Cell Phone Solipsism: On Selfishness and Spectatorship

Last night the woman sitting next to me at Pina Bausch's completely sold-out "The Window Washer" spent the first half hour of the show deleting old emails on her smart-phone before (blessedly, although only after several loud yawns and a number of quite stony stares from me) falling fast asleep for the remainder of the half.

I was at first relieved to find that she had disappeared after the interval, but unfortunately her friend one seat over (who kept calling her a "clever girl" and stroking her in a possessive manner before the show started) stayed. Before the second half had really gotten under way, he began checking his phone every five minutes, in apparent agony over the time the show was taking out of his life. Finally the man on his other side whispered harshly, "That's incredibly rude. Either turn it off or take it outside." Ten minutes later, exactly in the middle of one of the night's most solemn and tragic dances, I had to get out of my seat to make way for his early departure.

I've spent much of the last fifteen hours imagining what the level of the Inferno devoted to Cell Phone Solipsists must look like.

I'm thinking a Clockwork Orangesque hyperexposure to blaring/glaring non-stop technological spectacle, precluding sleep or any other sort of rest or solace, for the rest of time.

Of course there are theatrical contexts in which dividing your attention between the performer and other objects is appropriate. I myself always take notes in a small journal at the theatre: I find that what I lose in emotional absorption I more than make up for in retention and critical openness.  The distinction here is between distraction that changes your own experience of the work of art and that which actively changes everyone else's experience of the work.  Seriously, if you are blithely lighting up or leaving on your phone in any place defined by its communal darkness and quiet, or by the absorption of a group of people in attention to a single, easily disrupted task, then know that you are being a giant jackass. If you intentionally do this (as in the case of last night) after an explicit announcement telling everyone to turn their phones all the way off because the light disturbs neighboring spectators, I think you should be banned from experiencing artistic pleasure for the rest of your life.

Apparently I'm not much of a Futurist. Tant pis. I am, however, making great progress on being a desiccated curmudgeon.  And I
look forward to the day when some other desiccated curmudgeon (following me and Rousseau) derides a newer technology for disrupting our absorption in tweeting and texting. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
London, UK

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