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A Nostalgic Look at Tray Tables

Tray tables accompanied the popularization of TV in the 1950s and for Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and a handful of early Millennials they were a fixture in the home – a way to gather around what communication theorist Marshall McLuhan had dubbed the “electronic hearth.”</br></br>But, what happened to them?</br></br><strong>Tray Tables &amp; TV Culture</strong></br></br>The youngest of the new generation today may find it hard to believe that there was a time when TV was considered a cultural disruption. It was replacing the dinner table as a place to gather and strengthen familial bonds, and tray tables were enabling what was seen in the late 50s as the beginning of the end of the nuclear family.</br></br>Countless studies then and now have shown TV to have a <a title="Science Daily" href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110914122317.htm" target="_blank">negative impact on familial communication</a>, particularly between parent and child. Of course, tray tables were never vilified – and nor should they have been – but they undoubtedly facilitated more convenient TV consumption.</br></br><strong>Tray-Table Invention &amp; TV’s Allure</strong></br></br>Today’s Western society, which is utterly immersed in technology, likely can’t fathom the siren song of nascent television. Imagine: moving pictures at the turn of a knob! It’s no wonder people couldn’t take their eyes off of it.</br></br>The original TV <a title="Tray Tables" href="http://www.atgstores.com/furniture/living-room-furniture/living-room-tables/tray-tables/" target="_blank">tray table</a>, which entered into mass production in 1952, actually existed before the first TV dinners. Again, this is not surprising – people who had TVs literally could not look away from them, which meant the habit of taking meals in the living room normalized very quickly.</br></br><strong>Tray-Table Evolution &amp; Decline</strong></br></br>This likely seems normal to most people these days given the rapidity with which society adapted to the Internet and mobile communications, but TV’s massive cultural impact in this initial wave of technology’s imposition on family life literally changed society.</br></br>And, the tray table was there to usher it in; to make sure not a moment was missed, even during mealtimes. This symbiotic relationship would ultimately falter, though, under the weight of even more efficient – and more entertaining – forms of personal technology.</br></br>Now, tray tables can still be found tucked into corners in playrooms and in the basements of many a grandparent’s house, but they have largely fallen into “retro” status. Simply put, TV got replaced and better-tasting, easy-to-hold fast food killed the TV dinner.</br></br>Even so, tray tables are more than nostalgic relics of a bygone black-and-white era – they are just as useful today as they ever were, when we remember to bring them out of hiding.
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