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Distracted Dining: The art of small talk, chit chat and turning off the tech

In this D&D, Nancy chooses good conversation over technology at mealtime
Distracted Dining with Nancy Revie

Small talk? It’s a gift.

Hard to fathom that people find it difficult to engage in conversation — even with those we know and love.

This functional component of a healthy life has been so diminished with the increased technology available today, institutions of higher learning are creating courses to tackle the subject. Stop shaking your head in disbelief — it’s true!

The University of Sydney, Australia’s Continuing Education department offers a course on ‘The Art of Good Conversation’ and includes topics such as:

  • Conversation and happiness

  • Conversational sins

  • Conversational virtues

  • How conversation can change your life

  • What we talk about has much to do with where we place our attention

Stop right there. That’s it! That’s the one I want to talk about — ‘what we talk about has much to do with where we place our attention.’ Ha! I need to add, ‘and whether we choose to talk or text has much to do with where we place our attention.’

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining out with my co-workers. It was a celebration of sorts as one of our own is moving to a new job at head office. The evening included lots of laughs; a few tears and great memories shared with copious amounts of dynamic conversation. What didn’t surface in our group of 10, not even once, was a cell phone or handheld device of any kind. I stand corrected. We did use a phone to snap some memorable pictures.

This was one of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time. Why? Because everyone there was engaged and present at the table. It was an opportunity to connect outside of office hours, engage in small talk, chit-chat, laugh and leave the stress of work aside as we enjoyed each other’s company while sharing a meal. It was like the good old days when eating a meal together was a time to regroup and catch up with each other.

Some of the stories shared were awesome,and by awesome I mean the kind that evoke laughter and make memories to last. One story would ignite another and I personally learned a lot about the people I work simply by being attentive to and enjoying the conversation.

The talk turned to eating out in general, and more specifically about observing other diners consumed with their techi-devices. Everyone agreed — it’s sad to see the majority of people while dining out disengaged from their table mates as the technological draw to communicate overshadows the real-life conversations they could be having.

Personally, I find the act of someone checking their cell phone during a meal the epitome of rudeness. I’m not the only person who feels you’re not very smart to be on your smartphone during meals. This is detrimental to your human interactions, especially small children who may be dining with you.

Boston Medical Center went undercover in 15 local fast food restaurants to observe parents dining with their children. The results? 40 of the 55 families observed showed parents absorbed in their mobile devices. The most distracting elements were typing and making swiping motions as opposed to making phone calls. Almost a third of the parents used their devices continuously throughout the meal. Some kids appeared unaffected and ate their meals in silence, while some tried to distract their parents into noticing them. How sad is that?

If someone absolutely needs to check their email while dining, they should excuse themselves and go do it in the restroom. Most of the time, there is nothing pressing or urgent that needs to be dealt with while eating. It irks me to no end when I see entire families at a restaurant together, but not together as they all are doing whatever on their mobile devices while sitting at a table. The choice to use technology to this extent is one of the reasons we are seeing more courses offered in how to converse.

What we talk about has much to do with where we place our attention. Whether we choose to talk or text has much to do with where we place our attention. Surely we aren’t so boring that we can’t have a wonderful conversation with each other while we dine.

Yes, there are exceptions. Perhaps one of the many texters at the table has a person near and dear to them in the hospital on life support and they’re checking for status updates. I know by experience if anything major happens in a situation like that, you’ll be alerted by a phone call.

When it comes to dining out it’s time to take control and leave the phones in pockets or purses. For parents, eating out is an excellent opportunity to talk to your kids about what is going on in their lives, what’s going on in yours, teach them about good table manners, how to make conversation, laugh and reconnect as a family.

Next time you dine out, resist the urge to behave like Pavlov’s dogs by responding to the ping. Relax, enjoy, engage in small talk, chit-chat, converse and love the ones you’re with!

Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at​​. Her column appears every other week.