Yesterday, I saw something on NPR’s Tumblr about how M. Ward wants to ban phones from his tour. The idea is that people taking video, Tweeting, and texting excessively is distracting to the performer and other people at the show, which has gone over about as well as everyone would expect (ie, it hasn’t).
One of the responders to the people bitching about this was Neko Case, who made a very good point about the issue:
NPR has set up a survey in case you’d like to contribute to the topic. I reblogged this and added my own opinion, which was that I find it disrespectful – or at least contradictory to the reason you showed up in the first place – for someone to spend more than half of a show looking at their phone. I’m personally annoyed when someone I’ve brought to a show spends most of the time on their phone. And in most cases, I’ve brought them as my plus one (meaning they’re there for free) per their request (as it’s ostensibly an artist they like). Before the show and during the opener and breaks is understandable, but during the headliner’s set? And continually? Really? I mean, does this not…interest you, or something? Okay. Carry on with your tiny glowing screen like it’s not affecting mine or anyone else’s experience of the show. No, go ahead.
In the spirit of Tumblr, one of the people who reblogged my post added their own comment:
“This is stupid as fuck. If I paid money for a show and i’m not starting fights, it shouldn’t be any of the band’s business what I do with my phone.”
Hm. Okay, in addition to disagreeing with this person’s main point, I’m really put off by people would use the above as their reason for fucking around with their phone for an entire show. This American sense of “I paid money and that lets me do whatever I want” is extremely crass and ignorant, in my opinion, as if any kind of behavior is fine as long as you throw some money at the problem. It doesn’t matter if your behavior is rude or disrespectful, or if it impacts the experience that someone else paid for, too, you want to use your phone and you paid for the privilege, right?
Courtney once told me a story about seeing Mike Doughty at the Duck Room, which is this small basement venue in St. Louis where Chuck Berry plays once a month, and if you’re in St. Louis and you’ve never seen Chuck Berry, then I feel sorry for you and you better get on that before he dies because regardless of his perverted issues, that man is a legend of rock n’ roll. Anyway. She went to a Mike Doughty show at the Duck Room and I guess during the show, Mike Doughty yelled at someone who’d spent the entire show up to that point chatting with the bartender. Something like “hey, why don’t you shut the fuck up, why would you pay to see a show and spend the whole time talking to someone else?” Which, hey, right on, Mike Doughty. Why would you pay to see a show and talk through the entire thing? Because if the person on stage notices it, obviously the other patrons have, as well. They paid to see the show, too.
That’s the thing. It’s not only people like me (ahem, the Manners Police) who notice constant phone usage. An artist notices it, too, and it’s probably just as distracting. And I’m not saying that all uses of someone’s phone are problematic, and I don’t think any artist would say so, either. I completely understand that someone might want to take a photo, or put a quick blurb on Twitter, or whatever. But I’ve sat next to people who spend literally half the show checking their phones. Texts, Facebook feeds, etc. So when it gets to the point where people are unable to understand the distinction between “I am at a show” and “I can check my phone freely,” I think an artist – who is contractually obligated to provide an experience to everyone who has paid to see them – has the freedom to decide what is and isn’t an excessive, distracting, and impolite use of someone’s phone. I’m not saying that security should start picking and tagging phones upon entry, but that guy holding up his iPad for the entirety of the show? Yeah, he’s getting kicked out. So is that bitch who glares at you for bumping into her at the stage because she’s too busy texting people to realize that she’s at the stage.
It’s not about paying money to do whatever you want. It’s not about total control, either. It’s about basic manners and being aware that you’re not the only person in the world, which is something that a lot of people evidently struggle with on a daily basis, and I won’t begrudge someone who realizes they can do something about it.