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East County News Service

July 16, 2018 (La Mesa) -- You won’t find noisy TVs and blaring music at Fourpenny House in the heart of the La Mesa Village.

This coming Tuesday, July 17, what you will find are signs encouraging you to take a tech break while you enjoy your meal at the cozy Scottish Brew Pub.  

The Owner, Peter Soutowood, has taken great strides to create a welcoming pub experience and he hopes people will enjoy a night where they can connect with one another and not have to strain to have a conversation over the TV noise.  Fourpenny does have a pull-down screen but this is only used for special occasions like traditional pub-style soccer watching.

Soutowood designed his restaurant with the community in mind, offering an intimate setting, a communal table (where you can sit with friends or make new ones) and experience one activity at a time.  Soutowood says, “If we have someone playing live music, it’s not super loud and we don’t have five TV screens all blaring different shows. So many of us are distracted throughout the day and we want you to relax, enjoy your time here and be able to have a conversation.”    

La Mesa resident, Claudia Erickson founded the Unplugged Village because she was concerned about tech dependency.  She was tired of restaurants where she couldn’t hear the person sitting next to her and she was looking for alternatives.  “I was finding dining in restaurants to be an irritating experience and I heard the same sentiments from people around me, so I started to look into it.”

Turns out restaurants were becoming less and less a place for communal dining and more about never ending multi-tasking or being entertained. “That’s fine if you are going to watch a game or to catch up on work…and there are plenty of those places out there…but it seems like we need other options as well and it was becoming more and more difficult to find one.”  

It’s common to see people in restaurants glued to TV’s or their cell phones, parents handing phones to kids as pacifier’s, and people minimally talking to one another during a meal.  Despite this trend, a Pew Research Center survey in 2015 found that 88% of respondents believe it’s generally not okay to use a cell phone during dinner.  In addition, both Zagat and Consumer Reports recent surveys found that excessive noise is the top complaint diners have-ahead of service, crowds, or even food issues.


 If TVs and cell phones really are an annoyance, why were so many places encouraging people to do the opposite?  The number of TVs and noise level in restaurants seems to have increased exponentially over recent years and many restaurants have TV screens and loud music to attract audiences and to appear vital even when empty. Compound that with the current trend in restaurants to be more industrial, with hard wood floors and no table cloths. These changes affect acoustics and it all adds up to increased noise and distractions.


The cell phone may be quiet if you are texting, but it still plays a big role in distracting us from human connection.  Erickson thought it would be nice to promote venues where people can take a break from their gadgets. “Tech is designed to be addictive.  Go to any restaurant, airport or waiting room where people are on their phones and chances are good you will get an overwhelming urge to join the pack. Having an Unplugged Dining event, offers a way to support taking a break from tech even if just for an hour.”


In talking with some local restaurateurs, Erickson found that many don’t appreciate TVs or cell phones either. They have invested time, money and reputation into building their business and are often irritated at screens interfering with the traditional dining experience.  Several restaurants across the country have integrated screen free dining nights into their business and she thought it would be nice to try and bring this to some of the restaurants in the La Mesa Village. 


 “It’s the perfect place to start off the Unplugged Village as we already have a Village that is homey and has small town appeal with some great cuisine and ambiance.”   At present Erickson found five TV screen-free restaurants in the Village: Fourpenny House, Sheldon’s, Public Square, The Aubrey Rose Tea Room and Swami’s Café. “If the Unplugged Dining at Fourpenny goes well, perhaps other restaurants will want to offer unplugged events.  Even if they don’t, at least you know they don’t have TV’s blasting so it’s a start.”


Erickson, who has a background in public health, hopes to expand the Unplugged Village. She also offers resources and presentations on how to help reduce tech dependency and give our brains a much-needed break.


Adults now spend over 9 hours a day consuming media (Common Sense Media 2016). Moreover, about ¼ of U.S. adults (39% of those ages 18 – 29) say they are ‘almost constantly’ online (Pew survey Jan 2018).  Technology is super fun and engaging but our brains need a break.   Humans now have the attention span of a gold fish (8 seconds), but technology is not going away.  We use it for work and personal use, to be efficient, to stay current and to feel relevant. Apps that tell us how to get where we are going or where we can find cheap gas are phenomenally useful. Tech can be a real time-sucker though, and we sometimes need reminders to keep it in check and give the brain a chance to recharge.


There are some really simple things people can do to help curb the constant impulse to engage with tech devices.  Having unplugged dinners is one way.  Not using the cell phone for everything is another. 


Erickson says, “It’s funny, I suggest to people that they try not checking their phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  The response I most often get is that they would do that except that they use their phone for an alarm clock. At which point I say, You know there is this invention called an alarm clock.  You can get one at Walmart for $8.” 


Unplugged Dining - is Tuesday, July 17, 2018 anytime during open hours (11 am to midnight).  Fourpenny House is located at 8323 La Mesa Blvd., La Mesa CA 91942 / www.fourpennyhouse.com


Contact Claudia Erickson with the Unplugged Village for more information at (619) 248-6532 or cerickson@unpluggedvillage.com /www.unpluggedvillage.com