On Cellphones at Music Concerts

Any person who has been to a concert recently knows the scourge. All one wants to do is sink your soul into the heavenly (or demonic, for some music tastes) visions and sounds emanating from the stage. An artist that you’ve paid to see and hear and experience with all of your being is giving their all. You’re loving it. All the while, the person next to you is holding up their smartphone, recording the entire show. Or taking their umpteenth photograph, the false shutter sound clacking needlessly. You try to ignore them. Then you take a look around the audience, and realize that one in ten people in the crowd is doing the same.

Before our concert experience on this past Sunday, my girlfriend Kristen and I had not been to a music concert since we arrived in Korea. For people for whom music is an almost constant presence and fuel, this is an exorbitantly long time to have gone without live music. We were excited beyond belief to be enjoying a gig once again. The band in question was Bon Iver – one of Kristen’s favourite bands. I am not nearly as familiar with them, but I was keen to see how their music held up in live.

I needn’t have worried. Bon Iver was phenomenal. They engaged the crowd, performed through technical hitches without sacrificing their sound, and gave a show to rival some of the best I’ve seen so far. I was expecting them to be good. Kristen was expecting them to blow her mind. Both of our expectations were exceeded.

The thing that I had not been expecting was the prevalence of mobile phone usage during the show. I thought that people would take their selfies before the show, maybe one or two pictures to trigger visual memory in the future (“this is where he looked at me! OMG!”), and then put their phone away to become one with the music once more. How wrong I was.


The crowds at two addresses by the Pope, 8 years apart from each other


The woman standing next to me had her phone held aloft about 70 percent of the show. Despite a ban on the taking of video at the performance, she insisted on recording the first minute of every song. In between these brief snatches of motion, she captured the band in at least 200 photographs. She spent more time looking at her phone screen than she did looking directly at the stage. And she was not alone – a staggering amount of people in the crowd were doing similar things. Why not just watch a video of the gig on YouTube?


For me, a concert is not simply being present in a place where music happens to listen to it with your ears and see it with your eyes. It is a sacred place, where one comes to slowly be engulfed in the experience gifted to you by a band that you adore. You are there to feel the pulse of the drums against your clothes. You are there to feel the heartbeat of the crowd as the songs flow from the stage. You are not there to stand and stare at a screen for 90 minutes in the hope of getting a picture that could get 120 likes on Facebook, or would look great with an Instagram filter.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I believe that taking digital records of life, be they pictures or video or any other method of preservation, has its place. In the most moving of moments, not even the greatest picture will top simply living completely in that moment. Remember why you are there. If you’re there to take dozens of photos and look as though you’re having the greatest time, snap away. Just be considerate of those around you, and turn your screen brightness down and shutter sound off.

If, on the other hand, you are at the concert to come closer to a band that you have longed to experience on a new level, put the phone away. Close your eyes. Feel the music around you, within you. Smile. Relish the small moments where you can be in the same room as the band that creates the songs that drive your everyday life.


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