It seems a very modern curse, that the smartphone is a constant companion at the modern dinner table. A recent study from the University of British Columbia suggests that the practice is not only incredibly unsociable, but also means they are less likely to enjoy their meal.
The researchers analyzed the impact smartphones had on the face-to-face social interactions that make eating with others so enjoyable. They came to the wholly intuitive finding that those who used their smartphone during dinner with friends or family ended up enjoying themselves less than those who didn’t.
“As useful as smartphones can be, our findings confirm what many of us likely already suspected,” the authors say. “When we use our phones while we are spending time with people we care about– apart from offending them– we enjoy the experience less than we would if we put our devices away.”
The study saw over 300 people monitored as they ate with friends and family in a restaurant. Half of the group were asked to keep their phones on the table as they ate, with the other half requested to keep their phone away from the table. They were then asked a range of questions after the meal, including how much they enjoyed the experience. Neither group was aware that their smartphone usage was being monitored.
When the feedback was analyzed, it emerged that those with phones present felt more distracted during the meal and didn’t enjoy the time they spent with their friends and family as much as the other group. They also reported higher levels of boredom during their meal.
Interestingly, this phenomenon also emerged outside of restaurant settings. Whenever smartphones were present, people reported less enjoyment of social interactions than when they had their phones with them. The researchers believe their work adds additional nuance to any discussions about the impact of smartphones on our health and wellbeing.
“An important finding of happiness research is that face-to-face interactions are incredibly important for our day-to-day wellbeing,” they conclude. “This study tells us that, if you really need your phone, it’s not going to kill you to use it. But there is a real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away when you’re spending time with friends and family.”