The Invasion of The Screens

May 18, 2012   25 Comments

Doesn't that photo look quaint? It was taken in 1958 and I love how the people are crowded around the ONE television in the room.

Screens And Meal Time

Now, we have quite a few screens around us and I like to make a point of turning them off when my family sits down to eat. My dinner table is a SCREEN FREE zone and I realize that although I hated that rule as a child, as an adult, it is a key to my daily sanity.

What happens when you can't control the environment around your dinner table?

My family enjoys going out to dinner for a variety of reasons. My daughter likes to try new food. Her younger brother enjoys ordering macaroni and cheese at different establishments.

I love going out to eat because I don’t have to do the dishes, and my husband likes to make me happy by agreeing to a meal out.

We don’t go very often because it can get expensive and the food tends to be...well....heavy.

On a recent weekend trip to New York City, we were all excited to try new restaurants (hey, we have to go out, right?) and I was enjoying quality time with the people that I love the most.

What happened next can be only described as disturbing. As we were seated at our table in a Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown, we all looked up from our plates and saw not ONE not TWO but THREE large screens with talking heads.

They were looking down at us! I found myself eating my dumplings and looking at Newt Gingrich (which probably saved me some calories as he is not appetizing to look at).

My daughter, who can read, started asking about a story with a 9 year old girl who had been killed.

“What happened to that girl, Mommy?”

“Nothing that would happen to you, honey”

“But, what happened to her?”

The truth was too upsetting to relate (the story said she had been “run to death by her mother”) so I said, “Sometimes bad things happen to children, but we keep you safe.”

What was going on here? Our family meal (time together sharing) - was being HIJACKED by large screens.

All of us were being distracted. My husband noted, “Hey, Apple stock has gone up again.” My son saw a cartoon that he likes, “Mom, there’s SpongeBob!’ and I was transfixed by President Obama.

What happened to being in the moment, looking at each other, telling bad knock-knock jokes or taking in the atmosphere of Chinatown and discussing different cultures?

I doubt I even tasted my food!

I wish this was an isolated incident in New York, but the other two meals we had were also dominated by screens. Because these flat screen TVs have become so inexpensive, I believe that restaurants put them everywhere to help us keep tuned in.

But, I want to tune out! I spend way too much time being tuned in to all that is going on. Sometimes I just want to be with the people who are sitting in front of me.

My proposed solution is to ask the restaurant manager to turn off the screen that is pointed at me or just frequent the dwindling number of establishments without them.

A meal with my family is too sacred to spend attracted to anyone or anything but their beautiful faces.

How do you handle screens and meal time?

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 25 )

I've noticed that too. It made sense when they were just in sports bars, but now they are everywhere.

I tend to just ignore them, the only time I have trouble is if they are loud enough that I can hear them.

Oh, Lisa, so sad that distracted eating is now part of the restaurant experience, too. Perhaps the establishments are counting on the studies that prove that people eat more when the TV's on.

The only thing that annoys me more is a screen in a pediatrician's waiting room -- pediatricians are the ones supposed to remind us that TV viewing should be minimal.

My wife and I have a deal: on the rare occasions when we do go out to eat (since it's nearly impossible for us to find healthy food outside the home), she has to sit so that she won't be facing the TV. If she sees a TV, she becomes transfixed and our discussions end up being about 73 "what was it that you just said?" backups... :(

"I doubt I even tasted my food!" I think you hit the nail on the head here, Lisa.

I grew up watching my father shovel food into his mouth and, for decades, I imitated that misbehavior. But recently, I realized that we chew (and produce saliva and enzymes) for a reason: to start the digestive process. I also realized that I needed to put my fork/spoon down between bites. Having a TV on while eating causes me to slip right back into shovel mode.

We hide our tv in an armoir & only use it to watch movies. It also helps that our TV is super old so we're not tempted by the HD & surround sound. I grew up in a home where the TV was on a lot. But since we've been married, my husband & I are both on the same page as far as tv watching goes. We like the silence that is created by not having the constant blare of mindless chatter. It's almost jarring to visit someone's home & have the TV on in the background the whole time, especially when you're trying to visit.

Oh, I forgot to mention this nifty little gadget:

Just in case you need to take matters into your own hands. :)

I hate the tv on when I'm eating dinner or in restauranst, especially if it is a sports event. My HUsband can't get his eyes unglued from the tv. Makes for a horrible dinner.

Unfortunately, this has become extremely popular in Eastern MA. I've come to expect it when we go somewhere like The 99 with the kids, but the past couple of times we've had a date - at an upscale Italian restaurant and more recently at an Ethiopian restaurant - they've been there, too. (sigh)

Yes I agree with you screens are everywhere. I am starting to see TVs in gas station convenience stores. I have no idea why you would want to encourage people to watch TV at a convenience store but somebody must have thought it was a good idea...

It does seem like every restaurant has now instantly turned into a sports bar.

I'm in NYC and it does seem like there are screens everywhere. I don't even notice them anymore and I don't eat out much cause everything is just too darn $$$ here.

@Andy - that universal remote thing is too amazing! It sounds like such an act of defiance to turn off TVs that nobody is watching - I LOVE it. I don't think I would have gotten away with it in the Dim Sum restaurant - but there were some other venues I could have totally used one of these and no one would have noticed.

I never watch news on TV - it actually trains you to have the flight/fear response - stress which equals cortisol which equals weight gain. Besides, I don't like people such as Newt Gingrich deciding what I should "feed" my brain.

PS - I love your emails and "Snack Girl" articles! Thanks!

I must be the oddball of the group here. My mom, my sister, and I are all extremely touchy regarding "eating noises" (slurping, smacking, chewing, etc...aggghh) that we have pretty much agreed that TV/radio/the like are MANDATORY at all meals to save our sanity and make it so we don't inhale and bolt before we snap. Besides, it often becomes a conversation starter for this crowd. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

It's just my husband and I so we nearly always eat in front of the TV. And if we go out, lots of TV's around. I need to make a habit of doing at least one day a week TV-less during dinner.

@Louann- "I never watch news on TV - it actually trains you to have the flight/fear response" Wow. I hadn't considered that angle. Good observation.

And now that I'm thinking about it, I'm recalling the numerous the-sky-is-falling conversations my mother "shares" with me, courtesy of her seemingly incessant news-watching. When I tell her that I'm not interested in disaster-fantasizing with her, the reprieve will last all of about 10 seconds. Sigh.

In my house we love cooking together. We eat breakfast at the table but we eat dinner in front of the TV. It works for us, and after a long day it's part of our bonding time as a couple. I think if you spend time cooking together watching TV during dinner is a-okay. And if breakfast and lunch are eaten at the table it's fine.

As I was reading your comments on the invasion of screens, I found it ironic that I was eating my Starbucks Turkey bacon breakfast sandwhich. The blog was wonderful but I have no recollection of how my sandwhich tasted or felt.

It is so nice to know that there are in fact people out there that do not have to be near a TV all the time. For years my boyfriend and I did not own a TV, friends and family all thought we were weird. We now own one but it is rarely on. And never ever at meal times. Even our 4 yr daughter doesn't like to watch TV. When we do watch it, it is a special treat for the whole family. I will admit our little family is addicted to music; we always have it playing. I would be ecstatic if TV disappeared from society.

O.K., this is going to probably sound hokey but no matter who is sitting at our table, and at what point anyone is in to eating from their plate, my husband and I have always make it a point to stop; put the forks down and say a simple grace. We are both "fallen from the church Catholics," but after traveling to some third-world countries I am more than ever appreciative of the Universe blessing me with food in my refridgerator. Also, no t.v. is on, and I put a PBS classical music station on in the kitchen during meals for a calm atmosphere. Growing up, I told the kids it was "restaurant music." My kids are 30 and 34, but I think they can whistle the classics from all those meals in my kitchen!

We like to keep the TV off too so that would bother me in a restaurant. I notice more often out here (in CA), not the television but the iphones et al that keep people from having a conversation with each other at the table in a restaurant.

We have the TV or computer on too much, but dinner is always no TV and we put on the Classical music channel real low. It annoys me to have TV's at restaurants. It is ridiculous that you can't even stand in line at Walmart w/o a TV in your face. A good reason to go to Target instead.

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