The Battle Between Technology and Performances

How might we deal with this current problem? What do I mean? Cell phones. Which nowadays includes cameras, video cameras, Instagram, gaming, web surfing, texting, tweeting, and of course – the worst – your annoying ring tones.

It has become such a common problem in every performance venue – live or film.  How do we teach users of this great new technology the proper etiquette for entertainment?

Even though all entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and concert halls, politely request patrons to silence or just turn them off for 2 hours of their lives, some people either don’t know how or don’t have the discipline not to touch the darn thing while the show is happening.

It amazes and astonishes me when I’m at some movie or performance venue and I see bright lights illuminating people’s faces as a show is happening. At that moment, you have just interrupted my paid privilege to be “in the moment” of the show.  You’ve replaced it with a mental image of me taking your phone and shoving it somewhere where I won’t see its glow or hear it ringing anymore!  I don’t think that your world is going to end if you miss that message. Unless you’re an on-call cardiologist or obstetrician/midwife, it CAN wait until after the show!

I know that some people, particularly seniors who have recently upgraded their phones, don’t actually know how to operate their device. No one took the time to show them how to silence, much less turn off, their new handheld computer. In some instances, they may not even HEAR it ringing, even when everyone else in the concert does. So, perhaps we can get device manufacturers like Apple, Samsung and Nokia to sponsor 10-second videos that remind patrons to silence/turn off their devices and show them how to do it. In venues where video isn’t an option, perhaps the audio announcement could encourage patrons to ask a “neighbor”, who would be only to happy to help in order to avoid an interruption during the show.

This issue recently received national attention thanks to an annoyed movie patron in Florida with an anger management problem. After personally confronting another patron about texting in the theater, they went out to their car to get their handgun, returned to the theater, confronted the cell phone user once more and shot them. All of this happened before the movie even started – further proof that we need to address this issue before anyone else gets hurt!

I do not advocate violence against the perpetrators of technologicus interruptus, but I think we need a set of standard rules concerning the use of these devices in theaters and other performance settings, and we need standard procedures for the enforcement of those rules. It shouldn’t fall on the patrons to point out or punish offenders. Ushers need to be empowered to deal with it as quickly and quietly as possible and there needs to be enough of them to cover the theater – something that can’t happen in your average multi-plex that’s staffed by 5 indifferent teenagers who are glued to their own smart phones.

It also seems that the younger generation feels that it’s their right to be able to take photos or videos during the show. Sometimes it’s illegal! Worst of all, it can be very DANGEROUS to the performers! Yes, your cell phone flash can momentarily blind an actor. They’re walking around in an environment that is dangerous under the best of circumstances, and we all know how it takes several moments for your eyes and brain to fill in the blank spot after a bright camera flash.  Never mind that you may distract the actor from MONTHS of hard work and preparation so that they might transport YOU into the story, but how distracting do you think you are to all the people around you with your stupid phone up in the air.  Don’t do it!! Just don’t!! If you try, you’re probably breaking copyright laws and ushers should be empowered to confiscate your device, erase the offending content and charge a fine before returning the device to you. Theaters are always looking for new revenue streams. Let’s give that one a try!

It’s all part of a larger problem. We’re creating a generation of distraction and immediate gratification.  If anything requires them to focus and work for any long period of time, they can’t be bothered.  Uncontrollable use of technology is a symptom of a public that can’t concentrate, can’t disconnect, and who seem to have a serious lack of self discipline. If a younger person loses interest in something, they tune out and turn on their phone.

Apparently, putting down the cell phone is such a difficult thing to do, that UNICEF is offering to make a donation for every ten minutes that a person can leave their phones untouched. I’m not kidding! Just download the app for their TAP Project and lay the phone down for ten minutes to supply a day’s worth of clean drinking water to a person who needs it.

We, not only as artists, but as patrons, need to demand our right to a distraction-free experience. A place to disconnect from reality for a couple of hours and be transported to another world – one free from the cares of our daily lives. Something which is VERY difficult to do when the bozo next to you is playing Angry Birds on his iPhone.

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