Man in the Kitchen: Are Smartphones Killing Conversation?

Man in the Kitchen: Are Smartphones Killing Conversation?

smartphones killing conversation
© My Make OU/123RF

The presidential election. Mom’s new boyfriend. Summer camp. Last week’s choral performance. Why gym sucks. Why Ben sucks! Can I have money for a haircut? Can I have money for a Starbucks? Can we go to France this summer? Can I please have some more pasta??? These are snippets from last night’s dinner conversation with my two children. Human interaction delivered in person. Not an electronic device in sight! Why?

Because nothing kills the magic of human connection more effectively than a tableful of phones! Technology and food do not co-exist at mealtime in our home. Not for my boys and not for me. This is not a direct order or an inviolable rule. I am not Colonel Von Trapp blowing my sailor’s whistle to get the kids to snap to attention. It’s just the way we roll. But I worry we’re becoming outliers in a digital world.

smartphones killing conversation
© Akz/123Rf

I cook at least five nights a week. Sometimes we don’t sit down until 9pm. Even later if I squeeze in a quick workout at the gym. I’m probably not going to be nominated for “Parent of the Year” any time soon. If I’m running late, I alert the kids by text. Eat some pretzels. Grab a carrot. There will be dinner. Good dinner. Eventually. Even when I’m falling down with exhaustion, dinnertime is sacrosanct. Why this adherence to a seemingly dying tradition?

Because all our schedules are insane, and life is busy, and we are constantly running around like mad people. In this multi-screen, email-driven, text-obsessed world, there is but one time we truly connect. And that is when food goes on the table, butts plunk down in seats, and the cell phones go away!

no smartphones at dinner
© Igoncept/123Rf

Sometimes we eat in silence. Long day. Bad mood. Nothing to add to the global equation. Other times we are a tower of babble. How was school? How was work? Anyone fall in love? Anyone get suspended? Cool! Topics are organic and unlimited. Bad language is allowed in small portions. But that 20 minutes carved out of our evening, five nights a week, is family therapy and true confessions time combined. Nothing is off limits. Problems get solved. Worries unspooled. Dad’s shortcomings revealed. It’s the Oprah of mealtime chats.

For my kids, I suspect it is a welcome relief from the pressures of high school, the anxieties of the day, or the mere indignity of being a teenager. They get to just be! For me, it is disconnected bliss. Kids Unplugged. A chance to really hear what’s on their mind without the buzz or vibration of a Wi-Fi connected device.

Ken Carlton kids at dinner
Ken Carlton sons © Ken Carlton

When the guys really get going on some obscure, parent-restricted topic, I can tell my voice disappears into the vast maw of Peanuts-like static (bla bla, bla bla, bla bla). I listen, and sometimes I learn. Other times I just smile to myself in wonder at what I’ve created. Dinnertime reminds me of why I had kids in the first place. Because, almost always, I love just having them around!

You cannot attend a dinner party in my neighborhood, or any other I suppose, without the topic of teens and cell phones popping up. We relinquished something when we signed on for those unlimited plans. But for many of us, we had these kids before the cell phone even existed. We fed them in high chairs to “Sweet Baby James” and lulled them to sleep to Goodnight Moon. Maybe I’m alone, but I’m not ready to surrender my guys to the digital morass. There are too many precious moments left you can never recover. It’s nice to log off and look up from that screen once in a while. You never know what you might be missing.

Simple Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

pasta with fresh tomato sauce
© BLK Chai Photography

Now, it’s time to get cooking! Wine in hand, music on, cell phones off. Here’s a Simple Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce meal you can crank out in 15 minutes. Get the FULL RECIPE HERE!


Do you allow smartphones at the dinner table? How many adults out there can avoid their phones during meal time? Join the conversation and let us know what you think about the debate in the comments box below!

Ken Carlton is founder and editor-in-chief of Beyondish, a food review and storytelling website. He is the author or ghostwriter of eight books, including the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a dating expert on OPRAH. He still muses about food, relationships and parenting at his website, Food for Marriage. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago. You can follow him on Instagram @foodformarriage



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