Neuroscience and Pope Agree on Limiting the Role of Smartphones in Life

Away from the dinner table.


Technology has its place in our lives, just not at the dinner table, according to Pope Francis.

"A family that almost never eats together, or that never speaks at the table, but looks at the television or the smartphone, is hardly a family," he said in a report. "When children at the table are attached to the computer or the phone and don’t listen to each other, this is not a family, this is a pensioner."

“In family life we learn about togetherness from a young age, which is a very beautiful virtue; the family teaches us to share, with joy, the blessings of life,” he said. 

The pope might be on to something. Family dinners are a pivotal time for development, according to pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky.

"[Children] learn language; they learn about their own emotions; they learn how to regulate them," she said in an interview with NPR. "They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people's facial expressions. And if that's not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones."

Think you can pay attention to your kid and send a tweet at the same time? Dan Harris says forget about it.

"We literally neurologically cannot do more than one thing at a time," says Harris.

It's important to not just silence our cellphones at the table, but also ban them from the room. Studies have found the buzz of a notification is enough to pull focus away from the task at hand. While we're thinking about who may have texted us, we miss information being conveyed at the table whether that's an emotional tick or a spoken word.

You won't see high-wire artist Philippe Petit on his smartphone — he doesn't own one. Doesn't own jewelry, doesn't even wear a watch. These are all distractions that would draw his focus away from his art. And when you're walking a wire and a millisecond's loss of focus results in tragedy, perhaps eschewing gadgetry is the way to go.

***

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI / Getty Staff

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