What inspired you to create Pass the Salt?
Surprisingly, “Pass The Salt” wasn’t sparked by a traditional family dinner. It was my interactions with college students at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul (where I currently attend) during lunch and dinner that inspired it. I noticed how “normal” it was for an entire group to have their phones out at the tables, sometimes oblivious to each other. I wondered how a parent would deal with the problem. That initial quandary led to a personal commitment not to use my phone at mealtimes even in the collegiate setting. Later, I gave a speech on the subject of “Media Obesity: Technology and Relationships” for one of my classes, and decided a comedic video could engage interest in the topic. My speech professor denied the request to use an original video (I also hadn’t read the syllabus well enough), but I enjoyed the script so much I decided to make the film anyway.
What has the response been? Does it vary by generation?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, even though the video does have technical imperfections. I believe it’s because people resonate deeply with not just the discussion of technology that the video portrays, but also about value. When I was researching the topic for my speech, I discovered that there were greater problems swimming beneath the surface of little things like “texting at the table.” If I am having a deep conversation with my parents, and I whip out my phone I am implicitly telling them “I value the conversations with my friends on the phone more than the conversation I’m having with you.” This can cut deep, even if I didn’t intend it to, and even if it is status quo behavior. No matter what I’m doing, if something causes me to turn a deaf ear to my close friends and family, I hurt not only them, but also my ability to maintain long lasting, tight-knit relationships.
That is more blatant for an older demographic, which can cause tension with a younger generation who may not see any problems with it. On the YouTube thread, both the most supportive and the most antagonistic comments come from opposite ends of the totem poles: the 18 to 35 and 65+ age demographic.
Even the negative criticism I have received has been helpful. One of the flaws pointed out by the audience was the apparent lack of an attempt at conversation before the father slams the typewriter down. I fully agree. Even if there’s a no-phone policy at the table, it is pointless unless it is replaced by healthy conversation. I overlooked that while writing the script and producing the short, but am thankful for sites like High Low Glitter that catch on and point the family in a positive direction. It is far more important to focus on producing good face-to-face conversation than to focus on removing texting from the table.
Have you heard any stories from people significantly changing their behavior after watching the video?
I have heard of dads who have copycatted the video with their own typewriters (I’m not sure what kind of success they had, and I would probably not recommend it). It’s not a video designed to change behavior or model behavior as much as it is just a comedic kick-starter into discussing the topic of technology and relationships. I have received many emails from people who use the video to precede lectures, sermons, or even catechisms (in the case of one Spanish priest). What I don’t expect are emails reading “Matt, thank you so much for helping me not text at the dinner table, it has helped me solve my poor communication with my family.” There are larger issues at hand than texting at the dinner table. The video is simply a gateway (or an attention getter) into a deeper discussion.
Which is ruder: texting at the table or talking with your mouth full?
Whichever one my mother is unhappier with is ruder. Personally, that’s the best way I know how to answer that question.
One additional comment would be to point out that while texting at the table adds more people to the dinner table, talking with your mouth full doesn’t. At least when you talk with your mouth full you are talking with the people around you, but when you text you are including a person in the dinner conversation who is present for you but for no one else.
What was the High Low Glitter of producing Pass the Salt?
My actual parents are the parents in the video. That was the greatest highlight. They were a right fit and have been more passionate about the short film than I have even before it’s viral success. Also, the teens in the videos are lifelong friends of mine from high school, so it was an incredibly fun production to lead. We had some continuity issues during editing, because one of the boys had licked his whole plate clean during shooting and then began asking the other actor’s if he could eat their food as well. A volunteer actor has never been paid so well in pork chops.
I never got to show my speech class the video. I think it has still done okay.
A glittering moment has been the welcome of the video not only nationwide, but globally. It has played in every country, and has been picked up by Vanity Fair Italy, Huffington Post Germany, two TV shows in Tokyo, and many others. The concept struck a chord beyond our border and I did my best to reply to messages and comments written in other languages. It was also shared on the Facebook walls of a few celebrities including Ashton Kutcher and George Takei.
But the story get’s better. All that success was completely unforeseen. None of my other videos have come anywhere near close 100,000 views let alone over 8,000,000. It was a blessing because I have a dream to graduate from college completely debt free, but had put working on video scholarships on the back burner because of a volunteer project through my university’s athletic department. Although it didn’t make sense financially, I was incredibly passionate about the project and felt as if God was encouraging me to continue pursuing it over scholarships. The same week I began drafting the script for the athletic department, the video jumped from 3,000 to 300,000 (a full year after I originally made it). I set up an ad on the video, and the profits have been more than enough to cover my student loans and help a close friends with his finances. Some might call it coincidence. I wouldn’t, but either way God’s blessings have been like glitter; even if I wanted to get away from it I keep finding it in my hair weeks later. I’ve stopped ignoring it and have started being grateful. It makes for some of the best conversations at our family’s dinner table.