business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

To every parent who has issued a “no cell phones at the dinner table” edict, take heart.

We are not alone.

A new ad for the recently launched Facebook Home mobile platform is set at a family dinner, as a middle-aged “cat crazy” aunt recounts her mundane trip to the supermarket. The hip young woman seated immediately to her right glances down at her mobile phone, smugly smiling as she clicks through friends’ photos. Soon the dining room is overtaken with visions of her pals dancing, rocking out and waging a world-class snowball fight.

Some would argue the ad is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I still find it rude and a disturbing endorsement of our growing obsession with palm-held social networking in lieu of face-to-face conversation.

The internet reaction points to what must be a generational divide, as the majority of the 12,000 plus comments posted that I viewed bash the video as “disrespectful,” “disturbing,” “arrogant” and “worst marketing campaign ever.”

And yet more than 63,000 Facebook users have hit the “like” button.

Two other videos for the Facebook Home platform follow suit in mobile-phone devotion. In one, an employee turns to Home drown out his boss - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg - announcing the new product’s launch. In another, an airline passenger is so fixated on his phone he ignores the attendant’s request he turn it off. The Zuckerberg clip was mildly humorous, but the “Dinner” video really touched a negative nerve for me.

I was at least heartened by the outpouring of support for a tech-free family dinner – such an integral yet seemingly threatened tradition in our lives.

This post exemplified many others: “Is this what your dinners look like? No humanity in this. Teaching our kids to check out and engage with technology around the dinner table of friends and family is socially deadening, disrespectful, and callous of the importance of human connection and family ties.”

It’s too simplistic to say this Facebook/Twitter/social media fixation is strictly an addiction of the Gen X or Y generation. I know plenty of adults who are hooked to their phones for sports or business news or even Words with Friends.

But clearly the only way to communicate with the 18-to-34 demographic is through mobile technology. As the mother of two of them, I can tell you this crowd is not logging into a desktop to shop and communicate. Retailers, marketers and service providers need to think about getting their message/products literally into the palms of this demographic in order to reach their wallet.

This also poses an interesting question for employers: How do you make certain mobile phone usage doesn’t impact workplace productivity? MNB did an informal, totally unscientific survey of some retailers and got the sense that while a number of them have policies preventing the use and even display of mobile phones while working, they also say - somewhat ruefully - that they know it is often ignored.

There is some irony in the Facebook Home backlash. Facebook, after all, was created as a way to connect with family and friends, and yet the “Dinner” ad celebrates ignoring those closest to you to voyeuristically experience someone else’s life. Particularly when you consider that average 18-to-24-year-old has 510 “friends” on Facebook, and many “friend lists” are in quadruple digits.

And I realize it is somewhat ironic that a columnist who often writes about the importance of retailers engaging in social media is critiquing this message, this medium. My response to this particular message is simple:

Dinner is on the table. Check your phone at the door.

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