This morning, NPR's All Songs Considered blog challenged a venue for asking concert attendees to turn off their phones and keep their cameras tucked away. Writer Bob Boilen thought it was over the top and an unnecessary and mean ol' thing to do to folks who just want to G-D microblog all night IS THAT SO WRONG UGH. It started with this tweet, in which Boilen asked "seriously?" before a show featuring Sonic Youth's Lee Ronaldo and singer-songwriter M. Ward:
A ban on cell phone pictures and video @9:30Club for Lee Renaldo & M. Ward Seriously? Let's see how we all do with that.
— All Songs Considered (@allsongs) May 14, 2012
... to which Neko Case answered: "Just put the phone away and watch the show. That IS why he is traveling THOUSANDS of miles to play."
It's not a unique request. Performers frequently ask audiences to cool it with the cameras. This weekend, Kevin Hart did the same at Essence Fest — attendees at his set were asked not to text or tweet.
Apparently there's no texting or tweeting allowed during @KevinHart4Real tonight at #essencefest. Wonder how they'll enforce that.
— Alison Fensterstock (@AlisonF_NOLA) July 8, 2012
Comedians are pretty strict on the policy. It's no fun when a comic's new material, or an entire new set, winds up on YouTube before the album with the same material drops months later. An album's worth of hard work gets flushed down the toilet when a medicore-at-best quality video (or several) leaks first. ( I wasn't at Kevin Hart's set. I have no idea what he performed.) But notorious bad boy Keith Spera broke the rules this weekend:
This is an illegal tweet sent during Kevin Hart's set at #essencefest
— Keith Spera (@KeithSperaTP) July 8, 2012
But Boilen, you see, is a master multi-tasker, and keeping an experience to himself is just not enough. Boilen needs to tell everyone, while he's in the middle of watching a performer, what he's doing. Anything else, he says, is "old-fashioned":
I want to take pictures and I want to text and tweet and Instagram. I can do two things at once. I can snap a photo, shoot a minute-long video, send out a tweet or two and still thoroughly enjoy the night. I'm conscious of others around me, I turn the brightness on my phone as dim as it can go, and never shoot video longer than a minute. The idea of being at a club or a public event, standing around and not being able to silently share seems almost old fashioned to me. In fact, I'm frankly more bothered by constant chatter by inattentive, uninterested, disengaged attendees then by a fan sharing a pic or texting a friend. A photo or a short video is a great way to share the passion now and relive the show years later. In fact, this year I'm trying to take a one-minute video of everything I see and will put something cool together.
But my question is, what the hell are you doing with that flashed-out photo taken from a million feet away from the stage? Or the blurry, unlistenable video you shot with your hand in the air for five minutes? There are thousands of YouTube videos of dubious quality of pretty much any song you could ever want to see live, and I've yet to see one that made me prefer the computer version. (Also, next time you see someone filming a song, watch how often they switch hands to avoid "concert arm fatigue.")
An informal poll of Gambit staffers unaimously agreed that if you really need that photo, take that photo. The sea of bright screens surrounding a dark club is distracting, and pretty annoying — the moment is on stage, not on your screen. Boilen does have a point: Constantly texting and talking during a show is the worst. I've been to a billion shows, several a week, and it's not uncommon to hear an entire conversation take place over the course of a band's set, or all of the bands' sets, sometimes with back completely turned to the stage. Sure, it's your money, your ticket, whatever, but nobody would prefer listening to someone talk loudly about their shitty significant other or "oh my god did you hear about (something that can wait until after this show to talk about)."
The most obvious offenders are there when the performer descends from the stage into the pit area or bends down to the audience near the stage or a runway — you see it on awards shows, when a performer leaps offstage and gets in the faces of the fans. On TV, you see a swarm of disconnected, unsmiling faces with phones shoved in the artist's face. Time to relish in those sweet, sweet "like" notifications.
What's separating you and Bruce Springsteen is three inches and your cell phone. Granted, you likely won't ever be face-to-phone with the Boss ever again, so why not get that snap shot. Why not prove that "He was right there, man!" But do you need it? What if your hands were free? If you answer differently than how you would respond with a camera or phone in your hand, then you missed out.
I'm not the concert police — if you're having an amazing time livetweeting a show, more power to you. But at some point it's distracting to the people around you, even when you try not to think about it.
(Also: Sorry, NPR. You are the target of a lot of Gambit blog criticism these days.)