The Holly and the iPhone

Somebody at Orchestra Hall had something that he wanted to remember to do at 7:55 Sunday night. Too bad it wasn’t to turn off his alarm during the soprano solo in “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd.” The alarm was an insistent one, starting with beep-beep, beep-beep, and escalating to beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep.

Ring tones and personal alarms are such a part of concerts and plays that they probably fall into the category of things we’ll just have to accept, but it’s a pity. The Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale turned in a pristine performance of Handel’s “Messiah” this weekend, assuming that one is OK with some pretty big excisions from the score. (Oh death, where is thy sting? Somewhere on the cutting room floor, apparently.) The tone was clean, the text was clear, the interpretation seemed fresh and each note felt right. Except, of course, for the notes from the electronic devices in the concertgoers’ purses and pockets.

So here’s a question for this season of “A Christmas Carol,” “Messiah” and other holiday performances: If today’s phones are smart, are they smart enough to silence themselves? They come equipped with GPS devices, calendars and apps of every conceivable description. Could they see from the location (concert hall), or from the date and the hour (when a concert is on the calendar), that it’s time to pipe down?

Come on, technology. Save us from ourselves.

  • Andrew Shipe

    Even doing this via a Foursquare check-in would be awesome. “We see you’ve checked in at a (concert, orchestra hall, etc…) would you like the phone to be silenced for the duration of the event?” Great idea.

  • BenCh

    I feel like it would be better to prevent things like texting and driving than having a phone ring in a meeting.

    However, I feel like it might be possible. If we can tell our phone to have an alarm, can’t we schedule alarms or ‘events’ that would self silence at those times (like the opposite of an alarm)?

    Either way, I am reminded of something I learned in elementary school when being introduced to computers. Someone said that computers are not stupid- they just do whatever we tell them to do.

  • Jim Shapiro

    How about having human ushers remind patrons to turn off the things?

  • John P II

    Technology will never save us from ourselves. Signs, human reminders, and public shaming might help.

  • Jim Shapiro

    John P II –

    “The machines that we built would never save us”

    – Jimi Hendrix ( 1983, A Mermaid I Should Be)

  • JackU

    BenCh: That’s odd I usually tell people, the computer is stupid and very obedient. It will do what you tell it to do and only what you tell it to do, over and over and never complain.

  • Paul

    At a performance of the Ballet Trocadero a couple years ago, a very nice man in a very clipped Russian accent intoned “You will please now turn off your cell phone, beeper, pager … or we WILL do it for you.”

    And at Cirque’s KA in Las Vegas, they make the point by throwing (a stand in (I think :)) over the proscenium wall into the orchestra pit when he wouldn’t put down his camera or his cell phone before the show.

    Both approaches seem to have worked. Though they recently stopped leading the announcements at our church with a plea to disarm your phone…and the ring count has escalated.

  • BenCh

    @JackU- We were usually told this after a computer wouldn’t do something we wanted it to do and someone would say, “Stupid computer!”

  • Jamie

    Cell phones have created a population of self-important yahoos. If it’s so important for people to be able to get ahold of you during the time of a concert (like somebody’s well-being is at stake), then you shouldn’t go to the concert (or church service or meeting…).

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jamie –

    Several years ago ( back when only the REALLY cool people had cell phones :-) , I went to a concert and they had people check their phones at the door.

    A friend working at the auditorium counted, and

    more than 50% of the checked phones were fake plastic ones.

    Gosh it’s important for some people to appear important, isn’t it?