate with your surroundings, don’t remove yourself from them. Life without mobile phones is far more interesting than you may have been led to believe, trust me.