I love tech – but my heart says ban mobile phones at live gigs

‘This is a Yondr phone-free event.’

Anyone buying tickets to see the American comedian John Mulaney in Dublin or Belfast will see this in the small print as they go through the buying process online.

It means that when you turn up, you’re given a case into which your phone is locked. It can only be unlocked at certain points in the venue, away from the stage and arena.

There is no visibility of the phone’s screen, so you can’t monitor to see if someone important is trying to get through.

It can, however, still ring or vibrate, leading to awkward decisions from audience members who must decide whether they want to leave their phones on full audio (including alerts) in case of an emergency.

It’s little different from fidgeting by tapping a spoon against a can

The idea is twofold: to stop people disrupting the event for other audience members, and also to protect the artist – in this case, John Mulaney – from having his material recorded and posted online.

Is it a good thing? Are we sick of phones at gigs, in all their guises, no matter what the security uses? Or should you have the right to the discreet use of your own device?

I’m torn. My heart is absolutely with the phone ban.

My head disagrees, arguing that it’s treating audience members like unruly children at a school concert – which might tempt them to act out in other ways.

In Yondr’s defense, concerts and comedy gigs are semi-ruined by people using their phones.

I’m a big believer in manners. Your momentary boredom can be endured

It’s not just the fear of piracy, which many artists don’t actually mind anymore (we’re now in an era where many regard clips online as marketing). It’s not even the occasional, awkward phone ringing, which brings its own mortification.

It’s the brightly lit screens going on and off, non-stop, in an arena that’s supposed to be infused with atmosphere.

This is made even worse when people leave their camera flashes on, not understanding that the only effect it has at 50 meters away from the stage is to light up the back of someone’s head in the next row.

Close

Bob Dylan will only play phone-free shows


Bob Dylan will only play phone-free shows

Bob Dylan will only play phone-free shows

Photo-taking isn’t even the worst part of phones at concerts. There’s something about seeing someone next to you browsing social media on their phone at a gig that takes the wind right out of your sails.

Gigs are occasions. They’re defined as much by participation in an eager crowd as the act itself.

The sight of everyone giving their clear attention to the stage is really part of this. But it’s punctured every time your neighbor looks down to check whether someone has posted some funny photo on Facebook.

Such brightly-lit disinterest suggests that the occasion in front of your eyes may not be up to much, after all.

To be sure, there’s an argument that people reaching for their phones is merely a brutally honest signal that the act isn’t holding their attention, that maybe it simply isn’t good enough.

This argument contends that if the artist was a bit more compelling, there’d be fewer of us reaching for our phones in the first place.

Honestly?

Balls to that. I’m a big believer in manners. Your momentary boredom can be endured. Disrupting others’ experience because you want to light up your phone screen in a dark auditorium to check for amusing TikTok videos, is rude and thoughtless.

It’s little different from wanting to whistle to yourself out of boredom, or fidgeting by tapping a spoon against a can. There are behavioral norms that can be justified and defended. Not using your phone at a live show may be one of them.

There’s a separate, more convincing (to me), argument that even if phones are disruptive and annoy people, banning them is some sort of De Valerean response.

Trying to gradually change people’s behavior in other ways – whether that’s the band mentioning it or simple notices asking not to use the phone except in emergencies – might lead to better long-term behavioral changes.

In other words, trust people. Don’t be an authoritarian.

I inquired of MCD as to why the Yondr phone condition is in place for the John Mulaney show.

Is it because of disruption to Mulaney? Fear of piracy? Something else? I also asked whether it was MCD’s policy or Mulaney’s.

Unfortunately, I got no response.

Whatever the origin of the Yondr request, or debates over its justification, is it okay for bands, comedians or promoters to insist on this without much notice?

One John Mulaney ticket-buyer I know complained last week that they had not been aware of the condition at the time of the ticket purchase months ago – and they were only notified of it last week.

This person is the parent of a young child and is understandably anxious about not being contactable for two hours.

I checked and the remaining tickets do have a misspelled notification (in fairly small print) that it is a ‘Yondyr phone-free event.’

However, a spokesperson for MCD, again, could not tell the Sunday Independent whether this had been on the ticket sales when they initially went on sale in 2022.

If it wasn’t actually flagged initially, this is a bit of a problem.

There are people with legitimate concerns about non-access to their phone.

Even if this is deemed a price worth paying to stop phone use overall, the very least that should be expected is that it’s clearly indicated when the tickets are bought, so an informed decision can be made.

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