Jack White’s latest tour has been making headlines with it’s no phone policy in order to promote a more “human” experience. This is nothing new, as his previous tours included a message asking fans to put their phones away and rely on the professional pics from the tour photographer to satisfy their social media needs. The difference this time around is the fact that a humble request has escalated to actually enforcing a venue-wide ban, which has been seen as a very heavy-handed move and prompted others to question the problem surrounding the use of mobile phones at gigs.
Aside the fact that not trusting people to follow a request to not use phones, just because of a handful of ignorant people, is terribly patronising, an enforced ban also brings into the equation matters of safety, privacy and morality. In the case of Jack White’s gigs, phones are sealed in small pouches and returned to gig goers, and then opened up again by staff at the end of the night. It’s a needlessly time-consuming task for venue staff that have better things to be doing. Some venues have been known to ask attendees to hand their phone in and pick it up on the way out which is even worse, asking an unecessary level of trust and putting people at risk of theft and compromised personal security.
The main concern however with phone banning is the consequences that arise should another attack such as the Bataclan, the Manchester bombing, or the Las Vegas shooting take place. In these uncertain times attacks of this nature are increasingly common, and would be made much worse by making people unable to call for help or contact loved ones should the worst happen. There is no way that you can organise a panicking crowd in order to unseal all those silly pouches. Looking at other methods, patents have been put forward for a signal that would block mobile phones for the duration of the gig. This would solve the problem of major emergencies, as the signal could soon be turned off, but it does nothing to resolve smaller emergencies. With an emergency call coming in from a loved one needing help, a stroke or a heart attack for example, being able to answer that call or receive a text could make the difference between life and death. Is stopping people from filming their favourite song for a few seconds really worth that risk?
I can understand why some bands may be frustrated with phone use at gigs, but banning them is not the way. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar and all that jazz. If you ask people nicely then they will understand. You’re not going to get everyone to go along with it, there’s always someone eager to cause trouble in some capacity, but in my experience the band’s wishes are generally respected when they respect the fans in turn. You could even follow the example set by The Lumineers. They take the “three song rule” that applies to the photo pit and use it for the crowd too. Go nuts and take as many photos as you want for the first three songs, and then pack it in and just enjoy the show.
Many people however looking for a solution to stop the use of mobile phones at gigs are overlooking the obvious answer… there isn’t one. Just let people do it. You might have someone who is a few sandwiches short of a picnic that wants to hold up a massive tablet in front of their face and record the entire show, but they’re thankfully a rare specimen. Most people want just a couple of quick snaps, maybe a few seconds of video, just something to say “look, I was there, I saw something special”. A band is never too big that they should turn down good publicity, or look down on their fans.
It is exceedingly rare that a fellow fan is going to ruin your night because they are using their phone too much, and even if that is the case asking them politely to tone it down, or moving away to stand somewhere else, are always perfectly viable options. Really we should view phones at gigs the same way as abortions and gay marriages; just because a vocal minority are vehemently against them, doesn’t mean you take other people’s rights away as a result. If you plan on using your phone at a gig, do please consider the people around you, and if you are against phones at gigs to the point of being more concerned about people on their phones than the actual gig itself, then you are no better than the very people you are complaining about.