Washington | Texting or answering a phone call at the dinner table is considered more appropriate than using social media sites such as Facebook during the meals, according to a new study. The study found that people’s attitudes about whether or not you should be using a mobile phone at mealtimes depends heavily on what you are doing, and who else is at the table.
Researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) in the US studied how people use mobile phones during meals and how they feel about other people doing so. They surveyed 1,163 people between the ages of 8 and 88 in English-speaking countries around the world.
The survey found that people’s attitudes about whether or not you should be using a mobile phone at mealtimes depends heavily on what you are doing, and who else is at the table. Not all phone use is perceived the same. For example, texting and answering a phone call are both considered more appropriate than using social media, researchers said.
They think this might be because texting and talking on the phone are both brief activities, whereas using social media can take much longer. This was at least true for adults in the study, researchers said. However, children texting is rated as less appropriate, probably because kids are perceived to be largely socialising with their friends, and they do it a lot more than adults, they said.
These results are interesting because they challenge the idea that using your phone during a shared meal is categorically inappropriate. What we find is that attitudes are much more nuanced than that, said Carol Moser from UM. A quick text or even phone call with your boss might be okay. Watching someone across the table thumb through their Facebook feed, that is different, said Moser.
Regardless of activity, the study found that the older the participant, the more appropriate they perceive using mobile phones at meals to be, but this peaks by the mid-20s. Above that age, perceived appropriateness of use declines with age, researchers said. However, both adults and children generally agree that it is more appropriate for adults to use a phone at meals than for children to.
The mere presence of a child at a meal decreases the perceived appropriateness of adults using their phones, they said. People have done other activities during meals like reading a newspaper or watching the television for years. But smartphones introduce a new challenge, said Sarita Schoenebeck from UM. You cannot tell what someone else is doing on their smartphone, so you have no idea if they are ignoring you in order to reply to an urgent email or to play Candy Crush Saga, she said.
Subscribe to our email newsletter.