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"Are cellphones ruining the concert experience?"


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Are cellphones ruining the concert experience? (Dallas News; May 12, 2008)

08:07 AM CDT on Monday, May 12, 2008

By THOR CHRISTENSEN / The Dallas Morning News

tchristensen@dallasnews.com

What if you gave a concert and the crowd refused to watch?

It's not as far-fetched as it seems. As more and more concertgoers fiddle with cellphone cameras and fidget with BlackBerries, some people say mobile technology is ruining the concert experience.

"It's extraordinarily irritating," says Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame. "All these people holding up these horrid little squares of bright light."

"It's like they're not even there," says jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. "It's like, 'Why don't you put that away and listen to the music?' "

"It drives me crazy," says singer Steve Earle. "They have their use, but there's definitely a price to pay."

It's not just a case of cranky baby boomers griping about the young and the restless. Plenty of younger artists and fans are also getting fed up with the tech intrusion.

"If everyone's taking pictures, it's annoying. It takes away from the show," says 18-year-old Natalya Geremesz at Kanye West's recent Dallas concert.

"As a performer, it's frustrating to look out and see a sea of cellphones instead of faces," says Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein.

"There's definitely a problem where people are so busy documenting the moment that they forget to just live in the moment."

Of course, pop concerts were awash in distractions long before the cellphone. In the early '60s, shrieking girls made it impossible to hear the Beatles perform. In the '90s, mosh pits made going to concerts a contact sport.

"You never expect 100 percent of people's attention," says rapper Ice Cube. "You learn to take 80 percent."

But the levels seem to be rapidly shrinking thanks to "microboredom," a term invented by – who else – a cellphone company to convince people they need to escape reality with their mobile gadgets.

At concerts, microboredom usually means fans snapping dozens of photos of the band, the crowd and the stage lights. The ultimate disconnect comes when they take pictures of the pictures on the video screen.

"Everyone has this strange archiving addiction now. It's like they're trying to pin a butterfly to a corkboard," says Canadian singer Feist.

"To me, a gig isn't supposed to be for posterity," she says. "It's supposed to be a bunch of people tossed together in a room, making a mood, and then it's over. You can't see the world through a viewfinder."

Ray Davies of the Kinks sang about the problem 40 years ago in "People Take Pictures of Each Other," a song about obsessive photo-takers trying "to prove they really existed."

But the existential crisis isn't confined to photography. To some fans, a concert isn't a concert until they've text-messaged their buddies about it.

"It's a really interesting trend – instead of clapping, they're blogging," said Michael Stipe, poking fun at the tech-addicted crowd at R.E.M.'s recent show at March's South by Southwest.

But not all musicians regard mobile technology as a buzz-kill. When cellphone use exploded in the late '90s, bands had fans wave them in the air to create a million-points-of-light effect. Suddenly, flicking your Bic was passé.

Later, as text-messaging flourished, groups asked concertgoers to post messages on video screens. Today, some artists embrace the tech boom as a potential career boost.

"My bottom line is communication," says English rocker Billy Bragg. "If they want to capture a photo of me and send it to a friend who can't be at the gig, I don't have a problem with that."

Concert videos are the latest rage as fans flood YouTube with clips they shot using their cellphones and digital cameras. The videos are often so fuzzy and muffled they're unwatchable. Still, some bands embrace them as free instant promotion.

Bowling for Soup recently made up a song onstage and "that thing was on YouTube before I even got back home from the show," says singer Jaret Reddick. "That's just the way it is now."

In an age of multitasking, some wonder if electronic gadgets are really that much of a distraction – or if the anti-cellphone brigade is just being crotchety.

"It doesn't affect you that much, because the music's all around you. You're still hearing it," says Chelsea Byrne, a 17-year-old at Kanye West's concert.

"Do you want people to be strapped to their seats, with their eyes pinned open and a jolt of electricity if their mind should stray?" says Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

"Cellphones don't bother me," he says. "An audience that's so excited it's shooting the band with its cellphones is an audience that's throbbing with the pulse of the band."

But is it really about a communal pulse? Or is it more about stroking your own ego?

"I see people calling their friends and saying, 'Hey! Guess where I am? I'm at the Roger Waters show,' just so somebody somewhere can be impressed by them," says Mr. Waters. "It's about them showing off."

One solution would be to forbid fans from using phones during the show – a protocol already used at classical concerts, plays and movies.

Then again, rock prides itself on personal freedom. Banning cellphones might seem totally un-rock 'n' roll.

"It's a personal choice. We shouldn't say 'you can't have a cellphone,' " says Ms. Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney.

"But it's frustrating," she says. "There's a generational gap where people no longer know how to experience life without technology."

Music lovers can only hope they'll learn. It may take decades, but some future generation is bound to hit the "off" button and rediscover the joy of focusing on the concert.

"All these new toys, people have to play with them for a while," says musician-producer T Bone Burnett. "But ultimately, they'll figure out how dehumanizing they are."

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Its an interesting read.

It hints at what I think seperated the Dead from any other show (and in fact is one of DMB's redeeming qualities, and makes them a good show even though they're not my band). What seperated the dead is the "be here now" aspect and the fact that everyone was 100% tuned in. (okay, there were always some that were too tuned in to really be there, but thats another story.

Cell phones etc. take away from that. Especially in a place like Toronto, where its always seemed like concerts were places to be seen and not what they really are.

It also got me thinking about technology and set lists. It used to be so much more exciting to not know the previous weeks setlists until I got to the lot and got my copy of Dupree's Diamond News. Now I can't imagine going to see by band (Panic) without knowing what they've played this tour, what they played the last few days, and most importantly, whether I'm going to hear my Genesis. I think it was a lot better the old way. But there is no going back now...

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I've long maintained that cellphones have ruined the parking lot experience.

Care to expand? How so? Is it as in you instantly find who you're looking for. Everything is super-coordinated and you lose the random experiences that come with sumbling around the lot looking for whoever you're looking for? If thats what you mean, I'd agree.

Although I've often thought that it was just my age that was ruining the parking lot experience for me.

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Does anyone really go to a concert and say, man, the band really ripped it up tonight, but holy fuck that guy playing with his cell phone ruined my night?

Cuz if they do, that's fucked in its own right.

Edit to add: untill I go to a show where,lets say, 33% of the crowd is talking on or playing with their phones, I will not understand what the fuss is about. IE, until it becomes an actual, "hey lets go here and use our cellphones", You wont find my concert going experience ruined.

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It also got me thinking about technology and set lists. It used to be so much more exciting to not know the previous weeks setlists until I got to the lot and got my copy of Dupree's Diamond News. Now I can't imagine going to see by band (Panic) without knowing what they've played this tour, what they played the last few days, and most importantly, whether I'm going to hear my Genesis. I think it was a lot better the old way. But there is no going back now...

when i was at neil young in toronto and writing down the setlist this dude was like "are you actually writing down the setlist?" i said yes. he rolled his eyes like i was an idiot and said "you know that you can find this online tomorrow right? i can look it up on my phone here". i was like, yeah buddy i know. kids these days just don't get it. ;)

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"But it's frustrating," she says. "There's a generational gap where people no longer know how to experience life without technology."

The most flagrant picture taking I've seen at a concert was at a Willie Nelson show and most of his fans are old as dirt.

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I've never had a problem with seeing people on their phones. I mean... can they actually even hear anything during a show anyway?

And I even had an experience the other night that I thought was kinda cool.... during the 'ballad' of the night at the Kool Haus, where people would traditionally hold up lighters... Colin asked people to hold up their cell phones. It looked pretty damn cool to see a sea of cell light. Mind you... I don't think you really could've gotten the whole effect unless you were on stage... but from where I was I thought it was cool.

What's really ruining concerts these days is beer.

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Although.... now that I think about it.... there was a kid in the front row in Anaheim in March on the Ace tour who was on his phone for our entire set texting... and it did actually get to us. What the hell was he doing in the front row paying absolutely no attention to band?

So maybe cell phones are a bit of a concert distraction. But if it wasn't that it'd be something else I guess. Like beer, for example.

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I've long maintained that cellphones have ruined the parking lot experience.

Care to expand? How so? Is it as in you instantly find who you're looking for. Everything is super-coordinated and you lose the random experiences that come with sumbling around the lot looking for whoever you're looking for? If thats what you mean' date=' I'd agree.

[/quote']

Precisely.

I noticed at Langerado that most people walking by the campsite were on the phone.

It's all about communion with real people, people! (end rant)

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I went out to use the pay phone on the corner yesterday and found that it's been removed. Fucking cellphones.

rant rant rant

And it would have cost you 50 cents too. Preach on brother Beavis!

As well, a lot of pay phones (like the ones on the bus platform at the Kennedy subway station in Toronto) don't take coins anymore, just credit or pre-paid phone cards.

Aloha,

Brad

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I went out to use the pay phone on the corner yesterday and found that it's been removed. Fucking cellphones.

rant rant rant

And it would have cost you 50 cents too. Preach on brother Beavis!

As well' date=' a lot of pay phones (like the ones on the bus platform at the Kennedy subway station in Toronto) don't take coins anymore, just credit or pre-paid phone cards.[/quote']

Seriously... way to screw over the homeless and disadvantaged. Fucking society.

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I went out to use the pay phone on the corner yesterday and found that it's been removed. Fucking cellphones.

rant rant rant

And it would have cost you 50 cents too. Preach on brother Beavis!

As well' date=' a lot of pay phones (like the ones on the bus platform at the Kennedy subway station in Toronto) don't take coins anymore, just credit or pre-paid phone cards.[/quote']

Seriously... way to screw over the homeless and disadvantaged. Fucking society.

the last two payphone experiences I've had have been with mysterious sketchy non-bell payphones that would not take my calling card and seemed to want a lot of money to make a local call.

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I have no problems with people snapping the odd picture or sending the odd text (hell, I do them both myself at times). Like anything else, though, it can get old quick.

I was at a Red Sox game a couple of weeks ago, and the people behind me made repeated loud calls to friends of theirs elsewhere in the park, accompanied by standing up and waving to get their attention. Another one that gets really obnoxious is the "GUESS WHERE I AM?" phone call, shouted and repeated over and over.

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