Is It Time To Let Moviegoers Send Texts During A Film?
IMAX’s Greg Foster seemed to like the idea of relaxing the absolute ban on phone use in theaters. His 17-year-old son “constantly has his phone with him,” he says. “We want them to pay $12 to $14 to come into an auditorium and watch a movie. But they’ve become accustomed to controlling their own existence.” Banning cell phone use may make them “feel a little handcuffed.”
I can’t say that I’m thrilled that we’re at this juncture in filmgoing, but it’s a discussion that needs to be had. First of all, if Greg Foster’s son compulsively checks his phone, it means that his son has little sense of agency - the phone is controlling his existence. That’s the larger issue at play. I don’t think it is a teenage thing either. I have gone to films with fellow filmmakers in their late 20s and have seen them respond to non-urgent texts during a film.
Classical music venues have been facing issues such as these for decades. As the audience ages, they wonder how to bring younger people to listen to pieces by Bach, Mozart, Ligeti, and Glass. They discuss amplification, allowing or encouraging audience participation, and relaxing the dress code.
I suppose I’m not concerned about these issues. The etiquette will work itself out. I know what I like, however. I like to focus on beautiful pieces of music. I love to dive into a great film. I want to engage a piece of art and not concern myself about what I have to do later, who I should be texting etc… In other words, I enjoy handing myself over to something else. I honestly feel bad for those people that can’t relax and go a few hours without checking their phone.
In the end, it’s simply a matter of education and experience. Telling people NOT to do something only encourages it. Showing them the joys of contemplation, focus, and engagement will do more to combat the compulsions of the Distracted Generation more than any rule possibly could.
It reminds me of this book by Eric Siblin, a pop and rock music critic that discovered Bach later in life. Like so many others that are not raised knowing the joy of Bach’s work, once he was formally introduced and really understood how to listen to the music, he was enchanted. So much so that he switched gears entirely and wrote a beautiful biography of this experience called The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.
This is incredibly common. People ignore Bach because they don’t understand it. People text because it is habitual. If you want people not to text in a theater, simply show them how liberating it can be to free yourself from this compulsion. Rules are made to be broken. Habits are too.
[Image: The Invisible Cinema designed by Peter Kubelka]
[Quote: David Lieberman, Is It Time To Let Moviegoers Send Texts During A Film?: CinemaCon]