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Bands ask fans to limit cellphone use, concertgoers torn

7:19 PM, Jul 21, 2013   |    comments
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco performs during the 2013 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival on June 14, 2013 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Douglas Mason/Getty Images)
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For Emily Moschcowitz, a concert is all about getting the perfect picture.

The freshman at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., says she takes 100-200 photos at each show she attends (either on her cellphone or digital camera), and she likes it that way.

But some bands are reacting to many attendees, particularly Millennials, who view live shows through their phones, while trying to snap the perfect shot or record a video clip. Many artists are asking fans to put the phones away and enjoy the show live.

One such band is She & Him, the duo of Zooey Deschanel and Matthew Ward, better known as M. Ward.

The pair posts simple signs around every location at which they perform:

"At the request of Matt and Zooey, we ask that people not use their cellphones to take pictures and video, but instead enjoy the show they have put together in 3D."

Ward has instated a similar policy on previous tours of his solo act.

Other bands such as Wilco and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs make similar requests.

Deb Bernardini, a publicity representative for Wilco, says the band uses the ban to enhance audience experience and keep attendees engaged.

Yet Moschcowitz, a biology and interdisciplinary studies double major, says such a request would bother her, as her photo-taking doesn't take away from the concert experience. For her, it adds to it.

"I think we have a right to use phone cameras and other recording devices because you pay for a concert ticket," she says.

Mackenzie "Z" Kuester is a junior at Emerson College in Boston and an avid concertgoer. She's been to more than 50 shows in her 20 years. Her musical taste, she says, is "anyone that plays at Warped Tour."

She agrees that photography should be permitted, but says concertgoers must be respectful; her vision often has been blocked by someone's phone.

"It is frustrating to me," says Kuester, a writing, literature and publishing major. "You don't need to document the entire experience, just take a couple photos."

Kuester says the number of cellphones in the air seems to affect the overall feeling of a crowd. She noticed this at a few shows by Never Shout Never, an indie-pop performer, whom she has seen five times.

"When I saw him in 2007, it was a very chill crowd and there weren't a lot of cellphones out," she said. "But in 2012 there were so many crazy people pushing trying to get the perfect picture. I've never been so scared for my life. It takes away from the whole thing."

Janet Vertesi is an assistant professor in sociology at Princeton University in New Jersey. She focuses on technology, and says the growing trend of bands requesting no cellphone use is a very a two-sided issue.

"On the one hand, it is very obnoxious and can be difficult to see the show through a phone," says Vertesi. "But these bands have to understand that this generation grew up attached to their phones. This is what connects them to their friends and helps them share with others."

Vertesi says she understands artists' frustrations with performing to a sea of phones rather than faces, but suggests they use the technology as a connector rather than a wall.

"A lot of bands use phones to make the experience more enjoyable. They will ask people to take them out for a certain song or will have a contest to see who gets the best picture," she says.

Limiting the use of cellphones can leave an audience feeling uncomfortable and restricted, Vertesi adds.

"And plus, they could miss out," she says. "If teens can't use their cellphone, how will they tweet about this totally awesome show they are at that all of their friends need to get to OMG."

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