How A Smartphone Can Ruin A Moment

This is a post I actually wanted to write one day after the event (a concert), but I didn't really see the importance of sharing it publicly. More about it at the end of the post.

A Concert With A Deeper Meaning

On November 21, 2013, I saw Placebo in Vienna during their Loud Like Love[1] tour. As I often tend to do, I took two pictures after being some minutes into the concert. I realized quite early (after the first songs) that the concert had a dark theme, and didn’t start off “Loud Like Love” – which I was happy about as I feared that it would be too slow otherwise.

After being about 20 – 30 minutes into the shows and having just played “Too Many Friends”, Brian said something like (I’m paraphrasing):

“How many of you spend their days looking into a screen? Now we’re gonna look into a screen, if you know what I mean.”

and a see-through curtain was lowered that stayed down for some songs[2].
Below you can see a picture where the curtains are still up, and a video where they’re down while the band performs behind them.

The Message Behind The Curtain

In the making of for "Too Many Friends", Brian explains (at the 17:30 mark) that:

"This song is about how technology has bred alienation, how people converse person in person less, and have a virtual social life as opposed to a real one."

This is just what happened during the concert as well. People stared into their phones and looked at the band perform through their screens instead of enjoying them perform right in front of them, in real life, not squeezed into a little box, not altered by any technology.

Before this curtain dropped down, you were able to see a sea of lights, or call it a distraction from the actual scene. When the curtain was down and the band started performing again, nearly all of the lights were gone. For a while the crowd was focused on the band again, looking at what was happening.

After playing some songs behind the curtains, it rose again during the last part of the song "Speak In Tongues", where the lyrics end in repeating the phrase "we can build a new tomorrow, today". In my opinion, a great way to show people to change things now.
Once again the curtain closed before the song "Blind" started, again with lyrics like "please don't drive me blind". This is all far fetched and lyrics are always interpreted differently, but this is the way I felt this message coming along, and - again from my point of view - you could see that Brian was clearly angered by the fact that people "stare into their phones" instead of enjoying the live performance happening in front of their eyes.

Also I need to point out that the show was great and it didn't make you feel uncomfortable or anything in this way, I just think that the message was clear that when being at a concert, enjoy the concert as best as you can. Don't stare into a phone or spend time updating your profiles with the songs you're currently hearing. There's still enough time to talk about later, in person, face to face.

Enjoy The "Now"

This is exactly the way I feel for those kind of things. Enjoy the moment while you're there. You can never make someone feel the same way you did with a picture or video of a moment. It sure can make it easier to understand, but one or two pictures are enough, there's no need to record the whole thing. I'm really into video and photography, and love to preserve memories and think that there's a huge value in conserving some special moments, but there's a huge difference between having your face glued to a screen and spending some quality time with the people that are with you. It happens far too often that you see friends hanging out together somewhere and only communicating via their networks so others can join in on what they're doing.

You rarely see me sharing things when I'm out with friends, or constantly tweeting about what I'm currently doing with my friends. It may happen before, I may talk about it afterwards, I may check-in somewhere when no one is currently with me, but I nearly never have my iPhone in my hand when I'm deliberately spending some time with someone else (anymore! I used to do it before as well).

I also want to point out that there's nothing wrong with taking pictures, recording videos, taking notes or checking something else on your phone while you're with someone else, but there's a clear distinction between spending time with someone and enjoying the now, and meeting with friends and doing the same thing you would do when you're alone.

Viticci On Smartphones Ruining Concerts

On the latest episode of The Prompt (Episode #26 "What the Bleep is a Pepper Jack?"), Federico Viticci and Stephen Hackett discuss the exact same "problem" with smartphones at concerts. Starting at 43:24, Federico correctly says that:

"Smartphones are ruining concerts. People are constantly taking photos and recording videos instead of watching a band play in live. […] Instead of watching the band with their eyes, they're watching through a screen and through a camera, which defeats the main point of going to a concert."

They also go on about recording some short snippets for your "digital memory", but also recording two hours of footage with the built-in microphone and re-listening to the recording with nearly unbearable audio quality.

The Importance Of Taking A Look Behind The Screen

The importance I was referring to in the beginning is that Apple released a great commercial for Christmas, that showcases something similar to what you see every day, but might not always be the way it looks. There is - as mentioned above - a clear difference between taking some photos or recording videos for archiving a moment in your digital memory and constantly burying your face into a device to document every single step you take and not appreciating the moment you can spend with your family and friends.

I decided to write these two posts (the one you're currently reading, and this one about Apple's new commercial) at the same time but post them as separate articles. First because in my opinion they both deserve a dedicated spot on my site, but also because I think that both reads give you a completely different feeling – and these are not to be mixed up and misinterpreted.

  1. As you can see when visiting the link, the band even has a dedicated page for each show with a hashtag to “share your impressions or pictures of the gig!” where you can see what people say/do before, during, and after the show.  ↩

  2. The curtains stayed down during two songs, which are from the new album – the reason I’m pointing this out is because people go to see those new songs during a concert and then see them performed behind a curtain.  ↩