Author Dustin Soiseth starts out talking about the ill-fated Concert Companion and the resistance to its use which helped to keep it from spreading.
In the context of my post yesterday decrying how social media was allowing people to escape from boredom and uncomfortable situations yesterday, when I read the article I thought, “now this is social media I can support.”
I know it can seem hypocritical to be against using social media devices unless people are reading what I want them to read, but having them semi-engaged is preferable to being entirely disengaged.
I mean, if you are on a first date with a person, if they are going to be surreptitiously using their devices instead of giving you their full attention, better they be looking up information on Neutral Milk Hotel so they can pretend to be a fan and try to make a connection with you than have them looking up cat videos on YouTube. (Not that I am speaking from experience.)
As I acknowledged at the end of my post yesterday, there is an inevitability to social media’s appearance/participation in arts events so it is important to find a way to make the experience constructive.
Soiseth points out much the same thing.
The use of supertitles in opera, while commonplace now, was quite controversial when it began in America in the 1980s. When Beverly Sills introduced them at the New York City Opera in 1983, she was called a “philistine” in The New York Times. In 1985, James Levine famously replied “Over my dead body” when asked about the possibility of supertitles at the Metropolitan Opera, and yet ten years later there they were, Met Titles in the back of every seat, and in standing room, too.
Concert Companion was rebuffed and now the technology is manifesting itself in performance halls in forms the arts organization doesn’t control. Though that opportunity was lost, other opportunities are presenting themselves.
Even though the Google Hangouts Soiseth attended/researched weren’t well attended, there appears to be some potential in the model the Mondavi Center is using. Some of the difficulties they seemed to face appeared to be related to awareness and lack of familiarity with the experience.
Organizations might even be able to replicate the Concert Companion experience by putting QR codes in their program books that people can scan at the change of each scene or movement in order to access notes on the performance at each juncture. After the performance, people can scan other codes for supplemental videos, discussion fora and the like.
We all know that even without an iPhone in hand, people are going to get bored and turn their attention elsewhere, look at their neighbors, read the program book, clean their fingernails, etc. It is okay to be bored.
Given that people are likely to become disengaged at some point and given that the presence of social media devices are only likely to increase, the prudent thing to do might be to provide an outlet for people’s impulse to grab their phones in the middle of the show.
Take the approach of: we would prefer you don’t pull out your phone, but if you feel you must, here is some interesting material to look at rather than to text your friends about going to the beach tomorrow. That said, this material isn’t going anywhere and you can look at it during intermission or tomorrow morning.
I can foresee that people may use hashtags or chat environments generated by the arts organization to discuss the performance during the show. My sentiment about that is the same as yesterday–encouraging audiences it some time to percolate in their brains and discuss it later.
Not to mention, the audience at large may potentially be upset by people spread throughout the theatre giggling as they try to outdo each other insulting the actors’ costumes.
On the other hand, that interaction may provide the arts organization more feedback about their show than they have ever gotten on a survey.
If you are feeling like I am flip flopping on this topic, I have to answer by saying it is a really difficult thing to address in an objective way. I don’t think the sentiments I expressed yesterday are at all unreasonable. I am concerned about what it means for society at large when people are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.
But I also know that using a social media device during a performance and honestly facing the truths of one’s life are not mutually exclusive and room must be made for both.