It’s more than right that Steve Jobs and Apple reduce conviviality (from the Latin convivium meaning ‘to talk about life’) into a rhetorical device to beat competing computer manufacturers.
“The iPad is convivial and works well for families. What’s better than ten games played together on ten devices around the same table, in a way that’s slightly less antisocial than just a computer screen?” In this way a website for tablet users echoes the self-presentation of the Mac operating system which considers itself ‘essentially convivial’ (apple.com).
Janell Burley Hofman, the brilliantly intuitive mother who gave her son a contract of ‘good use’ with his new iPhone (a contract which then became viral following its publication on the Huffington Post), has understood the larger sense of ‘conviviality’. Hofman, mother of four other children besides Gregory, has been able to exploit her media success, publishing a book eloquently named “iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know about Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing Up”. Through her popular blog, Janell helps other parents and demonstrates at the same time that it’s not only Apple that knows how to do business, but also her, albeit on a smaller scale. Feeding and educating five mouths certainly helps awaken her ingenuity.
On the other hand, as we well know, there is now a plethora of advice on new and useful apps to download for the family and for every need. Relating to this you can read our article Best Apps for Busy Mums .
Electronic tablets and the dining table: the evolution or the death of conviviality?
Fabrice Hadjadj (1971), French philosopher and essayist from an agnostic Jewish family who converted to Catholicism in 1998, believes that a tablet on the table top is not a worthy trade-in for conviviality. He argues acutely and provocatively in one of his essays in his book: Fabrice Hadjadj , Qu'est-ce qu'une famille? La Trascendence en culottes , Salvator, Paris, 2014, p. 253.
Did the dining room table, the family table or the feast table establish the conviviality that electronic tablets are now laying claim to? To refute the arrogant advertising claims, Hadjadj offers a beautiful array of arguments, woven with simple phenomenology and irony. I always welcome philosophical reasons –especially those acute, understandable and humorous– that reinforce a common experience. It’s enough to see this little skit on Pepper Hacker , already mentioned on our site before, to strengthen us personally and as a family. In it we see how the mother exercises her command in a gentle but imperious way, as befits the matriarch of the home, turning off all the electronic equipment and virtual worlds that her husband and children are absorbed in with a ‘universal control’ hidden innocuously and innocently in a ‘pepper grinder’; in fact the menacing ‘pepper hacker’.
Penelope Leach, a Britain’s leading expert on child care, did a television documentary for the BBC on the state of family life in Britain. She was taken by the Chief Rabbi of London to a Jewish primary school on a Friday morning. There she saw the children enacting in advance what they would see that evening around the family table (the shabbat, the dinner of the day of rest). There were the five year old mother and father blessing the five year old children with the five year old grandparents looking on. The journalist was fascinated by the power of this all-encompassing institution, and asked the children what they loved most about the Sabbath. A child of five said, “it’s the only day of the week when Dad doesn’t have to go out”. After he had finished recording, the journalist said to Chief Rabbi of London, “Chief Rabbi, your Sabbath is saving the marriage of his parents”. He understood the core of Sabbath; the sacred table of the Jews.
Don’t play around at the table; eating is a serious business.
To conclude with the brilliant essayist, Hadjadj quotes this passage from the book of Proverbs, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out her seven pillars. She has prepared her food, she has spiced her wine and set her dining table”(Pr 9: 1-2) and asks provocatively: “How do we interpret these verses from the Book of Proverbs? The language is metaphorical; could we perhaps replace the metaphor with another, more fitting to our century? What about: “Wisdom has manufactured a tablet, has multiplied the Wi-Fi channels, and shared her best moments on Instagram”?
Definitely not, “the Catholic faith has truncated the demand: there will be a ‘holy table’, not a sacred tablet” and no iPad in the world will succeed it.
With all due respect to Apple and advertising, and without demonising anyone, the popular saying must be remembered: “do not play with food (at the table)”.