It’s happened to all of us at one point or another. We’ve sat down to share food and drink with dear friends or family, or maybe even the person we love most—a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse.
But instead of being grateful for the food and the people who made it and recognizing how lucky we are to have this chance to chat with people over a nice meal, someone pulls out their smartphone. Pretty soon, they’re scrolling down the gaping abyss of their Facebook feed or sending business-related emails, hours after they got off from work.
Whoever does it first doesn’t really matter. Once one person gets sucked into their phone, it sends the message to others that it’s okay for them to do the same. Even if everybody else at the table wants to keep the conversation going, it’s tough to get it back once someone so overtly shows a lack of interest for what’s going on.
For Matthew Abeler, a filmmaker, “the problem is more about value than it is about cellphones” as he told Writer’s Bone. “If I am having a deep conversation with my parents, and I whip out my phone I am implicitly telling them, ‘I value the conversations with my friends on the phone more than the conversation I’m having with you.'”
But while many people might agree with this, what’s a person to do when the culture of devices is so dominant? When Abeler was a student at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, back in 2013, he was confronted with the complete lack of respect for mealtimes displayed by his fellow students.
As he told Writer’s Bone, “no matter what I’m doing, if something causes me to turn a deaf ear to my close friends, I hurt not only them, but also my ability to maintain long lasting, tight-knit relationships.”
His answer to this problem was to make a movie about it for his Speech class. He came up with the concept himself, wrote and directed the short film, and even got his dad, Paul Abeler, and his mother, Lisa Abeler, to portray a couple in the project who are exasperated about phone use at the table and come up with a pretty radical solution to address it!
The basis of the film what was Matthew Abeler saw at the dining hill at his university. “I noticed how “normal” it was for an entire group to have their phones out at the tables, sometimes oblivious to each other. I wondered how a parent would deal with the problem,” as he said to Writer’s Bone.
The setup of the film is a typical family dinner, with father, mother, and two sons. The family appears to have nice home and good food to eat, but there’s one problem. One of their sons pulls out his phone and starts busily messaging right during the middle of the meal.
The father is pretty upset about it and loudly asks his texting son, “pass the salt.” His son completely ignores the request and continues messing with his phone before finally taking a jar and sliding it toward his dad, not even bothering to look up. The camera zooms in, and we see that it’s actually pepper!
Really Really like this pose dad! hahahah! Excited to be back home for thanksgiving!
At this point, the other son sees the example of his brother and takes out his own phone. Now Mom and Dad have lost any chance of having a chat with their boys or a meal without technology.
But then Abeler imagines a pretty incredible intervention! Dad pulls out an old-fashioned typewriter and starts banging away on the table, typing up a storm. Though the boys seemed to be completely lost in their screen worlds, they finally look up, completely shocked at their father’s strange behavior. “I’m sorry. I must have been, a little … distracted,” he says.
The boys get the point and put their phones back in their pockets, and the father finally gets the salt he had asked for. People on the internet got the point too, and the video was shared and discussed widely, with almost 19 million views on YouTube to date!
For Matthew Abeler, the problem he wanted to address “is not mere technology or media, but our confusion with more relationships meaning better relationships.” The film shows the importance of family and being good to those closest to us—a message that’s just as relevant today as it was when Abeler came up with the idea.