We read omething funny the other day. It went something like this... "I'm having people over for dinner tonight, so they can all stare at their phones." A sad but an all too often accurate observation of modern life, that got us thinking about the bigger picture of technological advancement and its place in our own families.
Artificial intelligence is suddenly it seems, everywhere, mainstream, and accessible to the masses. The age of generative AI has dawned, and it's begun to insinuate itself into our everyday, ordinary lives. Well, some of us at least. f you hadn't heard, it's now possible for anyone, anywhere to create original and unique bodies of text, illustrations and designs by simply sending basic prompts to a computer program. Impressive tech that offers ample opportunity but surely many complex challenges too. erhaps having a good grasp of generative AI is not unlike asking the right questions at a dinner party; you're likely to get a better response, the better your prompt. Its capabilities are emergent so its hard to make sense of how it will impact our lives in the long run, but inevitably, as with all radical innovations, it will change the way we live, work, play and interact with one another. Perhaps it will be an entirely positive revolution that alleviates us from quotidian tasks and perhaps not... It depends on who you ask it seems.
Pre-AI, we all inherited the fundamental set of capabilities for love, relationship building and collaboration, through our caregivers; abilities taught, learnt, and eventually passed down through evolution, generation to generation. Skills that help us to live, together. In modern times, these ancient proficiencies continue to be nurtured on the home front, with the dining table, in most cases, acting as the stage. It is at mealtimes where most effort on family interaction is so often focussed, so it is interesting to consider the ways in which technology can be damaging to our familial relationships during these times - especially as our children grow and develop in a world that places so much emphasis on digital understanding. You've long heard us highlight our desire to get families talking at mealtimes, without the presence of digital devices, so for us, this really is a hot topic of debate and one where, if we're honest, we're erring on the side of caution...
We're most worried about distraction and disconnect. It can already be difficult to know you have a loved one's undivided attention without the ping of an alert or flash of a screen stealing the spotlight. We're all guilty of it somewhere along the way. t isn't hard to comprehend that if individuals are engrossed in their virtual interactions, rather than focussing on their reality, reduced quality time and impersonality can in exchanges can only result. AI-powered apps provide convenient solutions and answers, but they lack the emotional depth and empathy of genuine human interactions. So, an over-reliance on these apps for communication or problem-solving could lead to less meaningful conversations in real life, whilst an over-dependency on AI for various tasks or decisions could erode self-reliance and the ability to think critically. Thus, diminishing, the opportunity for individuals to develop essential life skills and to engage in spontaneous, creative conversation. The widening of generational gaps is another concern: different family members will likely have varying degrees of comfort and familiarity with AI and so a potential divide could affect the way in which family members connect, share experiences, and understand each other's perspectives at mealtimes.
No longer he staple fear of science fictions, the social effects of simple types of AI play out around us now, daily, altering authentic connection and family dynamics slowly but surely. It is our view that we shouldn't be cooking less, and we certainly should be making the time, at least a few nights a week, to sit together and to enjoy a meal and to ask each other how our days were. We'll embrace the tech that's driving our world forward, but slowly and with reverence to good old-fashioned talking at the table, not typing.
At this point you might be wondering why a business that specialises in table linens is attempting to traverse such a technical topic. Those of you that know us well, will understand that we are all about connection - whether that's fostered with your family enjoying a home cooked meal at the dining table using a tablecloth of ours or by you, coming into our shops and talking with us in person. The shop space is an important area to broach. The experience of visiting Portland Road or Elizabeth Street is designed to inspire the senses: you touch the product, you smell the Lavandin essence that dances in the air, you hear Mozart (June's favourite) on the playlist and you see how we've styled the collections together.
Everything that we design and go on to create has one sole purpose: to encourage you to stay at the table to talk, in an honest, human way. Make all the mistakes you like, no one expects a perfect response at our table. Some questions aren't the easiest to answer or ask, but that's probably what makes them so important. Interesting tablecloths and tableware then, for us, are the catalysts to starting those conversations that take a little coaxing. Take our Mood Tumblers as example, we designed six glasses, each emblazoned with a different 'mood', so that children and adults alike can share their feelings, happy or otherwise and download their anxieties together. A simple bit of design that gets families talking openly.
We can't be sure what the long-term consequences of AI will be, we're no experts. We can though, be honest in our feeling that it has the potential to aggravate the development of language and communication in our children and in ourselves. Consider this, the next time you or your kids interact with a voice assistant, how do you first address it? What's the tone? Would you speak to a person in this way...? The answers will vary of course, but it is food for thought on this hugely extensive topic...
For us, interaction in real life, where diversity of thought and the human experience is shared, will always be the most important thing for our development as a business, as members of our community, as family members and as friends.