Campbell's new "Real Real Life" ad campaign got people talking with its commercial featuring two gay dads feeding soup to their son, but to me, there is nothing complicated about that particular spot. It just makes me feel good.
No, there is a Campbell's commercial that brings up feelings that are much more complex and uncomfortable. It's called "Phones" — have you seen it?
In it, a couple sits and eats dinner together at a little kitchen table, staring intently at their separate smartphones. "Nothing like a good, quick meal to bring two people together," says the voiceover, promoting Campbell's Skillet Sauces. As the commercial ends, the woman rubs her foot against her partner's foot under the table, their faces reflecting the glow of their phones. This is their only interaction.
My first reaction to this commercial was disgust. There is something deeply upsetting, even repulsive, about seeing two people who love each other sitting together and interacting with their devices instead of each other. Yet it happens every day in my own household: My husband and I in the same room, sitting a few feet from each other, looking at our phones or computers instead of each other.
Seeing the mirror turned on myself was disturbing — and then a bit thrilling. Maybe you have managed to totally ban technology from your dinner table and your shared time with loved ones, in which case, you have my deepest admiration. But for those of us floating in a sea of ambivalence about sharing family time with our phones, social media, and the Internet, life is full of guilt and uncertainty. Our culture says it's all or nothing, especially when it comes to family dinner. Either you are all present, interacting and far away from your phone, or you might as well be alone. Seeing an on-screen representation of that vast in-between space — where my husband and I share a giggle over a funny hamster video while sitting on the couch together, where I text with a faraway friend while across the room my husband reads Instagram comments from other faraway friends, where he stops eating dinner for a minute to Google the name of that actor that has been bugging us all night — feels startling and freeing.
Let me be clear: I don't like phones at the dinner table as a general rule. The together-with-our-technology moments in my household have dropped off since we had a kid, who is almost always more fun to watch than a screen, and I think we're happier for it. But I believe family dinner should be whatever works for you and your family, and that having a phone at the table doesn't automatically negate the quality of your time spent together. Instead of feeling guilty about all the ways our own family dinners don't measure up, we should be having more conversations about all the less-than-perfect ways we spend time with loved ones as we navigate the unfamiliar terrain of our constantly connected lives. Let's all acknowledge we don't really know what we are doing when it comes to sharing life, loved ones, and dinnertime with technology. It's time to stop judging and learn a little something from each other.
Let's start here: How do you handle phones, tablets, and other technology at the table in your family?