We Welcome Disabling Phones at Concerts, But Could It Lead to Something More Sinister
  • WEDNESDAY, JULY 06, 2016

  • Posted by: Robert Steiner

There are two ways to almost always piss off an artist onstage: Yell "FREEBIRD" during a quiet song or have your phone out for the entire show. The first thing is usually only done by one person who can't handle his/her booze, but the second thing is a much bigger problem, with the vast majority of concertgoers texting all their friends and updating their social media platforms while the artist is literally getting paid to hold their attention. While most artists and bands keep their mouths shut onstage and let the crowd text and snap away, more and more high-profile artists, like Beyonce and Adele, are calling out their fans and asking them to just live in the moment.



Recently, performing artists seem to be getting a little help with the cell phone issue, to varying degrees of success. Apple, everyone's favorite future overlords, filed a patent for technology that could disable a phone's camera within a certain area via encoded data. In practical terms, a sensor could be placed onstage and any phones within the concert area won't have access to their cameras for the duration of the concert. The patent also claims the tech could be used in high-security areas, and can even send data to your phone; like if you take a picture of an artifact at a museum, your phone will be sent further information about the artifact. It's an interesting concept, but frankly, its highly unlikely it will catch on. As Apple and U2 learned the hard way with their gift album debacle, people really don't like Apple messing with their stuff without permission.

The idea of manually blocking recording devices without the owner's permission also brings up the issue of censorship and the right to film, say, protests or law enforcement. You give a police officer a device that disables all phone cameras within 100 feet, or you give the government the ability to control people's phones to prevent bad PR, then it becomes an issue of free speech and the right to hold higher authorities accountable. This stuff extends way beyond concerts, yeah, but much like how Apple squared off against the FBI over developing tech to unlock phones, one has to consider all the ways a piece of technology can be used and the consequences that arise as a result. Even when made with good intentions, like making a more enjoyable concert experience for people, there will always be someone hellbent on finding a way to ruin it for everybody. Regardless of the patent, Apple has no plans of implementing this technology in a public setting in the near future, so no need to break out the tin foil hats quite yet.

Some artists, like The Lumineers and Louis C.K., have tried specially made phone pouches that lock within a set of boundaries, preventing people from having access to their phones, to begin with. Step out of the boundaries, the pouch unlocks, and people can text and call as they please outside of said boundaries. This seems to have gone over better with people, likely because they still have control over their phones use versus encryption codes messing with them. This method definitely has some novelty, but it may be harder to distribute these kinds of patches in a stadium or even a Bonnaroo-type festival.

It's hard to say if these kinds of anti-phone methods will catch on at concerts in the near future, but it's clear that both artists and concertgoers want a change. Musicians shouldn't have to worry about their new music leaking via a grainy cellphone video, and audience members shouldn't have their view blocked by a bunch of bright screens. Using your phone is highly frowned upon in movie theaters or Broadway plays, so why doesn't that scrutiny apply to music concerts? Phones and technology are pretty much a necessity of life at this point, no denying that, but if people really want a more enjoyable and less distracting concert experience, and so long as it remains constitutionally sound, maybe a little help with keeping the phones away should be embraced.

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