How much of your life are you missing out on because of your phone?

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In a digital age, why are we obsessed with capturing the present through our phone, in order to relive moments that have already happened?

What ever happened to YOLO? Surely you remember the phrase. Look it up online, scroll through the Urban Dictionary and there you’ll find several definitions. Some of them serious i.e. “An abbreviation for ‘you only live once’” and some of them not so serious, i.e. “A term people should have stopped using last year”.

Yes, it seems that this sage acronym has now fallen out of favour and will be forever consigned to a long list of youth expressions that tend to come and go quicker than any fashion in clothes or hair. Use the phrase in public now, and many will regard you as if you’ve just walked into the room sporting a mullet and a fluorescent shell suit. But there may be a reason, apart from general trends in language, for its disappearance – people never really meant it. In fact, when you really think about the concept of ‘you only live once’, it is actually completely at odds with how people now live their lives. 

I’m afraid the real truth is that people are not ‘only living once’ at all. Neither are they living in the moment, living as if today is their last, or dancing like no one is watching. Not to mention uttering a c’est la vie, carpe diem or que sera sera. So it looks like all of these well-meaning clichés could too become endangered. But what threatens them? 

I cast my mind back to this summer when I was in attendance at London’s All Points East festival where the inimitable Nick Cave was the Sunday headliner. As Cave entertained the crowd, his adoring fans hung on every word that the gothic indie god said. Though in-between songs of the hour-or-so set, like the true brooding artiste that he is, he said very little. 

Interestingly however, as people sort to capture a picture or video of their hero, he let out an authoritative baritone cry of “No phones!” Around me, would-be photographers sheepishly began to put away their devices and watch the gig with their actual eyes (shock horror). 

I can then report that after this phone embargo, the performance became much more enjoyable. I know I’m not the only one that’s annoyed by people using phones at gigs. I somehow can’t help being put off by a screen being held in my eye line during a performance – which is, of course, infuriatingly paradoxical as I’m becoming distracted by someone else being distracted.

But now, as the ubiquity of mobile phone use at live events spreads across the globe, it seems the performers themselves are growing weary of the phenomenon. Recently there’s been a string of high profile acts either barring their use at shows or physically denying gig-goers access to their devices whilst inside the venue. 

On the extreme end of the scale, certain acts such as Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Jack White and Alicia Keys have all used a system of lockable pouches provided by a company called Yondr. Essentially this requires every attendee to place their phone into a pouch which is then locked by security staff. They can then keep it with them until it is able to be unlocked again after the show, or they can go to a ‘Yondr Phone Zone’ in the lobby or concourse. 

Before his recent tour, White issued a statement regarding the system saying: “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON” And implored fans to “enjoy a phone-free, 100% human experience.” 

Other acts have also imposed similar bans by giving their fans (sometimes) polite notices to refrain from using their mobiles. Adele, Bjork, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kevin Hart have all taken measures to discourage people, with varying degrees of success. At a recent gig, Yeah Yeah Yeahs put up not-so- subtle posters stating: “Please do not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera. Put that sh*t away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen, and Brian. Much love and many thanks!” 

Kevin Hart’s approach is no less draconian. His UK shows were the subject of criticism recently when several fans got kicked out for as little as sending a text. There were even workers wearing bibs emblazoned with “cell phone security” to ensure that the rule was being enforced and to eject offenders.

Kevin Hart

This seems very harsh, and does raise the question – do artists like Hart actually care about the enjoyment of the crowd? Or are they just concerned that mobile phones present a risk to their intellectual property? Ownership of digital media is where this topic gets even more complex. In pre-camera phone times, audience members would certainly not have been allowed to bring recording equipment into a show, so it’s understandable why artists may feel aggrieved. 

But in any case, I have never understood why someone would want to film for near the entirety of a performance when they know they’re never going to watch it back, at least because the sound and vision quality will invariably be dire.

Of course, most people are not concerned with owning phone footage for future posterity. These pictures and videos are immediately launched onto a sea of social media feeds to compete for attention with other user’s experiences, all lived vicariously through a mobile phone camera and the latest Instagram filter.

Social media ‘story’ features are perhaps the culmination of this mind set, with media recorded, posted and then automatically deleted soon after. A fleeting record of a particular moment, purely for the consumption of those not present at the event. What does this leave anybody with? The true essence of that moment, lost to all parties. 

The trend towards mindfulness (the practice of slowing down and appreciating the world around you in that present moment) may act as an antidote to all of this. Although perhaps we should be trying to use it, not just when sat in a lotus position, humming with our eyes closed but at times when we are meant to be enjoying ourselves – whether that’s a gig, traveling or having a nice meal. 

It’s not that I’m completely opposed the odd photo or video when the times is right. I’m fully aware that this is how the world works now. It’s also probable that I’m facing a losing battle and the opinions I’ve expressed here will age about as well as YOLO did. But hey, why not dust off that old phrase next time you’re savouring a good time and living in the moment. Sure, people will laugh at you, but at least you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you actually mean it this time. 

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