Two nights this week I trucked out to the Bell House to attend the Chickfactor 20th-anniversary shows, which honored the two-decade-old indiepop fanzine with performances by the likes of Versus, the Softies, and Small Factory. Pinned to some of the Bell House’s walls was a sign asking the people in attendance to party like it was 1992—specifically, to cease using their cell phones in the concert hall.
I definitely violated this rule, because old habits die hard, especially when the enablers of those old habits are made of cool metal and in an easily accessible space. But I tried to at least abide by it 80% of the time, and I found myself enjoying the sets by the rip-roaring Versus, the pop maestro and Unrest/Cotton Candy/Teen-Beat leader Mark Robinson (who popped in for a two-song double-A-sided set of his band’s classics), and the delicately gorgeous duo the Softies—all of whom are in the upper echelon of my personal musical pantheon—in a way that felt substantially different, and not just from the nostalgia pangs.
Perhaps it was the brainspace cleared out by not checking for text messages and at-replies regularly, but I had a lot of thoughts on why cell phones have pretty much ruined my show-going experience, and why they have probably ruined yours, too.
1. It takes you out of the musical action.
Distracted listening is a curse of the modern age, of course (right now Spotify is one of seven applications open on my computer, including the two that I am using to compose and post this piece). But being at a show means you have the power to rise up against that curse, and maybe pick out an awesome melodic counterpoint that you’d never heard in a song’s recorded version.
2. It takes you out of the social action.
I might not have been checking my phone during Versus’s set, but I definitely thought about doing so, and then I thought about when I would get the chance to do it. Between sets, right? Well sure, but there were so many people in the audience—friends of mine and friends of friends and so on—who I could have talked to, or bought drinks for, or, you know, other fun things. (I have my own feelings on technology and romance that are probably not appropriate for a music blog, but suffice it to say that as far as enabling introductions it’s a bit of a minefield. And no, don’t try to sell me on the online personal site of your choice. Please.)
3. It makes you think more about documenting your experience in real time than actually having that experience.
Obviously documenting shows is something that I have to do most of the time for professional reasons, so this hits a bit close to home. But come on! You’re all experiencing something that might never happen again! Take a break from analyzing it in real time or framing the perfect shot or trying to tell everyone that you’re having the best time and just settle into the songs. (The people who you want to broadcast your night to will be there when it’s all over.) I have this problem with parties, too, actually—I’ve found that my enjoyment of an outing is inversely proportional to the number of posed shots people take during said outing.
4. The glow.
I probably don’t need to explain this. (Do I?)
5. The spread of FOMO, a.k.a. “Fear Of Missing Out.”
Text messages from pals who were at Radio City Music Hall seeing Pulp that night popped onto my phone all evening, noting that Jarvis Cocker was getting involved in lots of pelvic action during “This Is Hardcore” and being all brilliant and stuff. When I finally read those messages, did they make me worry a bit that my Wednesday night Pulp experience would be a bit lesser? Absolutely. (I wound up not having to worry, but still.) This is a phenomenon that’s been touched on in analyses of Facebook and Twitter and other social-networking services, as well—knowing what other people are experiencing and feeling like your choices might be somehow inadequate. A regret-filled existence is no way to live, and I know this because I was raised Catholic.
6. The Internet < actually getting off the computer and into the sunshine, to sort of quote Belle & Sebastian. (For this purpose, “sunshine” here includes “dark bars full of people and music.”)
Why else would so much successful online content be rooted in people getting horrifically angry about subjects that in the long run might not concern them (Kanye West’s dates, etc.)? It’s because the computer is a trap!