This weekend, my girlfriend and I settled into our balcony seats at the historic Neptune Theatre in Seattle’s University District for a concert. As the blue and purple houselights dimmed and the band took the stage, a hundred smartphones were borne aloft to capture the moment. It was easy to excuse the first time. The theatre has character — from its stained glass windows to its ring of Poseidon heads with glowing eyes — and the lighting of the show was, in a word, awesome. But after the third, fourth and fifth time that people around me snapped a photo for Instagram or Facebook, I started to get annoyed. Some people were recording videos of entire songs; one girl was even texting through the entire opening act. Several times during the performance, my view of the stage was blocked by a dozen mobile devices craning for the best photo or video.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a digital native, not a Luddite. My phone is nearly always within reach — I myself snapped the above picture before the show. But there comes a time when you need to put the camera phone down and be present. Especially when you’re paying to hear live music, why would you want to experience the whole thing through your four-inch phone screen? You are missing so much.
Mobile devices are great. I love being connected to the world through my phone. But there are times when I don’t want access to the whole world at my fingertips. There are times when I want to be isolated in a brief, shimmering pocket of time and space. I want to be immersed in the present. Performances are one of those places where maybe you shouldn’t have your device out. If you like the song you’re recording so much, why not buy the album? You can’t get caught up in the waves of emotion when you’re busy tweeting a photo or texting a friend. I’ve been guilty of being distracted and operating under the illusion that I was effectively multitasking. It turns out that paying attention to your phone doesn’t leave a lot of attention left for the world around you.
Even if you don’t care about blocking someone else’s view of the stage or blinding everyone within ten feet with the glare of your screen, do it for yourself. Turn the phone off and put it away for an hour or two. You will be able to remember this night without a hundred filtered photos to prove you were there. You may notice the subtlety of the music, the artistry of the lights and the message of the lyrics without a barrier or plastic, glass and computer chips in front of your face. Facebook will still be there when it’s all over, but the story you have to tell will be that much richer, even without the help of your iPhone.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer of many words in Tacoma, WA. You can follow him on Twitter, debate him in the comments or simply shut down your computer and read a book for the rest of the day. The choice is yours.