A couple of months ago, my boyfriend went to Reading Festival with his family. And although I wasn't there, I sort of got to be—no, he didn't freak out security by bringing another person along in his bag, but when he got back I got a lot of photos to curb my jealousy.
A couple of these photos were taken during Dua Lipa's set. I can remember one of them unnaturally clearly, because of what went through my head as I looked at it. All I saw below the stage was a sea of raised phones. I almost didn't see anyone's heads.
I felt a little sad, looking at this scene, wondering how many people got to live vicariously through the videos on their friends' phones. I felt sad because these people couldn't lose themselves in the euphoria in a concert as the virtual world told them no. I felt sad because it seemed that we'd rather have thirty-two gigabytes of memory than the infinite capacity we have in our own brains. I felt sad because living in the moment—maybe even one of the most amazing moments in your life—is so much harder when you live it through a screen, and you can't tear yourself away from it.
What do we even do it for, anyway? Validation online? Bragging rights? Or a keepsake in your camera roll? I wonder how often we look back at these photos in the idle moments of scrolling through a phone. I don't imagine that it's a lot. And even then, what is there to see? I took a photo while watching Pierce The Veil live two years ago, and I can't even see any members of the band—just an explosion of orange and yellow light and the backs of the heads of the people in the rows in front of me. If you hadn't known I was at a gig, you might've wondered if there was a fire onstage. In part, I understand that people want a tangible memory of the gigs they go to. But at the same time, if that's what you wanted, how about buying some merch, if you can afford to do so? That way, everybody wins: you get something cool to wear (and trust me, band shirts are a great conversation starter) and you support your favourite bands in a time where they need money more than ever.
Even so, it's not just the audience phones kill the vibe of a gig for. I wholeheartedly understand why bands sometimes ban them at their shows, or even just encourage punters to put their phones down—we might recall the moment in Florence and the Machine's Radio One Big Weekend set when she asked the audience to do that for the duration of one of the songs. Think about how it would feel for an artist: 'It's so good to see all of your beautiful...oh wait, I can't see your faces, your phones are in the way.' Phones sever the rare, in-person connection you might have with the band you've gone to see. It's one of the most surreal parts of a gig for me. That thought: 'Wow! It's you! You're real! Like, an actual 3D person! And I'm breathing the same air as you!' And besides, if you wanted another photo or video of them to look at, they're only a few clicks away on Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube. The Internet can't hand you that wondrous kind of experience.
There's no black-and-white answer on the debate surrounding phones at shows. As long as we can spend arguing about it, the good news is that we can at least find a happy medium if putting your phone in your bag for the duration of a gig is truly that impossible. If you really want to take the odd photo, do so quickly, discreetly and then get back to enjoying the gig with your eyes and ears. You might just notice a difference.