You’re on a date, ignoring your honey and watching the big game on your phone instead. Either your date is annoyed, or they’re distracted checking Instagram. Does this scenario sound familiar?
Sloane Davidson has created a new app called Dinner Mode that challenges you to disconnect while you eat. She says, “Anyone who feels like they’re on their phone too much and have given up too much control to their devices could benefit from creating a daily habit of being offline for a set period of time every day.”
How does Dinner Mode work? You open the app, set a timer for how long you want to ignore your phone (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour), then there’s a prompt to turn the phone face-down. If you cheat and look at your phone, you get a screen telling you that you failed and asking if you want to try again.
But if you pick up your phone and the time is up, that means you’ve succeeded in being present with your meal, your company, and your surroundings. Davidson says, “I’m really excited at the opportunity to help people create a habit, and I think food is a great gateway because eating is something all of us do every day.” The best part: You don’t even need the app to go into “Dinner Mode”—but the app, available on iOS, does make it more fun.
We spoke with Davidson, a NYC tech innovator, about what inspired her to create Dinner Mode, and how the response has been so far.
Who was your target market when developing the app?
It’s for anyone. I have heard a lot of parents say they are using the app at dinner with their families. Friends use it at dinner. I have a few single friends who live alone and they use it because they might make dinner for themselves but then they sit on the computer while they eat. There is a bit of gamification to it: can you last the whole time? I think that speaks to people, they’re excited to challenge themselves to do something that feels simple but can actually be really hard.
What inspired you to create Dinner Mode?
The nexus for Dinner Mode stems from something deeply personal. My best friend of 15 years had left his career in tech to become a farmer. Only a few years into his dream, he died last summer in a tragic farm accident. When that happened I went to his farm in upstate New York to help his wife, and I ended up staying for seven weeks last summer. Being on a farm, growing food, and harvesting the food that I then made to eat had a profound affect on me. I was so present when I was eating. No distractions, and I wasn’t on my phone.
When I got back to NYC, my mind went crazy. People were on their phone walking down the street, in the check-out line, at restaurants—literally everywhere. I know it’s normal behavior for a lot of people, but after being away for seven weeks I was in a state of shock. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to the way things were.
Simultaneously, I was asked to give a talk at INBOUND in September, presumably about social media or digital engagement. Instead, I called the organizers and asked if my talk could be about NOT being online. Actually I asked if my talk could be about the opposite, spending less time online. From my experiences and reflections, I created a talk called Put Down Your Phone and Start A Movement. In preparation, I did a ton of research around the implications and negative affects technology has on kids, families, everyone.
Dinner Mode started as a nod, a nudge to encourage people to be offline while they were eating. I pictured more, I wanted a timer—something really simple. I sketched out what I wanted in great detail and good friends at Revelry helped bring it to life. There is a lot of opportunity for how we can continue to grow the movement and the app and we’re all really excited.
Do you think Instagramming food while eating makes people enjoy it less?
It depends on the occasion! I’m guilty of taking photos sometimes of something I made when I’m really proud of it. But then I take the phone and put my phone down and don’t pick it up again. I think it’s not about taking photos of food but the act of taking yourself out of a situation and creating a barrier (like a phone). I also found a lot of interesting research around creating versus consuming. We mainly spend our time online consuming. If someone is a food blogger, or gets a lot of joy from taking photos of their food I’m not going to tell them that they’re doing it all wrong, I just think we really have to be mindful and careful around how we use technology and how we let it use us.
How has the response to Dinner Mode been thus far?
We just launched the app this week, and the response has been incredibly positive. People are excited to have something to speak to a feeling that a lot of us have which is that we’re on our phones too much and we’re missing out on what’s happening in our real lives. It’s also been really great to see people rally behind the concept of a side project and a passion project. We know Dinner Mode has a lot of opportunity but at its heart it’s about taking a very real learning experience and sharing that with people and that is really resonating with people.