Banning cell phones at concerts takes away from the experience

You can’t dictate how someone else enjoys art

Photo courtesy of AFP/Anwar Amro

Written by Courtney Miller

Concert-goers may have to face off against musicians for their phones. Some artists are looking to ban the use of cell phones at concerts, and some already have. While from the artists’ and some concert-goers’ perspectives, this is an understandable course of action to look into, it could lead to a lot more negatives than the potential positives.

Artist’s perspective

From an artist’s perspective, trying to create a distraction-free environment where people can enjoy the fruits of their creative labours makes sense. They’ve put a lot of effort into making their music and being proud of it, and it can be upsetting when people are too engaged in their technology to be fully present.

But how does one make a cell phone-free environment? Does the artist have the authority to ban cell phones at venues? What would that look like? Does the artist have the right to tell people how to enjoy the concert experience? Let’s tackle each of these.

Logistical difficulties

In order to keep cell phones out of the concert area, either people need to deposit their phones once they arrive at a venue, or they need to arrive without their cell phones in the first place. I think we can all agree that people are unlikely to leave their phones at home. So we’re left with depositing phones at the venue.

The idea of handing over my phone — which is full of sensitive and personal information, as well as photos, videos, music, and files — is incredibly unappealing. I barely trust friends with my phone; I’m not handing it over to a stranger.

Another option comes via Yondr, a company that specializes in pouches in which people can store their devices during a concert. The idea is that upon entering the venue, you place your phone in the pouch and it locks automatically. You then carry the pouch with you for the duration of the concert, then tap the pouch against an unlocking station upon exiting.

While Yondr sounds like a better alternative to leaving my phone with a stranger, I don’t want to carry my phone in a pouch where I can’t access it. If there’s an emergency, I’ll never know. If I want to take a picture, I won’t be able to do so. My technology is here to help me better communicate with others and more easily accomplish my endeavours. Locking it away only increases my anxiety.

I attend maybe five to ten concerts every year, and if I had to give up my phone in any capacity, if I couldn’t take a picture for the memory box or to share my excitement with those I care about, I would probably stop attending them.

Point of authority

Another question is whether or not artists should even be allowed to call for the banning of cell phones at concerts. Whether or not you think they are well within their rights depends on how you view the concert experience. If you think of it as being invited to the artist’s party, then you’re probably fine with the idea of “their house, their rules.” However, if you view concerts as a show, where you’re there just to watch and enjoy the artist performing their work — where you’re paying the artist to be there — then maybe you’re not so into the idea of the artist telling you what you can and cannot do in your paid-for block of space.

As much as I’d like to think some artists are pals and when they perform, we’re all just a group of friends hanging out, I paid to be there. I didn’t pay for the specific experience of locking my phone away while they play music in the background, I came to enjoy their music, which leads to the final question.

How to: enjoy art

There is an argument to be made that artists best know how to experience their work; after all, some would argue that they’re the experts on the topic. But there are entire philosophical debates about how to value, appreciate, and enjoy music and art in general. Why is there debate? Because there is no one right way to enjoy music, or any kind of art. And the idea of anyone telling somebody that they’re enjoying art “wrong” is deeply unsettling.

As noted, artists wanting the audience to engage with their work without distraction is understandable, but the assumption that the presence and use of cell phones at concerts is ultimately and entirely a distraction is flawed. If someone prefers to watch a band perform through their phone camera, that’s their decision. If someone wants to send updates and pictures to their friends during the concert, to show how much fun they’re having, why is that a bad thing?

Let people take pictures, Snapchat their friends, and find new friends from the concert on Instagram. They’re still there to listen to the music and to support the artist. Don’t try to make it a bigger deal than it is.

While artists wanting their audiences to devote 100% of their attention to the music makes absolute sense from their perspective, it’s actually incredibly unfair to the concert-goers and fans. Not only are the logistics challenging, but it gives the artist the power to tell people how to enjoy their work, and music should be enjoyed in whatever way is most enjoyable to the individual.

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