Put your phone away and start the real conversation

by Madison Hopkins

No phones at the table!”

Every parent in America has probably said this at one time or another. At least mine did—a lot. Growing up in a generation when new technology is released faster than you can refresh your newsfeed, life becomes a constant battle between virtual communication and reality. This isn’t necessarily bad, as long as you maintain a balance. The trouble comes when an obsession with technology comes at the expense of real-life communication skills.

For all of you out there thinking, “Well that’s not me, I can stop whenever I want,” I would first like to say you sound like an addict. Secondly, you’re probably lying. Of course, there are plenty of people with superior intelligence who don’t have this issue and are perfectly well-rounded, productive members of society. For the rest of us, however, it’s time to admit we have a problem and begin the healing process.

Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles is working to aid in the society-wide recovery from technology enslavement by offering a 5 percent discount for customers who agree to turn in their phones during their meal. Executive chef and restaurant owner Mark Gold told Southern California Public Radio, “It’s about two people sitting together and just connecting, without the distraction of a phone.”

Although the offer obviously isn’t a requirement, Gold went on to explain that nearly half of all customers choose to partake in the discount offer and engage in real-life, face-to-face conversations.

Similarly, a New York restaurant, Momofuku Ko, has forbidden customers from taking pictures of their food. They believe the food is there to be enjoyed and cameras are distracting to both the amateur food photographer and others patrons in the restaurant. Chef David Chang told Serious Eats: New York, “It’s just food. Eat it.”

And eat it they will, because violators who don’t are reportedly called out in front of the entire restaurant for their foodie faux pas. Clearly, there is a demand for a return to traditional socialization and the burden for change rests on the diners. I heard about this new trend of intentional phone-free time several weeks ago and decided to put it to the test. When I went out to eat with my friends, I proposed we could put our phones away for the duration of the meal and just talk. It took some convincing and several weird looks and annoyed glares. I heard a lot of “Why can’t I just leave it on the table, I promise I won’t touch it” and “What are we even going to talk about?”

Apparently, without parents forcing their children into proper table manners, it doesn’t come naturally.

When the phones were finally put away and a technology-free environment was established, I was unprepared for what lay ahead. As it turns out, without the ability to retreat into our comfort zone of checking Instragram during awkward silences or scanning texts for our friends’ happenings, we couldn’t think of much to talk about. And that is just sad. Technology has integrated itself so far into our lives, it leaves a gaping black hole where our social skills used to be.

Our generation is the first with the available technology to distance ourselves from any real interactions, and we have abused that power to an extreme. Take dating, for example. You could meet someone, hit it off, exchange numbers and then find out everything about that person before you even go out. Between social networking sites and constant texting about every facet of our lives, there isn’t a whole lot left to say when you actually see each other. Where is the mystery in that?

I’m not saying technology doesn’t have its benefits. Texting is a great tool for exchanging quick information or even the occasional conversation. But at an average of 110 texts a day for 18-24 year olds, we’re going a bit overboard. Just because the opportunity is there, doesn’t mean we have to take advantage of it constantly. Putting the phones away at the dinner table is a great step toward separating reality from the virtual world, but it shouldn’t stop there. Most teachers frown upon the use of cell phones in class anyway, so why not just leave the phone at home while you head to campus for the day? If that is too much too soon, start small with a phone-free trip to the grocery store or an afternoon with it turned off.

The point is not to cause anyone separation anxiety, or leave you stranded without means of communication, but to gain some perspective. Texting will always be there, but your social life will not. It’s time to step away from the phones and rejoin the real world.Teens and media