A friend of mine was recently recounting his experience of going to see The Weeknd live. It was apparently pretty mid. Not because of The Weeknd’s performance, apparently he was wonderful, but because of the behaviour of the crowd. If you’re a regular concert-goer, you’ll know the best experiences come when the whole crowd gets into it: dancing, singing along, generally going nuts right? The crowd at The Weeknd was the opposite. They stood stock still and silent the whole time because almost everyone was filming it on their phones. And not just clips of the big songs, or quick snaps of the stage. Apparently a good chunk of the crowd filmed the WHOLE THING. You can’t get into concerts like that, and it’s a quick way to kill the vibe for everyone.

I remember in my flip-phone days…

Receiving a blurry, crunchy gig video over text from my friend was the most exciting thing in the world. The fact that someone I knew was witnessing a band I liked in person (MGMT circa. 2007 comes to mind here) was mind blowing, especially as a tween. But this was a time before everything was online; before widespread social media use. We didn’t have the access to music artists that we do now. When relying on sparse early YouTube content, magazines and MTV, any extra footage of your favourites was gold.

Obviously that’s not a problem anymore. For many artists, a vast social media following is a part of their career, and it’s easy to find content from them across all the major platforms. This includes posting footage from their concerts. Let’s take the footage posted by electronic artist Anyma that’s been making the rounds on TikTok because of the amazing visuals he uses at his live events. The point of them is to wow the crowd and get them going; to compliment the music. The crowd is definitely wowed, but choose to try and capture the moment on their phones (as you can see with the thousands of lit screens). It’s as if the priority is proving you saw something amazing rather than actually seeing the amazing thing. You can’t just have a good time anymore; the world needs to know what a good time you’re having.

Phones at gigs can make life harder for artists too.

Social media can be essential for up-and-coming artists to grow their fanbases and make a career for themselves. Taking selfies with audience members and creating viral content from the stage can be part of their performance. However, many artists aren’t so keen on playing to a room of phone cameras. From the stage artists form connections with the crowd, but phones act as a barrier and break that relationship. They just want you to give them your full attention as they perform to you, and phones distract from that.

This has led to some artists making the decision to ban phones from their concerts. Fans caught filming during the performance get kicked out. Some artists, such as Bob Dylan, Jack White and Alicia Keys have all implemented Yondr pouches at their concerts. These are small, lockable pouches for concert-goers to place their phones in during the performance, so that they can’t be used. If that person needs to use their phone, they can leave the venue and have it unlocked. Some consider this an extreme reaction, and that it is their right to record souvenirs of their concert experience. And this would be true, if we hadn’t reached such extreme levels of phone-use that it is negatively impacting the quality of shows.

It’s a cliché, but we’ve got to re-learn to “live in the moment”.

Concerts can be some of the most immersive, moving and memorable events in our lives, if we let them be. Experiencing live music as a community has existed almost as long as humans have, and benefits us both psychologically and physically. It can even help to slow cognitive decline caused by ageing. But to receive these benefits we need to detach ourselves from our phones. We need to remove the distraction and give ourselves fully over to the experience. Why would we deny ourselves this enrichment to our lives? This concept can be applied to more than just live music obviously. By living in the mesaverse, all things in life will become more fulfilling: our relationships, our holidays, even what we eat. We live in an amazing world, but have decided to dull our experiences with our phones. It’s time to change.

Polly Cumming

Polly Cumming is a British literary graduate keen on writing about human existence in this moment in time. She's thrilled to see some positive change in the world of social media.