Six Reasons Why Your Phone Is Probably Ruining Your Concert Experience (And Everyone Else's)

cellphones_off.jpg
Wha'ppen/Flickr
A middle-school orchestra takes a stand.
Two nights this week I trucked out to the Bell House to attend the Chickfactor 20th-anniversary shows, which honored the two-decade-old indiepop fanzine with performances by the likes of Versus, the Softies, and Small Factory. Pinned to some of the Bell House's walls was a sign asking the people in attendance to party like it was 1992—specifically, to cease using their cell phones in the concert hall.

I definitely violated this rule, because old habits die hard, especially when the enablers of those old habits are made of cool metal and in an easily accessible space. But I tried to at least abide by it 80% of the time, and I found myself enjoying the sets by the rip-roaring Versus, the pop maestro and Unrest/Cotton Candy/Teen-Beat leader Mark Robinson (who popped in for a two-song double-A-sided set of his band's classics), and the delicately gorgeous duo the Softies—all of whom are in the upper echelon of my personal musical pantheon—in a way that felt substantially different, and not just from the nostalgia pangs.

Perhaps it was the brainspace cleared out by not checking for text messages and at-replies regularly, but I had a lot of thoughts on why cell phones have pretty much ruined my show-going experience, and why they have probably ruined yours, too.

1. It takes you out of the musical action.
Distracted listening is a curse of the modern age, of course (right now Spotify is one of seven applications open on my computer, including the two that I am using to compose and post this piece). But being at a show means you have the power to rise up against that curse, and maybe pick out an awesome melodic counterpoint that you'd never heard in a song's recorded version.

2. It takes you out of the social action.
I might not have been checking my phone during Versus's set, but I definitely thought about doing so, and then I thought about when I would get the chance to do it. Between sets, right? Well sure, but there were so many people in the audience—friends of mine and friends of friends and so on—who I could have talked to, or bought drinks for, or, you know, other fun things. (I have my own feelings on technology and romance that are probably not appropriate for a music blog, but suffice it to say that as far as enabling introductions it's a bit of a minefield. And no, don't try to sell me on the online personal site of your choice. Please.)

3. It makes you think more about documenting your experience in real time than actually having that experience.
Obviously documenting shows is something that I have to do most of the time for professional reasons, so this hits a bit close to home. But come on! You're all experiencing something that might never happen again! Take a break from analyzing it in real time or framing the perfect shot or trying to tell everyone that you're having the best time and just settle into the songs. (The people who you want to broadcast your night to will be there when it's all over.) I have this problem with parties, too, actually—I've found that my enjoyment of an outing is inversely proportional to the number of posed shots people take during said outing.


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27 comments
John Ulicky
John Ulicky

Why be there in person if you're going to watch it on a 4" screen??

Lori Honulik
Lori Honulik

♥♥THAAAAAANK YEEEEEEEEEEW!! I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO old school when it comes to my concert experience. I expect to be pushed, shoved, be on my tippy toes and yelling, *STOP PUSHING AND SHOVING ME!!*, at the top of my lungs. Aalllll while NOT getting my hair caught on fire by someone's lighter. :) :) Aaaaaaahhhhh, those were the days!! Being a 5'2'' RNROLL fan who reeeeeeaaally cared about her hair and hated smoke in the 80s and 90s was NO easy job, but the BESTESTESTESTEST one. EVER!! We had to sneak cameras in and then have them developed. It was like a week before we could see the pics of a gazzzillllion stranger's heads!! LMFAO!! SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUN!! ♥♥

felanie77
felanie77

wow, i think if you're incapable of turning off your phone for a couple of hours, ESPECIALLY when specifically asked to do so, you either have a serious problem that you need to get help with or you're just a totally self-absorbed jerk. this article was kind of disgusting.

Jonathan M
Jonathan M

Agree with all of the above.  

I just don't understand why you couldn't control your phone usage at the show.  You know how to use the *off* switch, don't you? 

Dddreynolds
Dddreynolds

having a cell at a concert is as stupid as wearing a watch while having sex.

Tom
Tom

Ms. Johnson, I heartily applaud your piece. Absolutely and succinctly struck at the core of this issue (and for music fans, it truly is one.) It's like Simon Reynolds says, events in real time scarcely have time to settle into one's eardrums and retinas before they're archived. In fact, I would posit that the act of archival is the experience remembered more so than the actual performance.

Joshua Sanders
Joshua Sanders

I think one of the moast important points that was sort of not mentioned in this article is: it is totally inconsiderate of your fellow concert goers! Manners seem to go out the window when it comes to cell phones...

Sebastian Stirling
Sebastian Stirling

I went from this post to one on the Hole reunion performance, which naturally featured someone's cell phone footage of the concert.

Carmen Angela Harris
Carmen Angela Harris

This is dumb. I couldn't waste anymore of my eyesight to even click to the second page. The entire article was a stretch. Stop thinking so hard about basic life activities. Enjoy the concert and update your location on FourSquare. Who cares? I hope the writing of this article was an intern assignment.

esteban
esteban

I have never, ever, EVER felt compelled to check my phone during a show.  It gets turned off and stays off.  Since I've owned an iPhone I've taken two pictures at concerts, and felt guilty about both of them.  What is more important than the artist you are watching/listening to at that moment?  The show will probably last a couple hours.  Everything else can wait.  I have the same issue with people who just endlessly chat during a show.  Take that shit outside, poser!

MTS
MTS

To theorize on photography as not being a social action, well, you couldn't be more off-base with points 1-3. Pretty much any piece of literature pertaining to photography and/or visual communication (do you need a primer? I will give you one!) would argue that photography is indeed a social action, and a photograph is the result of a bunch of social forces. Moreover, being focused visually on a performance is very different than listening, but it is no less of an experience -- merely a different one. Knowing when a drummer is about to hit the cymbal, or when a singer is going to kick their leg in the air requires the photographer to pay close attention to musical action.

Personally speaking: When I am shooting a show for publication or personal enjoyment, I walk away with sensory exhaustion and I feel quite satisfied from processing the event on both visual and auditory levels. A lot of photographers feel this way as well.

If you are bothered by the total lack of audience disrespect, then go ahead and call the audience on their bullshit. A lot of people have forgotten that concerts are shared experiences, too.

healthstudent
healthstudent

I want to print out #3 on post-its and stick them to people who pull out their phone at concerts/fireworks.

Jamie
Jamie

I try so, so hard not to look at my phone when I'm taking in music. It worries me how hard it is to a.) not do it, and b.) not think about doing it. This is especially true at events like SXSW where I'm constantly trying to figure out how to schedule my time and texting with a million folks about meeting up.

Joshua Sanders
Joshua Sanders

@Dd: Ha!! That belongs up there as one of the great quotes of all time, and, also, I would like your phone number....

Alexis
Alexis

But you could waste your time enough to comment about how dumb it was? Stop thinking so hard about blog posts you don't agree with. 

and obvs, you care enough to complain about it. 

6h057
6h057

Do you want at cookie for your comment?

maura
maura

I wasn't merely talking about photography here -- and obviously I know you are coming from a place where you do this professionally, as I am with taking notes! Although, sure, send the reading recommendations along -- I can always use them. 

My notes stem more from having your head entirely in your phone while things are happening on stage, or around you (you can replace "I" and "me" for the "you"s there). "Audience disrespect" is one way of putting it, but I do think that when attention is split between the place you are and the amorphous place created by social networks,  there's a degradation of experience. 

6h057
6h057

Even though this article isn't about photography, I want to add how tired it is with everyone taking cellphone pictures. Of everything. I'd ask people to stop but I don't care that much.

Nards Aweigh
Nards Aweigh

Oh, but isn't a clever comment so much better than a cookie?

6h057
6h057

"Something ate Esteban, didn't it?"

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