In an age dominated by food-focused Instagram threads, many people now take it as read that every meal needs to be preceded by an extended photography shoot.
Beyond the endless documentation of average looking dinners, technology has become such a staple of people’s lives that many find it impossible to go a significant stretch of time without a surreptitious downward glance at a glowing screen. It would be easy to dismiss this addiction as harmless. However, new research suggests that our technophilic behavior may be having a greater effect than we thought.
After observing the extent to which people at dinner were interacting with their phones rather than each other, psychologists from the University of British Columbia decided to run a study. Elizabeth Dunn and Ryan Dwyer set about trying to gauge what, if any, impact this behaviour was having on the extent to which people were enjoying their social interactions. The results were bad news for phone lovers everywhere.
According to their research, published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, extended phone use during meal times led to a noticeable decrease in the level of enjoyment experienced by diners. After running a series of experiments, the study concluded that technology at the dinner table caused people to “feel more distracted and less socially engaged” with their peers.
However, and perhaps most importantly, the degree to which enjoyment dropped - while not insignificant - was insubstantial enough to escape the notice of most diners. The insidious result is that anyone who uses their phone at the dinner table is at risk of feeling as though they are not enjoying themselves as much, without having a clear external factor to blame. This could in turn put an undue strain on close personal relationships.
This latest insight into the effect of technology comes after a previous study revealed that gadget use during mealtimes is frowned on by pretty much everybody. In 2015, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey that revealed that 88% of respondents felt it was not acceptable to use a phone whilst eating. Even among young adults aged between 18 and 29, only 16% felt that is was ok to have a phone at the table. Given these feelings about tech, it’s unsurprising that its use would adversely affect most people’s enjoyment.
According to Dunn and Dwyer, technology can be a tough habit to kick. However, there is also evidence to suggest that if you can resist, it’s not just you that will benefit. According to Dunn, “Phone use may be contagious. People are more likely to use their phones when others around them are also using their phones, so that suggests there may be this sort of domino effect. By putting your own phone away, you might be creating a positive domino effect.”
While phone use is for most of us an unavoidable part of modern life, its unchecked use can clearly have detrimental consequences. Next time you find yourself sitting across from someone special, try to resist glancing at a text or email. It may make the difference between making a meal mediocre or magical.