The recent Tool concert in Amsterdam was a new experience for me for two reasons: Besides the fact that, for starters, it was my first time seeing Tool live, it was also my first encounter with a venue-wide photography ban.
As a pre-recorded message kept reminding us before the show, Tool had ordered a complete ban on photos and videos during the show, and that people who failed to obey the band would be escorted out immediately. Although I first thought that the threat of kicking people out was just posturing on their part, it didn’t take long before I saw that they were serious. As soon as a phone would make an appearance, a security guard would show up and take the person out. While I saw some of them come back, many others didn’t. Tool meant business.
Of course, Tool is not the first band to ban phones . This isn’t the first time Maynard James Keenan, the singer of Tool, has acted like this. A Perfect Circle, one of his other bands, has regularly kicked people out for the same transgression, and Puscifer has also had a similar position in regards to photographers (even pro photographers, as I discovered when I was on my way to shoot them at Hellfest only to be told, at the very last minute, that Maynard didn’t want photographers that day). Although many have celebrated this type of phone bans, there are those who find this behavior annoying and even pretentious.
It doesn’t help that when people describe their problems with phones or technology, they often come off as Luddites who are disconnected from normal society. Maynard‘s comments on APC‘s phone ban spoke of how fans had to “unplug and enjoy the ride,” sounding a bit like a mom talking down to her teenage son. Similarly, when Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails announced his plan to have people queue up for NIN tickets, instead of just selling them online, he quipped about how this was an opportunity for human beings (you and the ticket vendor) to interact with each other when buying the tickets, as well as an opportunity to befriend other people waiting in line. As much as I love Nine Inch Nails, Trent‘s words really showed how a millionaire musician gets disconnected from average human beings, thinking that the mere act of waiting in line is a fertile ground for new friendships. He seems to believe that before smartphones people were just randomly talking to strangers about their day, with most friendships tracing their origin back to waiting at cash registers.
I do agree that the constant desire to record experiences takes away from the experience itself. If nothing else, it distracts the user by forcing them to look down at their phone, get to the camera app, and be constantly watching the show through their screen, so as to ensure their framing is correct. They reduce their experience by trying to document it, the same way that the experience of going on a date would suffer if you tried to take notes throughout it. The problem here, of course, is that those who want to record everything will argue that, even if it’s true that their experience will be reduced, they will be able to extend their enjoyment by reliving the show whenever they look at their photos or videos, as well as earning bragging rights by posting them on social media. Different people enjoy different things, and it’s impossible to dictate how others should have fun.
Phone usage in concerts should not be addressed by ethereal appeals to “enjoying the moment” but, instead, by simply reminding people of how their actions impact those around them. As someone who goes to a lot of shows every year, I find constant picture-taking to be extremely annoying. If I’m behind someone who’s photographing or recording everything, I end up spending most of the show just staring at their screen, as they lift it above their head. Those same screens going on and off around me are a constant distraction, as are the lights coming from those who either forgot to turn their flashes off, or who sincerely believe their tiny phone light will manage to illuminate a stage several meters away. At the same time, I understand that concerts can be really meaningful experiences for fans, and that it’s understandable that they want to keep a memento from their time there.
Absolute bans on phones are probably a bad idea, although I understand their appeal. As in everything, the key ends up being about moderation and about being mindful of other people. While nobody will fault you for taking a couple of photos at a concert, you’ll definitely become a nuisance if you keep distracting everyone with your phone. And, at the risk of sounding like one of those pretentious artists I detest, do try to enjoy the full range of the concert experience, even if it means not having as much Instagrammable content in the end.
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