Company pushes button on radical idea: Cell-free concerts
Sheena Ekas loves going to concerts, but she has started to find the other fans in attendance irritating.
It seems like lately every time the Saxonburg resident goes to a show, everyone around her spends more time on their phones than watching the performance.
“There are times you can’t even see the stage because, so many arms and phones are in the way,” says the 27-year-old Ekas. “When I go to a concert, I want to watch the actual show, not a video through a tiny screen.”
But times they could be a-changin’, though.
A new company, Yondr, based in San Francisco, wants create a technology-free environment.
“Yondr creates phone-free zones,” founder Graham Dugoni says. “I like to think of it a lot like smoking versus non-smoking sections.”
When someone comes to a concert that is using Yondr, they are handed a form-fitting Yondr case at the door, Dugoni says. Once they slide their phone into the case, the case locks.
Inside of the phone-free area, people keep possession of their phones, but they will be unable to use them. If they need to use their phone at any time, they simply step outside of the defined phone-free area and tap the case on the unlocking mechanism.
Ekas is all for it.
“Banning cellphones would be a great experience,” she says. “The environment would be so much more carefree and involved in the show.”
Dugoni says, “The goal of Yondr is to help people realize that there is no substitute for living and participating in the physical world.”
Experts say that, in a world where technology is constantly around, even concertgoers can find it hard to disconnect.
“Sometimes, you can’t help but look in front of you and see what the person is doing on their phones; it really takes away from the experience,” says Sarah Osselborn, 22, a student at Slippery Rock University, from Butler.
Not only do some concert fans dislike this trend, musicians say it is annoying, too.
“Technology has made it as if the crowd isn’t even experiencing the show,” says Rishi Bahl, 28, of Shadyside, lead singer of the Space Pimps. “When you are watching the show through the screen of a phone, you might as well be at home watching a live stream.”
All things considered, the proposal of a technology-free concert creates mixed emotions — even for critics.
Bahl agrees with the idea, but worries about the alienation some fans might feel.
“I would love to play a show where cellphones are banned, but there would be some people there who would get upset,” he says. “In that sense, it would probably work against me.”
Today’s culture has created a different kind of concert experience.
“When we are playing, I like to call out people who are on their phone,” Bahl says. “But, in today’s culture, it’s almost as if they are so ingrained with the technology, they don’t even care.”
The growth of technology has created a completely different audience, too.
“The first shows I went to were back in the early 2000s,” Ekas says. “I didn’t have a camera at those shows. But now, 10 years later, I still remember how great the shows were. Today, you have people acting like they won’t remember the show if they don’t have the video or pictures to look back on.”
Yondr’s plans of a technology-free zone works in the favor of artists like Bahl.
“The concept addresses a large issue and hopefully people will see, over time, that they simply enjoy these types of technology-free experiences more than others. If that happens, I think the implications will be large,” Dugoni says.
However, artists and fans can’t ignore the benefits of technology.
“I can look at my photos I took if I want to reminisce about the show later,” Osselborn says.
Bahl admits, “With the use of pictures and social media people are sharing their experience. They want to show their friends what a good time they had at your show.”
Jessica Federkeil is a reporter for Point Park News Service.