Technologies at Mealtimes: Beyond the 'Ordinary'

This is my PhD research topic. We investigate the familial interactions with technologies around domestic mealtimes. We seek to understand how technologies are used and negotiated amongst family members and the influence of technologies on the content and context of their interactions. Then we focus on the potential scope for interventions in the social and material configuration enacted through the presence of smart-devices at the dining table. To this end, we present a novel system ‘TableTalk’ and discuss how a detailed understanding of commensality informs the design of new technologies and how such technologies might reconfigure our practices of shared mealtimes.

We have conducted several studies under this theme and published in different venues. Please see detail below:

Exploring Current Practices with Technologies at Mealtimes

We seek to understand how technologies are used and negotiated amongst family members and the influence of technologies on the content and context of their interactions.

‘Table Manners’: Children’s Use of Mobile Technologies in Family-friendly Restaurants

We explore children’s use of iPad, mobile phone, laptop, etc. in terms of the layout of the table, the juxtaposition of artefacts, interaction around eating, and the management of behaviour.

TableTalk: Designing for the Shared Family Mealtime Experience

Family members bring their devices together to create a single display thereby symbolizing the communal aspects of commensality.

Chorus: Celebratory Technology in the Wild

We investigate the long term deployment of Chorus in the Families to investigate the changes and challenges brought up by such celebratory technologies.



Publications

This paper presents findings from a small ethnographic study of children’s use of technology in family-friendly restaurants during dinnertime. We explore children’s use of a range of devices (iPad, mobile phone, laptop) in terms of the layout of the table, the juxtaposition of artefacts, the timing of interaction around eating, and the management of behaviour or ‘table manners’. Ultimately we argue that mobile technology use is adeptly managed by a range of actors – children, parents and restaurant staff – to facilitate a positive dining experience. Further we find that mobile technology use provides unforeseen opportunities for learning, game playing, and intergenerational interaction while allowing families to spend time together. Finally, we outline design considerations for restaurants and designers to better support children’s mobile technologies use in family-friendly restaurants.
While the idea of “celebratory technologies” during family mealtimes to support positive interactions at the dinner table is promising, there are few studies that investigate how these technologies could be meaningfully integrated into family practices. This paper presents the deployment of Chorus - a mealtime technology that orchestrates the sharing of personal devices and stories during family mealtimes, explores related content from all participants’ devices, and supports revisiting previously shared content. A three-week field deployment with seven families shows that Chorus augments family interactions through sharing contents of personal and familial significance, supports togetherness and in-depth discussion by combining resources from multiple devices, helps to broach sensitive topics into familial conversation, and encourages participation from all members including children. We discuss implications of this research and reflect on design choices and opportunities that can further contribute to enhance the family mealtime experience.
This paper examines familial interactions, which are mediated through information and communication technologies, during domestic mealtimes. We seek to understand how technologies are used and negotiated amongst family members and the influence of technology on commensality. We conducted an observational study of six families. The findings showed how technologies are integrated into the mealtime activities. Our study identifies domestic circumstances where background technologies are raised to the foreground, visible devices are hidden, unwanted distractions become desired, and ordinary technologies are integrated into mealtime experiences. We identify four patterns of arrangement between technologies and family members during mealtimes, and we discuss how technologies contribute to mealtime satiety and commensality. Finally, we present implications of our findings and directions for technological advancements focusing on the social and celebratory nature of family mealtimes.
This paper joins the ubiquitous computing scholarship that investigates the use of technologies in collocated shared settings like family mealtime. Family mealtimes are an important site for fostering togetherness, sharing everyday experiences, and nurturing familial ties. While technologies, especially television and personal devices are often criticized for disrupting the social aspects of mealtimes, they are widely available and commonly used nevertheless. In this paper, we explore this tension and present a novel system TableTalk, which transforms personal devices into a communal shared display on the table to enrich mealtime interactions and experience. Our field study shows that TableTalk does not undermine togetherness, but supports familial expectations and experiences by stimulating conversation, reminiscing, bonding, education, and socializing. We discuss how technology that is sensitive to the needs of family interactions can augment the commensal experience and reflect on design choices and opportunities that contribute, rather than disrupt, family mealtimes.
In this research, we investigate the everyday interactions of familial uses of technology around mealtimes and explore how family members configure the dinner space and the technologies within it. We seek to understand how technologies are used and negotiated amongst family members and the influence of technologies on the content and context of their interactions. Based on the current practices in families regarding such collocated use of both stationary and mobile networked communication devices, we identify four patterns of arranging technologies and family members during mealtimes and discuss design opportunities around it. Finally, we discuss about a novel design around collocated and collective use of personal and mobile technologies in the shared family mealtime space.
Recent research about technology during mealtime has been mostly concerned with developing technology rather than creating a deeper understanding of the context of family mealtimes and associated practices. In this paper, we present a two-phase study discussing how the temporal, social, and food related features are intertwined with technology use during mealtimes. Our findings show how people differentiate technology usage during weekday meals, weekend meals, and among different meals of the day. We identify and analyze prototypical situations ranging from the use of arbitrary technologies while eating solitary, to idiosyncratic family norms and practices associated with shared technologies. We discuss the use of mealtime technology to create appropriate ambience for meals with guests and demonstrate how technology can be used to complement food in everyday meals and special occasions. Our findings make recommendation about the need for HCI research to recognize the contextual nature of technology usage during family mealtimes and to adopt appropriate design strategies.
In this research, we investigate the everyday interactions of familial uses of technology around mealtimes and explore how family members configure the dinner space and the technologies within it. We seek to understand how technologies are used and negotiated amongst family members and the influence of technologies on the content and context of their interactions. We aim to pay special attention to understand how our everyday technologies support our regular mealtimes as well as special occasions.

Our Team

We are a multidisciplinary team, from different backgrounds and different institutions!

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Hasan Shahid Ferdous

PhD Research Student, University of Melbourne
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Frank Vetere


Professor, Dept. of CIS, University of Melbourne
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Bernd Ploderer


Lecturer, Dept. of CIS, University of Queensland


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Hilary Davis


Lecturer, Latrobe University
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Kenton Ohara


Researcher, Microsoft Research, Cambridge
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Rob Comber


Lecturer, Open Lab, Newcastle University


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Geremy Farr Wharrton

Post Doctoral Fellow, Open Lab, Newcastle University