Editorial: Take Photos with Your Phone, But Hold Off On Posting Them
Recently, I was interviewing a metal musician, and like many metal musicians, he wasn’t terribly happy about how much people use their smart phones at shows. But along with the usual ire that people spout about phone use — damn kids, concerts used to be cool, et cetera — he added something I found interesting: “Keep it secret. Only the people here know what’s happening here.”
This, to me, is the issue with smart phone use at concerts. I don’t mind when people take photos or video of shows, but when that process ruins the concert experience, it becomes a problem. Sure, it’s obnoxious to be watching a band and suddenly have someone’s device blocking your view, and when the air at a show is full of phones, it’s kind of whack. But it’s the need to be posting, and the loss of the moment, that seems far more tragic to me.
Concerts should be all about the moment. They should be about that brief instant of hearing the music, seeing the band, and feeling the energy in a live environment surrounded by actual people doing the same thing. So why does it matter that people know you’re there, and see what you see? You know you’re there, and if the people who follow or friended you didn’t bother to get a ticket, get on a list, or sneak in, then they don’t deserve to know what’s going on until tomorrow. And if you’re a journalist whose whole thing is that they’re live tweeting from wherever, then fine, do that, but get out of the fucking way. Stand in the back by the bar.
For the record, I’m not innocent here. I’ve posted shit to Instagram a ton of times mid-set, trying to make sure the world knows how cool I am by being at the show that I’m currently ignoring. But the more I go to shows, the more I feel like a dick doing that. First of all, the band can see me (they absolutely can see you, guys), because I have what is basically a flashlight aimed up at my face, and so it feels like a ‘Fuck You’ to them. Second, it means that if I get hit or jostled and my phone gets smashed, I have no one to blame but myself, because I was trying to type “#fireupthechainsaw” during a fucking metal show. And third, it means I lose the feeling. I get pulled out of the revelry, the frenzy. I have to think clearly about what I’m putting out there, and there are other places and times in my life where I’m supposed to think clearly. I came here to sweat and rage.
Because that’s the thing: cool, weird things can happen at concerts. People fly through the air, and make out, and get naked, and puke. People make momentary friends with someone next to them because they both know all the words of that B-side the band has decided to wheel out. Your favorite musician might make a guest appearance, or tear the head off of a doll full of fake blood, or go leaping into the crowd (depends on how cool your favorite musician is, I guess). And if you get a picture of that, then great, I guess. But if you’re face is buried in your phone, then you’re not paying attention, and these things might pass you by–in which case, why even go to the show?
For the record, I think Apple’s plan to help venues stop people from filming shows is kind of stupid. All this will do is create a different culture of filming, photographing, and recording shows, and a whole new set of security measure we’ll have to deal with. When my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to watch Beavis and Butthead, I didn’t say, ‘Oh, guess I won’t, then.’ But rather I did everything in my power to watch Beavis and Butthead as much as possible. Forcing people to take part just makes them angry, bitter, and divisive. They’ll find a way, and they’ll consider it an enjoyable act of rebellion, rather than just a waste of a concert. Why make that tantalizing?
There’s a line in Motörhead’s “Born to Raise Hell” that I love: “You don’t know what happened, not if you weren’t there.” If you’re on your phone, posting shit during a show, then you’re not really there. Not only does it rob you of an experience, it makes your post dishonest–you’re claiming that you took part in something when in fact you just took a picture and went back to doing what you always do while you’re waiting for the fucking bus. So just hold off. Wait until tomorrow. Hell, if it’s such a burning desire, wait until between sets, the ultimate boring point in any music fan’s life. If anyone else wants to know how this show went down, they can hear about it after the fact. Tonight, you’re one of the few lucky bastards who get to enjoy this, here, now.