Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Phone


IKEA, those clever Swedish furniture makers who have convinced us all to make our own furniture, are getting creative again. Their latest invention: A table that somehow cooks soup via your smartphone.

Well, not your smartphone. Not unless you live in Taiwan and frequent the IKEA store there. And, of course, you’ve got to be willing to stick your phone under the table’s nifty cook top and not fiddle with it for a while—easier said than done, as these soup connoisseurs found out.


It’s probably not surprising that some of the diners were getting a little antsy without their smartphones. According to a recent study from a trio of British universities, young adults use their phones on average about 85 times a day—more than twice as much as they thought they used them. For many of us, phones have become almost an extension of ourselves—the first thing we look at in the morning, the last thing we see at night, and a gadget we may spend more time with than our spouse.

It’s nice of the folks at IKEA to remind us that there is a whole world to experience outside our phones, and that sometimes sitting down with a bunch of strangers for soup can be even more fun than Candy Crush.

But this commercial makes me think of something else, too: Do we really need IKEA to tell us about how to live a fuller life? I’m not being snide. I really wonder: Do we?

We’ve pointed out a number of inspirational commercials in this very space over the last few years, from last year’s bevy of dad-themed Superbowl commercials to Dove’s take on beauty, and they’re all very nice. I like them a lot.

But, of course, businesses don’t make such commercials purely out of the goodness of their collective hearts. Such inspirational ads are sales tools, too. Marketing is all about making you feel good about a brand, and commercials like this effectively do just that. IKEA doesn’t just want you to put down your phone at the dinner table. It wants you to put aside those phones while sitting on an IKEA dinner table, because IKEA clearly cares enough about you and your family to give you a little friendly advice.

Sex may still sell, but sensitivity and thoughtfulness apparently does, too. And it makes me wonder whether these businesses are addressing a felt need—a sense that our society isn’t all it could or should be, maybe. We want to feel more grounded than we sometimes feel in this fragmented, tech-heavy world of ours. We want to be reminded of real, time-honored values: It’s better to talk with people than to text them. Real beauty is found on the inside. Families are important.

These are all values that, traditionally, have been taught within the domain of the family and, to a lesser extent, the Church. But the Church has been diminishing in influence over the last few decades, and families are more disjointed and frazzled than ever before. And most of us—both parents and children—spend an inordinate of our time staring at screens.

And so those screens become natural conduits for communication. For selling stuff. For teaching stuff. Sometimes for a little of both. Even as IKEA gently suggests we put away our pocket-size screens for a while, it knows full well where we devote most of our attention. It makes the commercial a bit ironic. And maybe a bit sad. Not regarding IKEA, but us.

It’s something to think about, perhaps, as we head toward the Super Bowl and its litany of ads—some of which may try to inspire and teach as well. And hey, I’d certainly rather us get a steady dose of feel-good lessons than salacious GoDaddy knockoffs. But still it’s something to think about. Just as people are better to talk with over dinner than your phone, I’d like to think that they tend to make better teachers, too.


Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Isaac_Trenti More than 1 year ago
Breaking away from the smartphone discussion, I agree with your stance on advertisements. The Super Bowl ads that I remember are the heartwarming ones: Budweiser’s Clydesdales and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader kid most notably. I think that is because they made me think a little bit andthey took thought to make. Sex sells, but it’s a lazy tactic and a sorry replacement for good writing. This IKEA advertisement demonstrated the creativity of their product and made me want to buy one, though I lack the funds and living space.
Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
Well said, Paul, and an excellent point. The smartphone is rather terrifying in its addictive power; just watching it transform people in my life over the course of the last couple years- myself included, despite my best efforts- is truly sobering. Everyone who has the addiction tries to deny the addiction, but even experiments like the above make it plain that there is a very unhealthy connection to the constant presence at our hips.
Marissa More than 1 year ago
Here's an xkcd comic which I think neatly sums up this post: http://xkcd.com/1601/
bobed More than 1 year ago
Exactly right! People love to harshly condemn people who walk around on their phones, calling them zombies and all that highly original stuff, but how many of those people are on their phones to read the news or text a loved one? I called rubbish on the idea that phones are somehow ruining our ability to communicate. Computers and tablets too for that matter. I use my tablet to FaceTime with my family who live thousands of miles away, and my phone to text my friends who I can't see at the moment. If that makes me an uncommunicative zombie, then I'm proud to be one.