I make this point in presentations I give about the role the restaurant plays in the 21st century:
“Food is a final human experience that cannot be digitized. Both must be physically present to enjoy its pleasures and benefits.”
If you let that sink in a bit, you will find that in spite all our technological advancements, food is the one experience that cannot be converted into 1’s and 0’s. We’ve coded music, art, film, communication, business transactions, and banking into digital forms of convenience and efficiency. We’ve even reduced “friendship” to a click of a button on a platform referred to as “social” media.
I figured it was just my age when I started feeling this sense of ambivalence toward this digital side of my daily life. I assumed I was just another Grumpy Old Man pining for the way things used to be “back in my day.” But I recently saw this short film on YouTube that made me realize there must be something to this sense of conscience. When people much younger than me are able to articulate their feelings toward the ubiquitous digital experiences that could be robbing them of more meaningful human intereaction, I should pay attention to what they are saying.
The predicament that the digital world has created is a fearful “what if” dilemma.
- “What if one of my kids is in trouble and can’t reach me?”
- “What if I don’t respond right away? I might lose that client?”
- “What if I don’t answer my boss’s email? I may lose my job”
- “What if I don’t check my texts and all my friends go without me?”
Fear creates scenarios that don’t yet exist. It takes a possibility and turns it into a false reality that ends up dictating my every move. Every morning when I leave the house, I reach for my phone more out of fear than any other reason.
It may seem ironic that I am using a digital means to convey this thought, but demonizing technology isn’t the point; taking control over it is.
I am amazed at the number of guests that I see sitting at a table, each staring independently at their smartphones instead of staring into each other. This is why I don’t have TV’s in my restaurant. I assume you came to eat and converse, not watch TV. I don’t want to put that distraction in the way of your date. The presence of a TV is my choice; the smartphone is up to you.
The more digitally dependent we become, the more important the practice of enjoying simple food and drink in the presence of our companions will be needed to help keep us truly connected.