Here’s a good rule of thumb: when you are in public and you have the urge to take out your phone and look at it, consider first if you would watch a miniature TV complete with earpiece. Driving? Briss? Live music concert? Probably not a good idea.
A blog post yesterday by Joah Spearman (Diatribes by Joah) entitled “Dear Kathy: Here’s why I was Tweeting during last night’s Austin City Limits taping” lays out his argument why his tweeting at a performance by Kat Edmonson was not only acceptable, but it was a service to the artist and her career. I respectfully disagree.
If you don’t feel like reading his entire post, his reasoning goes something like this: social media is influential (“Major news stories break on Twitter”) and ACL re-tweeting his tweet promotes the artist’s music. Both are true but they leave out a lot of important logic, the main one being the point friend and longtime music advocate Kathy Marcus took the time to make Mr. Spearman aware of: being on your phone (for any reason) at a show is an inconsiderate and self-indulgent distraction that takes away from the experience of the music for other people. Let’s address that first.
1. The ‘Everyone is doing it’ Argument
Yes, yes. I know. Everyone is on their smart phone all the time and everywhere and we should give up trying to have some limits. Wrong. The technology got great and affordable quickly and we as a society aren’t quite sure how to use it well. This is where common sense and a little self-discipline comes in. And sometimes the need to speak up. As Alamo Drafthouse has made exceedingly clear, using your phone in a dark room intended for watching movies is totally considered talking and it’s the equivalent of turning on a flashlight. People do a lot of foolish things they don’t think about, but it does not make it right—even if it is accepted. Furthermore, unless we’re all okay having people live-tweet funerals, weddings from the altar, etc. then we need to draw a line and help each other remember it.
2. The ‘But I’m an influential Social Media Maven’ Argument
First of all, no you’re not. And I’m not talking about Joah in particular. Neither 1,600 followers nor 27,000 are wildly influential. I own a PR company that offers social media services and while neither of those numbers are anything to sneeze at, they are not blowing an artist’s career wide open to the extent that it makes it permissible to disregard the show and the audience. Maybe if Justin Bieber were tweeting about Kat Edmonson to his 24,800,000 followers this would be a different conversation—not any less rude, but different.
3. The ‘But it can’t wait’ Argument
Mr. Spearman contends that his tweet had to go out right then. He wanted to help the artist “trend.” One tweet with a hashtag (# symbol used to signify a topic) is not helping anything “trend.” The fact is, this is not the Syrian uprising or a Supreme Court ruling. There is no difference in waiting until the show is over (or on a trip to the bathroom, if you must) to post a tweet with your personal musings about a concert. People aren’t going to take to the streets or rush to Waterloo Records before it closes. They can’t tune in or participate in any way other than knowing about it. While helpful to that artist’s career, an hour delay in consideration of the situation will make no difference.
4. The ‘But I’m Promoting _________’ Argument
I’ve been tirelessly promoting artists’ work for a dozen years and I’ve been a gigging musician for nearly 20 and I’m going to have to say “thanks but no thanks” on that one. As an artist that climbs up onto the stage to belt out tender feelings and nuanced, hard-earned musical compositions before a room full of arms-folded strangers and friends, I can assure you that very few musicians are excited to have that effort met with seeming indifference as people stare into their phones, which—whether in a meeting or at dinner or at a concert—sends a very real message: “what I’m doing on this phone is more important than what you are doing right in front of me.” And as an audience member—and this is a much broader problem—I don’t want to be distracted by somebody’s phone. Especially in a dark room. Especially a live music performance. This is art and humanity. You’re not watching TV at home. Have some respect. As a PR professional, I can say with confidence that there is ZERO justification to sit in the audience and be on your phone—for promotional reasons or otherwise. If you ever see me do it, you are invited to slap the phone out of my hand.
Here’s an idea: that thought “Kat Edmonson’s voice may seem soft, but it’s a reminder how powerful jazz music feels. I’m being swooned.” and just
remember it. If it is worth sharing in 30 minutes, then it will stick. Or maybe it will get better. Or if you feel like it is fleeting, bring a small notebook in your pocket and make a note. I’ve done it, it is easy and yes you can. Control the urge.
And this goes for everybody. Click around this blog and you will see a few dozen posts about my standpoint on self-control and distraction and generally fighting the urge to whip out our phones and do something we tell ourselves is important. The reason so many people are standing around, sitting in meetings, and stopped at traffic lights on their phones is that it supports the lie we tell ourselves: that there is something important we need to check on or share. The reality is that by rushing to tweet (or your digital bad habit of choice) you are avoiding a moment with yourself or a moment of calm or a moment of thought or a moment with the art.
And so to Joah Spearman and anyone else that feels like they’re doing the world and the artist a favor by enlightening them with their 140 characters right then and there, I say… keep it in your pants.