Cell Phones at Concerts

If you follow independent music and concert news at all, you know that Twitter has blown up with a heated debate over the past week. In a since-deleted tweet, alternative singer-songwriter Mitski asked her fans to consider decreasing their cell phone usage at her shows. 

“I wanted to speak with you about phones at shows. They’re part of our reality, I have mine on me all the time, and I’m not against taking photos at shows (though please no flash lol). But sometimes when I see people filming entire songs or whole sets, it makes me feel as though we are not here together. This goes for both when I’m on stage, and when I’m an audience member at shows,” she wrote to her 323,000 Twitter followers. 

While this may seem like a reasonable compromise for Mitski to request of her fans — after all, she’s not asking for an outright cessation of cell phone use at her shows — the backlash was immediate. Tons of Twitter users began to angrily tweet at her, citing a number of reasons why they felt entitled to film the entirety of her shows on their phones. The most common of these arguments made the case that fans with mental health issues such as ADHD or tendencies of dissociation may not remember every detail of the concert and thus should be able to film the complete show.

Mental health struggles of all types are serious and should not be taken lightly, but they should also not be used as a scapegoat for doing whatever you want without consequence. This leads to negative stigmatization of mental illness all around, leading to the belief that people can use mental illness to excuse any and all behavior without disagreement. There are so many reasons why someone may not remember every detail of a concert — you could be drunk, sleep deprived, distracted or you may even just simply forget something. Brains aren’t meant to be video cameras. Artists don’t owe us the ability to see their live performances over and over again for any reason, whether it be related to mental health or literally anything else. Concerts are meant to be experienced in the moment; they’re between a performer and their crowd on one particular night. It’s not about the details, but simply about getting to be in a space with an artist you love, surrounded by people who love them too. 

Concerts aren’t the only events that could use a lessened presence of cell phones. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m on my phone way too much, and I know I’m not the only one with this problem. One of my goals this year is to be more present in the moment; I haven’t been totally successful thus far, but it’s something I intend to work on. Whether it’s to feel more connected at concerts as Mitski suggested or even just to enjoy a distractionless night with friends, taking a step back from using cell phones and not necessarily capturing every moment is something that we should all strive toward. Technology can and should be used to great advantage, but sometimes, moments might be better if we set our screens aside for a while.