Like many of you, my dear readers, I am of a split mind about the inclusion of social media in live performances. Overall, I think this is a good place to be. I have often written here that one should not jump on the hottest trend, but obviously one should not entirely dismiss it. A healthy mix of skepticism and self-education on the matter is valuable.
There was recently a post on the Drucker Exchange that pushed me toward the “against” column. I have talked about the benefits of tweet seats and such in other entries so I am not going to try to balance the “con” argument here.
In reference to employees using headphones and having social media chat window open at work, the Drucker Exchange piece cites former entertainment executive Anne Kreamer,
“The majority of these young workers said that they felt far more connected moment to moment with people outside their workplaces than with any co-workers,” she writes. The problem, according to Kreamer, is that they miss out on crucial exchanges, become less loyal to the company and one another, and innovate less. As studies on innovation show, physical proximity matters.
… For one thing, it’s the reason many people go to work at all. “Work is for most people the one bond outside of their own family—and often more important than the family,” Drucker observed in People and Performance. “The work place becomes their community, their social club, their escape from loneliness.”
More important, such contact influences productivity, and creating satisfying informal work arrangements among co-workers is especially important for good output. Research conducted by General Motors during the 1940s, for example found that “‘good fellowship’ or ‘good relations with fellow workers’ showed as the leading causes of job satisfaction,” Drucker recalled.
The Drucker Exchange piece echos a rhetorical corollary many arts people ask of those who feel the need to engage in social media exchanges during a live performance experience, “What is the reason you come to the performance at all?”
For many it may be that a friend or significant other encouraged them–but then they aren’t really dancing with the one that brought them, either. (Though granted, that person may also be connecting with outsiders as well.) Or maybe they are getting extra credit for a class or looking to advance their career.
The mention that employees who isolate themselves in this manner at work are less loyal to the company makes me think audience members who do the same probably aren’t developing a lot of loyalty to the arts organization. True, the act of actually writing about what they are seeing may actually forge a connection that passively watching the show wouldn’t, but there is no guarantee the person is relating their feelings about the show.
While arts organizations probably can’t have the same expectations about audiences they could during the days of high subscription rates, audience churn is a big problem. It costs a lot more to attract a new attendee than to maintain a relationship with frequent attendees. It seems ill-advised to encourage activities that don’t cultivate a connection and may even erode it.
Simply forbidding people to use mobile devices isn’t going to magically result in the scales falling from people’s eyes and have them realize how disconnected they were. The arts organization has to provide a reason to get engaged in the immediate experience as an alternative to connecting to friends who are elsewhere.
As much as we may want to believe it, the experience of the performance may be insufficient to get a person invested. For some people, texting, tweeting, etc may simply be filling the void of uncertainty about the experience with a safe activity.
The solution may not be any more complicated than encouraging front of house staff to actively ask people what brings them to the performance and find out what their expectations are. Or perhaps changing the layout of the lobby to facilitate people gathering and chatting in certain areas. Essentially replace the friends who are elsewhere with friendly faces right where they are.
This song went through my mind as I wrote this entry-