At your next concert: stop filming, start listening | David Sax

Musicians and Silicon Valley are calling time on bad mobile phone etiquette. A richer engagement with memory might be the result

Our pop stars are mad as hell, and theyre not going to take it anymore. From reigning chart queens Beyonce and Adele, to rock gods such as Jack White, indie icons like Wilco and boomer mainstays such as Peter Frampton, the call from the stage to the audience to put down the goddamn phone is sounding louder, and clearer, than an annoying ringtone interrupting a concert.

Musicians are so sick of staring out at the backs of thousands of phones and tablets filming them, that they are taking increasingly extreme measures. A new company called Yondr (based, of course, in San Francisco), has created a cell-phone straightjacket for concertgoers. Once inside a specified perimeter, the phones cannot be removed from the bags, and only unlock once the concert is done.

If this sounds like an extreme solution to a benign problem, its only just the beginning. Apple recently filed a patent to remotely disable the recording capabilities of its devices in defined areas, with an eye on concerts (and, one hopes, not political demonstrations). Musicians and concert promoters have the protection of their intellectual property foremost in mind, but the wider backlash against the omnipresent red recording light may just be beginning.

Go to any sporting event, parade, or performance at a theatre and you will see an audience defined by the density of glowing LCD rectangles. Step into a remotely trendy restaurant, or even ice cream parlour, and you will see diners phones hovering over each thing that emerges from the kitchen. The macabre stories of people dying while taking selfies, have become commonplace.

Cell phones are an omnipresent reality, and necessity, of modern society. We are no more likely to leave the house without them than we are without our shoes. The ability to bring a tiny, highly powerful camera with us anywhere is one of the greatest technological achievements of our digitally dominated century.

The utility of this recording power is transformational. It allows us to capture beauty, humor and history without restraint. It is a potent, and growing tool for social justice. The police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile led to immediate outrage precisely because their injustice was documented, and shared, with unquestioning clarity.

But outside of those rare, necessary circumstances, have we stopped to ask ourselves just why are we so obsessively record as much as possible? And what, exactly, are we sacrificing by doing so?

The selfie, and its enabling stick, have turned any remotely decent moment of lighting into a personal canvas. Walking through the park near my house this week, I passed two lone sunbathers angling for the perfect portrait (cleavage scrunched, lips pursed like a duck), and a pair of tourists narrating their stroll through the city for an audience I imagine will never extend beyond themselves.

But there I am a few minutes later, at the splash pad with my three-year-old daughter, tapping record along with every over parent. I, like them, want to capture the hilarity and joy and absurdity of yet another wonderful afternoon and bottle it up like holy water from the river Jordan.

As the cultural critic Virginia Heffernan writes in her new book Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art, the highest calling for the heaps of devices and services for the production and consumption of images their cameras and virtual darkrooms functioning in excess of anything we rationally require is to shore up our families and advertise them to the world and back to ourselves. Weve become the paparazzo of our lives, because we fear that those lives will be poorer if undocumented.

Memories are there because they stand out from the countless forgettable moments that surround them. But each picture and video on our phone is equal, in code, no more valued than the other. Most are never viewed again. I have tens of thousands of photos and videos spread between my hard drive, DropBox and iPhone. Perhaps one day I will look through them, print the best ones, make albums, I tell myself. But the truth is, I wont. The act of recording is the entire exercise. Its the end in itself.

Something like the Yondr bag may seem like a blunt instrument, but we have to remember just what we were trying to capture in the first place. Is it the feeling of the warm sun on our skin during a sunny afternoon in the park? Is it the thumb of the bass running deep into our bodies at the concert or the rush of endorphins that rise within us our team scores the winning goal?

Those moments represent life at its spontaneous best. They are feelings, and we seek them out precisely because they arent replicable. Putting screens between that reality, and our selves, instantly creates a pixilated poverty of a rich analog experience.

If we have to force ourselves to put away our phones, and remember what that unmediated feeling is like, than thats a fair price to pay for our memories.

Read more:

Comments are closed.

Copyright © EP4 Blog