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The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed”

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A few nights ago I saw Jack White in concert. It was a wonderful night, and a big part of that was due to a new rule he has imposed on all his tour dates: no phones.

When you arrive, you have to put your phone into a neoprene pouch, supplied by a company called Yondr, which they lock and give back to you. If you want to use your phone during the show, you can go into the concourse and unlock it by touching it to one of several unlocking bases. The concert area itself remains screen-free.

The effect was immediately noticeable upon entering the concert bowl. Aside from the time-travel-like strangeness of seeing a crowd devoid of blue screens, there was a palpable sense of engagement, as though—and it sounds so strange to say it—everyone came just so they could be there.

People were visibly enjoying the opening band, at least in part because that band no longer compete with the entire internet for the crowd’s attention. Even the crowd’s milling around and chatting between acts was so much more lively. People were either talking to their neighbors, or taking in the room. And everyone taking in the room was taking in the same room. It felt great. 

The no-phones policy illuminated something about smartphone use that’s hard to see when it’s so ubiquitous: our phones drain the life out of a room. They give everyone a push-button way to completely disengage their mind from their surroundings, while their body remains in the room, only minimally aware of itself. Essentially, we all have a risk-free ripcord we can pull at the first pang of boredom or desire for novelty, and of course those pangs occur constantly.

Every time someone in a group of people deploys a screen, the whole group is affected. Each disengaged person in a crowd is like a little black hole, a dead zone for social energy, radiating a noticeable field of apathy towards the rest of the room and what’s happening there.

We all know this feeling from being at a restaurant table when one person has “discreetly” ducked out into their screen. Even while everyone else is happily chatting face-to-face, everyone feels the hole.

The full strength of this black-hole effect on today’s social events can be hard to appreciate, because it has crept into our lives so gradually. But it sure was obvious in a venue at which everyone’s ripcord has been checked at the door. So much more attention stayed in the room, and it was palpable.

I can only imagine the change performers have seen in their audiences over the past ten years, as they’ve looked out onto crowds composed increasingly of checked-out blue faces. It must feel awful. As any performer can tell you, the relationship between artist and audience is two-way—the quality of any live show depends on a vital feedback loop between the two parties.

That loop has a leak in it for every audience member whose attention is elsewhere, and those leaks have been multiplying for a decade now. (Here’s a 4-minute video of Jack White explaining his onstage experience.)

I expected the no-phones policy to be controversial, but it didn’t seem to be. In fact, most people seemed quite happy at the prospect of a (truly rare) break from connectivityland. To me, and I’m sure many others, it made enjoying the night seem so much simpler: just watch the show and let that be enough.

Several times, I felt a familiar impulse to take a picture. Each time, when I realized I couldn’t, the feeling I had wasn’t annoyance, but relief. It was a pleasure to realize I didn’t have to balance my enjoyment of the moment with any desire to document that enjoyment.

And of course, throughout the show, we still retained all the important powers of our superphones. We just had to politely step into the hallway to use them, and most people seemed to find little reason to do so.

That might have been the most interesting part of this experiment: when you add a small, immediate cost to unlocking your phone (in this case a twenty-second walk to the concourse), it suddenly isn’t worth doing. That says a lot about much we really value most of our impromptu screen sessions.

Even in late 2018, there remains a number of spaces where engaging with a screen is still not tolerated: stage plays, symphonies, movies, church services, and (most?) family dinner tables. It seems like these sanctuaries might be endangered too.

But I don’t think so. Connecting in the electronic way is disconnecting us in other ways—from our direct sensory experience, and the energy of in-person gatherings—and that cost is becoming more obvious. The concert was a perfect way to illustrate it, because the moment you passed through the turnstile you could see what we’ve traded away.

You could feel it, in fact: the physical sense of truly being in the same place as the people around you. It’s such a fundamental human feeling, one that I think we probably need on some level, but in a very short time it’s become quite rare.

Distracted concert crowds are a problem worth addressing, but it’s a small one, relatively speaking. I don’t think we’ve even begun to comprehend the full cost of our devices on our lives, particularly on our social structures, the development of our children, and our overall mental health. When the long-term studies start coming out, we’re going to be appalled.

I imagine that in another decade or two we’ll look at 2010s-era device use something like we do now with cigarette smoking. I was born in 1980, and I remember smoking sections on planes, which is unthinkable today. I wonder if today’s kids will one day vaguely remember the brief, bizarre time when people didn’t think twice about lighting up a screen in the middle of a darkened concert hall.


Photo by David James Swanson (from jackwhiteiii.com)

Hannah Suzanne Dalgleish November 13, 2018 at 1:59 am

Really enjoyed this article and it gives me hope that people are recognising the need to disconnect (and helping others to do so as well, in a way). I helped organise a retreat in Scotland this year which is held in yurts in the woods (www.chisholme.org/fni). There’s no access to electricity or phone reception for a week. It’s wonderful to see the transformation of everyone as they become so connected to themselves, others, and nature. I purposefully don’t have a smart phone for this reason (although I am slowly thinking about caving in and just buying one…)

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 8:58 am

Ah I love that. I go on meditation retreats once a year and that entails no electronics/phones. When you turn on your phone at the end of the week, you get a really obvious glimpse of just what a flood of emails/concerns feels like to the mind. We just don’t notice it as easily when we’re always immersed in it.

Trevor Sampson November 13, 2018 at 3:02 am

Fascinating……..so many thoughts…….can people actually exist phone free for an hour or two, a bit like looking at your watch to see what time it is and then not actually noticing, then looking again, this time with purpose. I assume all phone were on silent or vibrate only, I think its a wonderful idea, plus it provides the artist with control over their concert, no “live” Facebook shows etc. A good idea in my humble opinion.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:00 am

It was striking that everyone seemed to really like the idea surrendering the use of their phone for a couple of hours. It seemed like we were all ready for a break. I sure was.

At a rock concert like this there was no need to put it on silent because even during the breaks the din of the crowd is louder than anybody’s ringtone.

Vishal Kataria November 13, 2018 at 3:47 am

I’m a WWE/WWF fan, David. When Goldberg would make an entrance while I was a kid, the excitement was palpable, like you said. But the last time he made a comeback, barely anyone chanted, not because they didn’t like him anymore but because everyone was busy recording his entrance on their 6″ screens. When we come across something interesting these days, our fingers instantly spring into action to unlock our phones. We capture photos and videos without processing the experience – or rather barely experience anything memorable anymore. For instance, ask someone how a trip was and they’ll show you photos. It’s like words and feelings have taken a backseat.

I hope screentime reduces in the future. But while many people thought smoking harmful which eventually led to its ban in public places, I don’t see anyone being as vehement in their opposition to blue screens. But let’s hope for the best.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:05 am

Absolutely… in almost all of the most exciting moments we experience, our attention is divided between the experience itself and our habit of recording/documenting/broadcasting that experience. And of course the experience is so much better than the video of it.

Just yesterday the Onion released an article entitle, “Friends Excitedly Gather Around Man’s Phone To Watch Shaky Footage of Concert”:

CHICAGO—Exclaiming and pushing past each other as they jockeyed for a clear view of the screen, friends of local man Carl Michaels excitedly gathered around his phone Monday to watch the shaky footage he had recorded of a recent Mt. Joy concert. “Whoa, the audio is so distorted that you can barely even make out what song they’re playing—this fucking rocks,” said friend Brett Osnos of the blurry seven-second video, stressing how cool it was to hear a tinny, near-unlistenable stretch of the song’s bridge that was punctuated by a drunk woman screaming in the background. “That one part is killer where the light show gets so bright that the image turns completely pixelated and blown out. And it’s so sweet how you can barely see the band on the stage because most of the picture is taken up by a bunch of heads and people holding up their phones. Seriously, you’re a fucking god for scoring this.” At press time, numerous friends were frantically offering to pay Michaels upwards of $100 for the privilege of acquiring the “completely legendary footage” for their own phones.


Ameen November 13, 2018 at 3:50 am

I’ve suspected for a while now that staring at a screen most of the time is not only a waste of life but is also responsible for a host of mental health and social issues as well as the not fully studied yet negative physiological effects. It’s very obvious when observing society today that smartphones have escalated issues such as anxiety, depression, isolation, unhealthy lifestyles and anti-social behavior but the problems started way before that with desktop computers, laptops and videogame consoles which have been slowly tapering us off from human interaction that very naturally lead to the problems I mentioned previously with smartphones being the final nail on the coffin.

It’s reached a point where we don’t need to talk to a human if you want to buy something, you can place an order with a click of a button and the only human interaction that happens during this whole process is when you receive your order from your courier or delivery person but that’s also being made obsolete with drones that can drop off deliveries instead.

I won’t be surprised that we will be paying a premium in the future just to interact with a person as an additional feature when purchasing a product or service just like how people are willing to pay more for organic food today.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:11 am

Over the next few years we’re going to learn a lot more precisely what our devices are doing to us. For now the evidence is anecdotal but in many ways obvious: we’re more distracted, more politically divided, we’re losing our ability to even hold conversations. I don’t want to sound like I’m strictly anti-smartphone — I’m not, but it is still the wild west with these things and in the future I suspect we’re going to look back on this era with some embarrassment.

DiscoveredJoys November 13, 2018 at 4:10 am

There was a philosopher who argued that things change into their opposites. Money becomes credit cards, people promoting utopia end up promoting tyranny, and so on.

Perhaps Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out” is becoming “Turn off, tune out, drop in” (to an authentic life)?

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:12 am

And I hope by the same token our overindulgence in these devices leads to an age of conscious de-onlining, where it becomes fashionable to focus your life on concrete experiences that cannot be had online.

Accidental FIRE November 13, 2018 at 5:05 am

Once White started this there’s now a bunch of other bands dong the same. I think it’s awesome. Going to shows is insufferable now with everyone just holding up their phone the whole time.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:13 am

Yes, I think this will catch on. White says he was inspired by some comedians (like Dave Chappelle) who were already using Yondr.

Carole November 13, 2018 at 5:57 am

I’d love to share this on Facebook but alas, there’s no sharing buttons.

Hannah Dalgleish November 13, 2018 at 9:11 am

There’s a sharing button at the top of the article and to the left as well. :)

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:14 am

There are sharing buttons… they may require javascript to be enabled in order to see them? Also, you can always just cut/paste a url to share it anywhere.

Nirbhika Nandakumar November 13, 2018 at 6:27 am

Despite all the flak that ‘millennials’ get for being addicted to blue screens, I see a lot of older people who have not grown up with technology, equally glued to their phones. For us, it is a habit and for them, it is a novelty. But slowly, I see a revolution where people are identifying their addiction and are turning into conscious users of technology. It is a just matter of us, humans, adapting to the changes that have happened over the last 20 years or so and optimizing. Wonderful article as usual. I am glad that you ended on a hopeful note rather than succumbing to the ” we are doomed ” narrative.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:17 am

It is everyone, yes. I am a little older than millennials and I am definitely caught up on the trend. But I think we will see a big difference between the generation who had this tech as children and the ones who were adults by the time it came along.

Yeah I don’t think we are doomed. We do still have a choice to be less reflexive with these things and I think the downsides are becoming so obvious that both the culture and the tech will change.

Elisa M Winter November 13, 2018 at 6:27 am

Museums! There must be phone-free museums! You should have seen the Louvre this past Spring. The insanity of people refusing to be with the art in the pursuit of documenting the art, as if huge beautiful books of art, better than their lousy phone photos could ever be, just waiting for them in the museum shop. One woman, I kid you not, stood in front of a Van Gogh, took a photo with one cell phone, put it away, pulled out another cell phone, took a photo, put it away, and then grasped the actual camera around her neck, took a photo and walked away, never having just stood and looked at the painting at all. Made me want to weep. And also yell at her and everyone else too. What a waste.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:19 am

Totally, and I have caught myself doing this. Our way of experiencing things now has become tangled up in our habit of recording and sharing our experiences, and sometimes we forget to actually experience it.

Annie November 13, 2018 at 10:54 am

I agree that it’s frustrating. I often to go to The Met to see an exhibit I have waited patiently for only to have everyone sticking their phone in your line of view without concern for their fellow museum-goers. I don’t have an issue with people taking photos, I’ve done it if a particular piece really speaks to me and I can’t find a postcard or print of it otherwise. (It’s rare but there have been two or three times.) I do have an issue with people photographing almost every piece, not fully taking in the show with their own senses, and being rude to others in the process. Before I take my photo I look around to see if I am in anyone’s’ way and will wait until they are done or politely ask if I may take a photo so as not to disrupt their experience. Unfortunately, too many people think only of themselves and have little concern for others.

Caveman November 13, 2018 at 7:09 am

What really strikes me here is how societal norms haven’t kept up with technology for the last few years. But, just like at the Jack White gig, now it looks like we’re starting to find a new balance of politeness.

This first struck me when Snapchat came out and teens rushed to it in part because they understood better than the rest of us the risks of leaving behind an unwanted digital footprint.

The other big point is the one you note about people interacting when they can’t have their phone. We all realise how much we enjoy other people’s company when we can’t hide behind our screens. It’s always a little uncomfortable to start talking to a stranger but whenever I’ve done it, it’s always been rewarding.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:28 am

I agree we are slowly moving towards a new balance. Especially this year, with Facebook under scrutiny for its fake news issue, the problems are too obvious for both users and the platforms to ignore. It has to change.

It was wonderful to see everyone talking to people beside them. We haven’t forgotten how to do this! But as long as its easier/safer to duck into a screen, many of us will do that in a given situation.

Jane Terry November 13, 2018 at 8:39 am

I work at a public university and the difference in student behavior since the ubiquity of cell phones is remarkable. Previously, students would chat together in the halls, in classrooms before class began, and walking together across campus. Now, the halls are mostly quiet as students focus on their phones; classmates don’t know each other because they don’t talk with each other before or after class; and students often bump into others as they walk, heads down, looking at their phones.
While I try hard not to judge, to not be the cranky old lady complaining about “kids these days,” I do wonder what society will be like in the future as we see the decrease in human interaction (and civility), and non-verbal communication, as we lose that wonderful, sacred “betweenness” of two or more people gathered together, communicating in all the subtle and overt ways in which we communicate person to person.
Personally, I found that when I was busy taking photos of an event, I felt like I actually missed out on the event itself. So, for the most part, I don’t take my phone out when I am with someone or at some event that I really want to participate in, experience, and remember. But that may not be true for everyone, and perhaps young people are experiencing life and developing relationships in new ways that I can’t comprehend.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:33 am

At my old job we would hire summer students every year to help with the surveying. And one year, maybe 2010 or 2011, suddenly we started having problems with phones. They would pull them out whenever we had even *twenty seconds* of downtime between readings. It was so automatic it was shocking. I am optimistic that this kind of behavior is peaking now, or will soon. People are starting to rediscover how much better it is not to have one foot in the online world at all times, and I’m sure events like that concert made it clear to a few thousand more people (including me).

Shane MCLEAN November 13, 2018 at 8:43 am

Wow. Jack White is a true innovator. I never thought about when someone takes out their phone it deflates a room but this is spot on. Love you insights as always David. Keep up the great work.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:33 am

I really hope it catches on!

Rosalina November 13, 2018 at 9:47 am

I love this! I wish they did it in every concert. I so hate it when in weddings I can’t see the bride and groom because there are a million hands raised up in front of me holding a stupid phone and all I can see are screens instead of what I actually want to see. It’s frustrating.
For my wedding we “politely” (with a message on a board) asked our guests to turn off their phones during the ceremony so that the pictures weren’t ruined with all the hands up covering the faces of everyone…it kinda worked but still many people ignored this, it really is an incredibly addictive disease.

David Cain November 13, 2018 at 9:50 am

I think part of the problem is that we’re so used to these things we don’t even realize we’re doing it. In the Jack White clip linked above, he says many performers ask people to put away their phones, which usually gets an affirmative applause, but then they still film the show, presumably unaware that they’re doing it.

Drew November 13, 2018 at 10:19 am

There is a great scene (of many) in Jaws when the mayor is smoking a cigarette in the hospital.

I too was born in 1980 and remember people smoking on airplanes. (We also had to dress up in nice clothes because air travel was a special event.)

The assault from these phones and social media surely have an impact on our brains and health.

The Elon Musk interview with Joe Rogan is terrifying as they talk about people spending more time in virtual reality than in reality.

I like your vision of the future better. When we laugh and tell our kids that you used to be able to take the unlocked phones into meetings, concerts, cars, dates, etc.

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:36 am

One problem is that our phones are so multi-functional, that for each situation, we can name several reasons we “need” access to our phones. In a meeting it’s not appropriate to be texting/facebooking, but some people use it to take notes. We’ll see how things go I guess.

Betsy November 13, 2018 at 11:45 am

I use that cigarette anslogy all of the time! Watching anything created during the smartphone era will be like watching an episode of Mad Men.

But if you REALLY want to be depressed, watch parents staring at their phones instead of engaging with their kids. Typical school play is just a sea of people recording on their phones but not really seeing the kids at all!

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:37 am

Hahaha… I can’t wait to see future period pieces set in the wild days of the 2010s

Lorraine Allen November 13, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Ha – at age 67, I just recently bought my first smart phone. (The main reason being I have no land line and cell service is sporatic drek where I live. A smart phone solved that dilemma, not to mention making answering texts much more sane).

The first week I had it was spent frantically learning how to turn off being notified every time the entire Internet twitched for whatever insignificant reason. By the time I got the thing under control, I had a better understanding of why so many people are inexplicably glued to their phones. It isn’t even about it being a phone! It’s about it being a handheld computer constantly whining for attention.

If I jumped onto my phone every time something posted to my Facebook, I’d be a wreck within a few hours. :D Add to that folks who are on a number of social media sites. Ding, ding, ding…drop your life and attention and pay attention to something that could have waited until later. And when they are doing that while driving – geez!!!

But, yes, every adult individual has to decide for themselves how to direct their attention. Goodness knows, plenty of people from my generation also now live inside their phones. I see it in social situations, too. We are at a restaurant table having a conversation, only to discover that we’ve lost one of the party to their phone. They aren’t talking, they aren’t even texting. They’re absorbed in their Facebook instead of at the table with the rest of us. When we try to get their attention back, they finally look up with the same expression of befuddlement as being pulled from deep sleep. :D

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:39 am

One issue with smartphones is how how much of our use is unintentional. We hear a text come in, then answer it, and almost automatically we check instagram, facebook, whatsapp, even though none of those are the reason we took out the phone in the first place. Multi-functionality is handy in one way and very inefficient in other ways, because it leads to so much unintentional activity.

Amanda November 13, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Since the latest update, my iPhone now provides a little report about my screen time. It’s been a couple of weeks now and I am horrified about how much time I spend with my nose hovering over this device. I need to exercise some restraint! I used to get after my family members about it and now I realize I’m so guilty! At least I put it away for the most part when I was camping last weekend.

I’m going to start being more respectful at the music venues too.

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:40 am

Right?? Everyone complains about not having enough time, but we would almost certainly have much more time if we used our phones as little as necessary.

Holly Justice November 13, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience. I like how you went over your own feelings and need to document, then explaining so well the effect of disconnect and apathy. I agree breaking away from phones is becoming critical to practice re-engagement into society and to be in the moment. When people engage in their phone at meals or in meetings with me, I stop and ask them what’s up in the phone? It helps. I carry books or magazines on public transportation as that reading often starts conversations, not discourages it plus it is safer…easier to stop and notice what’s happening around you. Plus in public I often just look around, enjoy the view as you did the room, and smile. When we smile, engage and are in reality, then the magic happens as you said. Thanks again!

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:42 am

The kind of “callout” you describe is very effective, and I think it’s about to become a little more normal. It’s weird how using a phone in groups with others is so often an obviously inconsiderate thing to do, but it’s so common and normal that we feel like it’s not that bad.

JR November 13, 2018 at 7:28 pm

I don’t mind not having my phone with me if there is a way I can be contacted by the babysitter at all time when I go out.

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:44 am

Yes — there are a few functions of the phone that are genuinely necessary. As far as I know you can feel a vibrating phone through the pouch, and go answer or call back

Dave Hughes November 14, 2018 at 12:00 am

I love this article, and I couldn’t agree more. Your point about how each person who disengages from the people around them to check his/her phone creates a black hole of energy is spot on.

This has become one of the ways I evaluate my friendships. I have chosen to distance myself from people who can’t stay off their phones. I’m happily married, but if I am ever single again and I go on a date and the other person pulls out his phone during dinner – it’s over. This will probably significantly reduce my dating pool, but I prefer quality over quantity.

Thanks for a timely, thoughtful, well-written article!

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:46 am

Thanks Dave. I think we owe it to others to say something about their annoying phone use before dismissing them as a possible friend/date. However rude it is, it’s very normal and we don’t always realize when we’re doing it.

Julie November 14, 2018 at 9:44 am

I actually gave up using my cell phone about 5 years ago. Cut the contract and just stopped using it. I wanted to see what things were like without that pang to check into life from behind the screen. I started living, truly enjoying the moments, people, and places around me. My relationships are stronger, my career is better, and I am without a doubt healthier in every way. I recently started using a cell phone again but in a very limited capacity as my daughter is now a teenager and going out places without me – I wanted the safety of that connection. If it starts to go back to any feeling of need in regard to that little device then it’s going again no matter what.

David Cain November 14, 2018 at 10:47 am

Ah I am so tempted by this. So few of the functions are truly necessary, but it’s hard to limit yourself to only the few that matter.

Jen November 14, 2018 at 1:48 pm

As a regular church attender (and frequently at a variety of churches), I can definitely confirm that they are no longer phone-free. Dads using quiet games as a way to keep the kiddos from squirming, ushers using them in the lobby during the sermon, moms recording their child playing the offertory, millenials using a Bible app on their phone, random people making quick checks of who-knows-what…I’m no Luddite but this is what I have casually observed.

Good article. I enjoy reading your thoughts.

David Cain November 16, 2018 at 9:37 am

Thanks Jen. I suppose that’s not surprising :(

Avinash Patil November 15, 2018 at 11:50 pm

Thanks for this David. I feel it is just a cycle of our human psychology. We are already talking about minimizing these affect, younger generation in my village are spending so much more time into these social media. Free internet here plus multiple social media leading to this.

David Cain November 16, 2018 at 10:19 am

I think it is cyclical too. We have become very attuned to a certain kind of electronic gratification, and it’s not sustainable. It is psychological in nature. I expect the wave to break soon.

Kika November 16, 2018 at 7:48 am

Great article, glad to know there are people who are doing this!

So, I wanted to share my story on this
I went to a concert some weeks ago, from a band I really wanted to see live. I bought the tickets months before, I did the two-hour queue, fought for a good place near the stage, and waited patiently for the band to come out.
Now, I’m not a particulary tall person, but I’m not a midget either. I knew that so near the stage I was not going to be able to see everything because there would be taller people than me on the first rows, and I had made my peace with that. But have you any idea how frustrating it is to not be able to see the stage because people are recording the song on their phones? I could see the band better through some guy’s screen than from being that close. There were so many people with their phones up in the air that I could see the stage from many different angles, but not from my own point of view. It was horrible.
In the end, I ended up leaving the first rows and trying to enjoy the concert from the back, where I could see much better without no phone interrupting my view.

PS: English is not my first language, so I apologize for any grammar mistakes

David Cain November 16, 2018 at 10:21 am

That sounds so frustrating. I am a fairly tall person so I have not had the same experience. But I suffer from a different problem — I am always self-conscious that my big old head is in someone’s way. So I try not to move once I find a vantage point and hope people can establish sight lines around me.

Abhijeet Kumar November 16, 2018 at 6:06 pm

I wish you had a super like button on your posts.

It is brilliant, how much happier people will be if they gave internet and phones and devices rest for long periods of time. You will be more socially engaged. At work, you will engage with the tasks fully.

You have an interesting point about how 1 person checking their phone can affect everyone else in the interaction. I will admit I have been this person several times (muscle memory).

It is funny my family, my dad is hooked into his phone often. More so than me.

Jean Florio November 17, 2018 at 7:44 am

I saved this email to read this weekend and I’m glad I did. Last night I went to the theater to see “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The last section of the movie covers Queen performing at “Live Aid” at Wembley in 1985. It was amazing to see the huge crowd connecting with Freddie and the band and their fellow concert-goers, with nary a phone in sight. I compared that to a Death Cab for Cutie concert I recently attended where, despite admonitions against it, dozens of people were recording video on their phones during the performance, so they could get some “likes” on their fave social media platform. It’s not like you’re going to get quality video recording on a phone with all the ambient sounds around you. I’m old enough to have attended concerts both ways, and the whole reason for paying good money to see a band “live” was to get the “live” experience, otherwise you could just stay home and play your albums.

Nik Havert November 18, 2018 at 9:04 am

I go to a lot of concerts and I’ve started to notice fewer people whipping out their phones to record a song or snap 100 photos. I think a stigma is brewing about such behavior and fewer people want to be “that guy / lady” doing it. I’ll snap a few photos during a show since I’m usually reviewing it, but that’s it. I do still see people chatting or checking social media on their phones during a show, however, which I can’t comprehend. You paid to be there, and you’re missing the gig happening in front of you.

Another trend that I can’t confirm is that more bands seem to be using more lights that shine / strobe directly toward the audience. This essentially ruins a lot of photos and video because it overexposes them. I don’t know if this is intentional by bands / artists, but it’s genius if it is.

Dave Bailey November 19, 2018 at 3:20 pm

I agree totally that people check their devices so much that its almost second nature.
I try to limit my usage. It makes me feel bad when I realize I just answered a text, while in a face to face conversation. It is really something to think about, the person in front of you is more important than the one texting you.

Walter Neff November 24, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Great article David, don’t think I’ve ever read it put so succinctly, that phones “drain the life out of a room”.
I really feel that they are the worst thing to happen to the social circle ever.
And don’t even get me started on the psychological problems we are storing up with parents preferring to interact with their phones than their children!


Andrea Loewen November 27, 2018 at 10:50 am

I’m sad to report that people use their phones in church all the time – in my experience it’s just darkened theatres (for plays, symphonies, and sometimes movies) that keep them away. Alas!

Still, I love this – I always feel so free when I am cut off from my phone, and this has inspired me to make using my phone a little less convenient in daily life. (I wrote about it here: http://www.thereceptionistblog.com/2018/11/challenge-accepted-how-jack-white.html.)

JC November 28, 2018 at 12:42 am

Locker rooms. I remember when camera phones became ubiquitous. Is that guy shooting pics of me or emailing? I was the last to express concern; the last to submit to a smartphone.

Ironically, now only the operators can’t surveil their locker rooms…

Ragnar November 29, 2018 at 10:27 pm

A random turn of events brought me back to your blog for the first time in a year or more (your post “Your lifestyle has already been designed” has apparently taken on a life of it’s own on “Films For Action” and my friend shared it on Facebook), and it was just in time to find this post waiting for me. Timely to say the least.

After having decided to settle & accept the status quo and try to build my own life, career & success on top of it(which most successful people I follow seem to recommend), I am in the midst of learning to “manipulate” social media & mobile advertising for my own gain. But I am realizing more and more at odds this is with my values and the impact I want to have on the world. The smartphone is influencing people & society in a lot of ways I don’t like.

The phone banning movement is not just musicians (like white) & Comedians (Joe Rogan), but I have seen a lot of gyms, even some restaurants and cafes as well, joining the cause and championing staying present with each other and our own experience of life. I am definitely in favor of this, and would like to see it become commonplace, with at least phone-free alternatives being readily available in most cities, while maybe it not being the standard.

Career wise, I will probably be relying on the existence and heavy usage off mobile phones for years to come.. although I am hoping to be using these “inherently not-so-good” platforms to help businesses that matter & non profits as my skill level goes up.

**Side note: In this interview, Jack White is looking, and SOUNDING, OLD.. Hard to believe that it’s been roughly 15-16-17 years since I first heard a White Stripes song or watched a music video where him & his sister both looked and sounded so young.

Is he still the same on stage?

Anton December 4, 2018 at 3:46 pm

I’m happy that this phenomena exists for those who prefer this kind of experience, but personally, I would be not attend. Rather, I would feel utterly put off by demands for full off-line experience and would depart shortly. Not for me. My life, community and presence is mostly online, and I like it that way. Before phones it was books, drawing or music. As kid I was reprimanded for always reading during the family dinners instead of participating in chatter. No. Keep your strictly offline experiences, and good that you have artists catering to these tastes, but I know I’ll keep my distance from any such occasion. And I really hope it becomes standard to clearly warn about the practice beforehand as I would hate wasting money on this kind of event tickets.

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