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No, smartphones shouldn’t be banned at gigs

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Jack White, Alicia Keys and the late Prince have all made a stand against fans filming with phones at their gigs in order to ensure a “100% human experience” for those in attendance. But, the question now arises: is it right to tell fans they can’t use their phones at a show? In a world where smartphones are the norm, I don't think so.

Yes, we’ve all been there – you’re at a show you’ve been waiting months to see, and the chances are you’ve paid an excessive amount for tickets, the lights go down and your favourite artist emerges from the darkness, only you can’t see them. Simultaneously, a sea of rectangular LED screens shoot out of the crowd and you observe this moment through someone else’s iPhone.

On the one hand, I agree that phone-free concerts would make for a better experience if everyone complied and engaged with what was happening on stage. But, whilst smartphones can be the bane of the concert-going experience in the 21st century, they are a fact of life.

Boasting high-quality video, audio and, photo, every gig offers the chance for fans to digitally capture their favourite performers and share the footage to social media in a heartbeat. But as someone who has been guilty of pulling out my phone at a show, perhaps I’ve lost the right to complain. Today, it’s about being connected and sharing your experience – however, engagement is everything. Like others, I assume that my usage of what I shot is fairly limited, often an Instagram post goes up and that’s about it. Be selective about the moments you capture and don’t become so absorbed in capturing the live experience that you forget to engage in the live experience.

Nowadays, in a world where smartphones are so prevalent, it’s almost more of an artistic statement to consider banning them. Artists can seem helpless in a sea of phones, but is it really a necessary annoyance when it also serves as marketing and promotion? With thousands of fans wanting to share content from your show on social media, it’s almost like wearing a new t-shirt.

I think what mainly draws the line is the concept of being forced to lock away my phone before entering a venue. It’s fine to have expectations of your audience, so you can ask me to not use my phone and as a decent human being I probably won’t, but physically prohibiting the use of your phone is a step too far.

Recently, many performers have adopted Yondr, providing fans with a lockable pouch that stays with users inside the phone-free zone. Once the pouch is closed, it can only be opened by tapping it onto an unlocking base. Whilst the start-up has potential as an alternative to confiscation, emergencies cannot be predicted. With such recent instances such as the terrorist attacks at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in 2017 and the Paris Bataclan Theatre attack in 2015, it would be detrimental to ban phones when an unfacilitated necessity to contact to the outside arises.  

In my opinion, banning smartphone ignores the actual problem; the issue is not phones at gigs, the problem is misuse from individuals. Artists wanting the audience to engage without distraction is understandable, but the assumption that the presence and use of smartphones at live shows is a distraction is flawed. Let’s not forget that without the crowd, the show wouldn’t even be happening – so, let people take pictures and Snapchat their friends, they’re still there to listen to the music and to support their favourite artists.

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