Smart Phones, Dumb People

Texting in Theaters

Texting in Theaters
If phones were really smart, they’d know when you’re in church, and mute themselves. They’d know when you’re at Alamo Drafthouse and save you from yourself, before you fall victim to the chain’s draconian and wonderful “no-texting” policy.

Every week before I cantor, I remind the assembly to shut off their phones; Alamo Drafthouse publicly shames those who light up their screens during a movie. And yet the phones keep ringing, and the zombie minions keep lighting up no matter where, no matter when.

I attended a theater performance last night, seated immediately behind a woman with a screen bigger than the color TV in the livingroom of my childhood home. As the story played out on stage, she browsed the Internet, checked her bank account (twice), watched a video, shared vacation photos with her seatmate, and (you guessed it) texted incessantly.

None of this was too surprising – we see such behavior all the time, and it’s partly why I rarely go the cinema anymore. The astonishing, over-the-top moment came when this vile woman’s phone rang. Of course it wasn’t on silent mode, and obviously it rang for quite some time. But get this: SHE ANSWERED IT.

You’ve probably heard about how Patti LuPone took a cell phone, because its owner was texting during a performance. (Who pays Broadway prices to see Patti LuPone and then spends the show texting?) I wonder what LuPone would have done in this case. By cosmic coincidence, our cell phone rang precisely when a character on stage said “call me” to another character. The woman in front of me said “hello” in concert with the actress.

This was the emotional climax of the musical, when the leads realize they’re meant to be together after all. Unfortunately, heads all around turned and stared daggers at our fellow audience member, while she obliviously chatted away. She wasn’t whispering, and it wasn’t a quick “let me call you back.” It was a fucking conversation.

Afterward, we had our own conversations as the audience filed out. “Can you believe she ACTUALLY ANSWERED HER PHONE?” “What kind of person DOES THAT” “I hope she stays home next time.” The target of our observations was two feet away, unapologetic and apparently uncowed. “Wasn’t that a good show?” she asked her companion.

Contrast that with the night before, in a different theater. Five ten year-old girls sat in front of us (we knew they were ten because it was a birthday party.) Not only did the girls pay rapt attention, they dutifully pulled out Kleenex to share when the main character died. And so, a plea: Mammas, don’t let your theatergoing babies grow up to have smartphones.