Living in the Moment with Your Smartphone

Dallas Green was absolutely killing it.  The City and Colour bandleader with the magical voice was laying out one great ballad after another under a darkening Vancouver sky on a beautiful summer’s night.








The music was top shelf, but took second place to Green’s stage presence and relaxed connectivity to the audience.  Twice during his set, he stopped his songs cold to improvise around unplanned activity in the audience.  Once for a wedding proposal taking place in the crowd mid song and once for a drunk/high guy who rushed the stage.  He congratulated the newly engaged couple with gracious deference and admonished the stage rusher with a great line: “I’m not mad, just disappointed. I was trying to make this song about us, but you went and made it about YOU.”

How could anybody not love this guy?

So how could you not buy into his crowning moment of the night?  Before launching into one of his acoustic finales during the encore, he walked to the front of the stage and made a request, gently and sincerely…

“Those of you out there with smart phones, hold ’em up.  Now for just one song only, take them and put them in your back pocket.  Let’s just all be together for one song and just live in a moment that isn’t tweeted or youtube’d.  Let’s remember that sometimes it’s ok just to have a memory.  Let’s be in this moment together.”

What a moment.  What a statement.

The smartphones went down.  The bic lighters came out.  The dying sun cast one glimmer over the amphitheatre as that majestic voice started to ring out across the audience.

All at once, it was a beautiful elevated moment and yet tinged with life’s reality and almost a comical irony.  God, we human beings fall tantalizingly short of absolute perfection.

About 100 people still held up their camera phones.







After such graciousness and artistry, and at such a perfect opportunity to buy in to a communal moment, how much of a narcissistic entitled douche do you have to be to still hold up your little screen in defiance?

I’ve written about the smartphone/live performance issue previously and I don’t think there’s anything new I have to say on the matter.

Like Dallas Green, I’m just disappointed.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this. I can’t seem to resolve my own.


7 Replies to “Living in the Moment with Your Smartphone”

  1. When we got married we made it a social media/smartphone free night, and asked our guests to just spend the evening *with* us. It was really nice. I think this goes beyond live performance though, and is really a comment on our *lives*. Can we go camping and not feel the need to post , or go to a hockey game and just be in the arena the whole time? I find the need to be witnessed in this way really fascinating; it’s not just taking photos for memories for yourself anymore. And we are pretty much all guilty of it.

    1. Great comment, and fantastic idea for your wedding!

      I think there is a small percentage of us out there that consciously rebels and doesn’t document our entire lives online.

  2. Well the good news is if you ever want to relive the moment where he tells people to put down their phones, someone probably put it on youtube already 🙂
    In all seriousness, i think smartphones by their very nature have an addictive component. Combine that with rudeness and we have people who sadly didn’t get to experience the beauty of the show the way you did.
    It’s also worth noting that much like all the VHS tapes my uncle has, i bet nobody ever actually watches most of the stuff they record.

  3. Hey Aaron.

    Whether you know it or not, you are enquiring into a canonical debate in performance scholarship. What is live? Is it “better” than the mediated? Certainly, people in the performing arts want to believe that there is a superiority to the “live”, a wholeness, or authenticity of experience that arises from the ephemerality of performance. Disappearance is equated with quality, and recorded experience is a knock-off of “real” experience. This leaves us with a feeling that “live” and “mediated” are binary opposites, antagonistic.

    I would like to suggest a couple of things. Firstly, there would be no category of the live were it not for media. Before the creation of recording technologies, there was no sense of the live. It was what it was, with no opposite. So the concept of the live can only exist in relation to the mediated. We can only perceive the live if we have the mediated. Secondly, that “live” is a fundamentally political category as a result of this. We attach meanings to it, create structures around it. As you seems to want to suggest, the “live” is seen as some kind of resistance to powerful, political/corporate structures that smartphones, in your framing of them, represent. This is by no means a “bad thing”, but is it accurate? Thirdly, does the live actually disappear into memory? Memory is itself a medium. It reconstructs, it changes, manipulates, fades in and out. Neuroscience has proven that the brain actually “makes” a new experience every time we remember something. And the “moment”, which we so fiercely hang onto as live performers, is made up of so many social constructions and cross-temporalities that, while we may not want to believe it so, it is hard to actually think of the moment as a pure, uncomplicated event, despite how it feels. Finally, is your position at a live event all encompassing? Is watching the concert from the floor the same as watching it from backstage? Or from the rafters? Or in a field? Or in a small club? There is no complete experience. We piece together events from all angles: we attend, we talk to friends who saw it from a different angle, we read about it, and, yes, we watch video of it.

    Perhaps it would be helpful to see it another way. How do you know the music of Dallas Green? What drew you to the concert? He couldn’t exist without media. He builds his concept of a live concert off of his relationship to his cd’s and iTunes downloads. He perhaps varies his songs, or improvises in concert in order to differentiate between his recorded music and his live performance. In many ways, we go to the live event to verify our relationship to the recorded. Also, we can read video and audio recording as “live”. Live concerts, live recordings, simulcast.YouTube is filled with the “live” as it happened and this isn’t a lie of the mind. Video can be altered, improvised, edited, re-contextualized, just like memory. It becomes as performative as the so-called “live” concert itself. In a way, people who make videos of “live” concerts are engaging in a co-performance. They are casting themselves as players in the field of performance with the artist. Yes, it changes the old way of thinking about a performance that casts the artist as active and the audience as passive, but is that a bad thing?

    We’ve seen how recording and broadcasting live events like Arab Spring can change a narrative and undermine the political machinery that might otherwise prefer to control the message that comes from events. But this act of witnessing, in a way, allows the audience, the powerless, to transcribe themselves into the event, to become, if you will, actors. Is it always this way? No, and I think there is good reason to be suspicious of the machinery involved in reproduction. After all, while there is room for resistance, these tools where invented to co-opt and control and record the masses. But is it necessarily as narcissistic and invasive as you are casting it to be? Personally, I don’t think so. Although, I know lots of people who would agree with you, too.

  4. If a tree falls in the forest Ted…

    I know there’s no going back from where we’re at. But if you enjoy going to the Orpheum and in the darkness you’re fighting for an eye line to the stage around all the glowing tablets, then have at that side of the argument.

    Yes, artists need media to exist and to promote themselves. Used to be that there was an infrastructure in place to monetize the art, which has crumbled due to the net, but that’s a dead horse. Somehow Michael Jackson sold all those albums and was the biggest musical act in history, without camera phones or the net. I can hear all of those voices saying, “What about Gangham Style?”. He’ll be forgotten about inside of a year, fame is more fleeting and impermanent than ever given today’s “next best thing” attention span.

    The audience, unless it’s an interactive event, are not the “actors”, although social media has trained us to constantly get our “brand” out there. Sorry, but I paid to see the performer, not your tablet, you have not earned the spotlight. You can twist the philosophical argument of audience as participant as a good thing, but Louis CK, Dallas Green and countless other performers are now regularly making pleas to the audience to be more present, to tone down the video roll and the live tweeting. If you’re outright asked to do so and you refuse, you’re not a pioneer of new form, you’re a rude selfish jerk. Get off the stage.


  5. PS Ted, the points you raise are really good ones. I guess achieving rational distance and analyzing it like that is practical and important. Hard to do in the moment….

  6. You know when music sounds the best? Alone at night in the car, with friends on boat, or on a patio somewhere. “Look where I was” aspect not required.

    Great post Aaron. Great night too.

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