Dinner time! But where have all the diners gone? Dad called that he's detained at the office. Mom's still at the gym. The teenage boys are at soccer practice. The older sister is studying at her friends. Even the family dog is still at the animal day care center.
In previous eras, the family meal was almost a sacred table. Mom was still in the kitchen -- putting the final touches to a full-course meal. The children knew they had to look neat -- their hands washed, their faces scrubbed. No excuses for being late! Whatever subject was being discussed, it was silently acknowledged that father knew best.
With an increasing number of women in the work force, with after-school activities almost mandatory, the chances of the family sitting down together at meal times is markedly reduced. When they are together, often a decision is made to eat out -- there is a whoop of joy -- no cooking, no clean up and those french fries at the neighborhood fast food diner!
Is the passing of the family meal, something to be mourned? Have we lost an opportunity to transmit family values and to bring together the family to offer support and security? Maybe something is lost, but the family meal wasn't always serene. There were sometimes heated arguments and a feeling of oppression by the woman in charge. And what about boredom -- and the wish to get through the meal as quickly as possible and get on with one's own interests.
Of course, families still get together, although surely less frequently around a table. But today, some major change can be observed. With almost no exception, one or both of the children, or even Mom or Dad is on a cell phone, an iPhone or watching a portable video screen. There's more talk to someone not at the family table that there is to someone present. Even couples alone, or a mother and child together, or grandparents visiting from afar, are technologically engaged.
Will the listeners at the other of the cell phone, the iPhone, or whatever new device is developed -- will these connections be the new electronic family? Will the text messages constantly transmitted, transmit the cultural values, offer support and security? The answers lie in the future, a future which will have its own technology, its own questions, and its own search for answers.