I went to hear Atom in Rome - a full night of lyrics, images, light shows and sounds of Pink Floyd Legend. Held at the Vatican's concert hall, Auditorium Conciliazione, it was a spectacular spettacolo, a night to remember. The concert hall offers an eclectic mix of events, from symphony orchestras, to blues and more, all in all, it is a wonderful place. That is, until the lights go down and then it proves to be anything but conciliatory. For more than a few people, with an obvious disregard for copyright law, this signals that it's time to hold up their phones and iPads and start filming away. You can find the results (and enjoy the bits) on a youtube nearest you. [here's one clip, but believe me, there are many]. Luckily for other patrons, the camera is usually held up in front of the bootlegger's face, and they're usually the ones that miss out on the show itself, intent to view it through a miniscule lens.
Alas, not so for cellphone users. I can't count how many performances, movies, lectures, and special events I have attended (worldwide) in which the lights go down and the phones come out. Unless you're 'live tweeting' - and then should occupy another spot, I've got news for you: There's a reason the lights go out. It creates atmosphere, allows viewers to focus on what's on stage or up on the screen, lets you immerse yourself in the experience. And when it comes to Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb (and I'm not even a real rocker), trust me, it can be wholly immersive. It's what producers, directors, film editors and countless others spend millions on trying to get you to do.
So, you settle into your seat and little beams of white light shine right in your face. I remember the old days when those lights would be emanating from the long flashlights of smartly dressed ushers. Even in movie theaters back in the day, they'd show you to your seat; helping you get there without tripping in the dark, shining a grateful ray of light on the spot where you were to sit your bum straight down. All done discreetly and preferably during pauses, so as to not disturb the other onlookers any further for your already inopportune casualness when it comes to showtime. The last time I went to the movies, a guy standing next to my seat decided he needed to check his text messages on average every three minutes throughout the entire length of the film (you do the math). I didn't pipe up though repeatedly shocked out of my 'suspension of critical judgment' via a bright light did nothing for my suspension. It was akin to watching a movie and every so often being hit with the loud and garish music of commercials. It's why we fork over 10 bucks to see a movie in the first place - uninterrupted, save for the evil intervallo-intermission still upheld in some of the less hospitable movie houses around town. I didn't stop and ask the patron if he was a Doctor on call, but I vowed never to sit tight-lipped about this invasion of my personal viewing experience again.
So there I was, happily enjoying this amazing concert in all its guitar glory, when the woman in front of me, who had been nervously gripping an eerily lit device through most of the concert as if it were a drip keeping her alive, decided she would put it to good use and start texting to the tunes emanating off the stage. I let her text. But one song, now two later, it was turning into a conversation and she and her husband were corroborating on the story to tap out letter by letter. A tap on the shoulder, asking if she could please turn off her phone. Her response? Ignore shoulder tap and keep on tapping the keys. A few minutes more, I tried again. Emphatically, I said Turn it off or go outside. Only after completing her message did she deign to close the phone, its blue light faintly lighting up her palm reminiscent of ET trying to phone home.
Come intermission, it was time - not for the apology, but for the counter-insurgency. Pointing to others who now wielded their phones with a fervor (Look at me, look at me, I am utterly reachable!! Even at the theatre!), she told me she was in her right to do as she so pleased. Yes, I agreed. It's intermission. That's what it's for. Text to your delight! Not satisfied, she then regaled me with the fact that she had two children. Seeing me non-plussed, she then went on to say that She was texting people to tell them not to disturb her since she was at the theater. I pondered for what reason that was, exactly, she didn't want to be disturbed. I offered that in order to let people know I am unavailable, I just switch off my phone. I'm not disturbed nor is anyone sitting within a 6 foot radius of me. Finally, said husband butt in with his own take on the situation: Why don't you just concentrate on the stage instead of people's cellphones?! My sentiments exactly.
I read recently about a start-up that has invented a sort of Phonekerchief. To be handed to patrons when they enter a restaurant. Once wrapped around your device, it renders it impervious to calls -- allowing you to focus on - oh, I don't know, having a real time conversation with the person you're with? But then again, it will only work if it's being employed. And most people can't break their addiction of being accessible 24/7 long enough for a seafood appetizer let alone a steak dinner and dessert.
All I can say is, bring back the little old ladies with flashlights. And usher the cellphone users out of the theater.