Inside a movie theater, even the quickest peek at your phone can be extremely distracting for neighboring viewers. It's a topic we've covered time and time again on the Screen Rant Underground podcast. We've all been there - when the blinding light from a switched-on cell phone suddenly erupts in the seat next to us. While most moviegoers agree that texting during a film can be distracting, at least one theater chain believes that the anti-phone use crackdown has led to the alienation of certain (read: younger) moviegoers - and, as a result, it might be time for less-strict regulations.
As technology continues to evolve, and we become increasingly dependent on minute-to-minute connectivity with friends, family, and co-workers, it can be quite a shock to the system when we're asked to put away our smartphones. Whether we're at a family dinner, seated on an airplane, or stuck underground on a stalled subway train, these days, most of us get a little antsy when we're cut-off for too long. However, does that mean that we should throw common courtesy out the window?
According to a Deadline report, Regal Entertainment CEO, Amy Miles, addressed the possibility that her theaters could, in the near future, ease-up on texting enforcement (at least during certain movies) - in an effort to win-back younger moviegoers who might be down on seeing films in theaters:
“You’re trying to figure out if there’s something you can offer in the theater that I would not find appealing but my 18-year-old son [might].”
IMAX executive, Greg Foster, agreed, adding:
"We want them to pay $12 to $14 to come into an auditorium and watch a movie. But they’ve become accustomed to controlling their own existence.”
Of course, any attempt to categorize which movies fit into the stricter/less-strict categories would be entirely subjective - and could discourage non-phone-users from attending a film they might otherwise have wanted to see for fear that they'd just be surrounded by people who'd rather text than watch the film (the film everyone paid, as Foster put it, $12 to $14 to see).
Fortunately, Alamo Drafthouse CEO, Tim League, was also in attendance. League, as many movie fans will undoubtedly recall, is known for a heavy-hand when it comes to controlling the moviegoing experience in his theaters - which has earned him plenty of angry letters over the years from disgruntled customers but, at the same time, has made him the champion of big screen purists.
“Over my dead body will I introduce texting into the movie theater [...] I love the idea of playing around with a new concept. But that is the scourge of our industry. … It’s our job to understand that this is a sacred space and we have to teach manners.”
As the news broke, our own Screen Rant founder, Vic Holtreman, shared his thoughts on the matter today via Twitter - laying out a pretty clear-cut approach to the issue that many movie fans will no doubt agree with:
"Whichever theater chains decide to "allow" texting will be those that I will never visit again. Ever."
It's certainly a tricky balance - since, if we're being honest, most of us can recall a time where we skirted the no texting rule for one reason or another. However, the idea of lifting the ban on texting entirely (even if only in films targeted at "younger" audiences) is a very slippery slope - and it's easy to understand why League intends to continue throwing out habitual texters in an effort to maintain that "sacred" theater space. Ultimately, moviegoers should be able to expect a certain quality of experience when they go to the theater - in exchange for their hard-earned money and limited time.
Theatergoing is a communal experience that, in its purist form, is made better by the other people who share in the experience. We laugh more during a comedy film, surrounded by other people who are similarly entertained, than we would alone in our apartment. We knowingly enter into this social contract when attending public screenings - expecting that sharing in the experience with other people is worth any inconvenience we might face as a result of ignoring our phones for two hours.
Of course, like any other unspoken social "contract," there are plenty of people that will ignore the unspoken (and, in this case, spoken) rules of the community - with only their own feelings and wants in mind. Most of us can look past less considerate audience members from time to time - accepting that, like similarly chatty moviegoers, we're all a little inconsiderate once in awhile. That said, if theaters outright lift bans on phone usage, it's easy to imagine things getting out of hand and there's a big difference between getting stuck next to the inconsiderate guy (or gal) once in awhile - and having to choose what movie to watch based on whether or not the theater will be illuminated by a tiny sea of LCD screens.
That said, the whole "target" of the conversation is kind of bizarre, and borderline condescending towards younger viewers, considering that plenty of grown adults are guilty of focusing more on their phone than any on-screen action.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further suggestions on theater etiquette (kidding, kind of) as well as other movie, TV, and gaming news.