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‘Smart’ Phones: My Love-Hate Relationship

by George Petersen • in
  • Editor's Note
  • May 2018
• Created: May 15, 2018

Some of us non-millennials who are “age-blessed” actually remember the pre-smartphone era, a simple time from long ago when terms like “pay phones,” “long-distance calls,” “rotary dials” and advanced technologies like “calling cards” were actually common parts of the vernacular.

However, time and technology marches on, and like it or not, we now exist in the era of the smartphone, where more people on this planet have cell phones than access to toilets.

Of course, we all should have seen it coming — a revolution that puts world access at hand and makes the revolution begun in 1439 by Johannes Gutenberg seem old by comparison. In fact, about 20 years ago, I recall returning from a Consumer Electronics Show, and after seeing the dazzling display of digital watches, pocket radio receivers, game players, calculators, pagers, e-book readers, PDA’s, MP3 players, digital cameras, camcorders, (voice-only) cell phones and the like, I figured that the only thing missing from the well-equipped modern human was a Batman-style utility belt to carry it all with you. I also speculated on the possibility of all these functions being incorporated into a single unit, but naaah — that was the stuff of pure science fiction.

‡‡         Welcome to the Present

Flash forward to 2018, and it’s all here, and affordable enough for just about anyone — no news there, but it’s interesting to look back and reflect on how this easy access and communication has changed all out lives. No, I’m not suggesting we chuck it all and start over with writing on stone tablets. In fact, I like having a shirtpocket Real-Time Analyzer/SPL meter, along with a FaceTime or Skype communicator right there along with the usual assortment of the latest memory-wasting games and dopey apps to impress my friends while sitting at a bar.

But more seriously, that same RTA/SPL function and a collection of remote console control apps can really come in handy when flushing out monitor mixes or walking a venue to search for null (or hot) spots can make your life a lot easier. Likewise with the ability to remotely control the playback of “walk” music from any point in the venue, or the simple act of being able to download a PDF manual on an unfamiliar piece of gear. I should add a nod of thanks to manufacturers who maintain a library of easy to access tech documents on both current and vintage gear offerings.

‡‡         The Dark Side

Of course, there’s also a dark side to this age of hypercommunication. Like heroin, reality TV and pistachio nuts, it’s all too easy for use to lead to addiction, and the need to constantly text or share your experiences on social media 24/7 is no different. Go to any mass-market concert these days and it’s rampant, where it seems at least two-thirds of the audience is texting, streaming or capturing the experience on their smart phones — if not the obsessive need to maintain a running dialog with someone on the phone throughout. Fortunately, classical music and live theater remain mostly free of the phenomenon, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before these are also infected.

To say that the activity is distracting to other concertgoers seems obvious, but it’s easy to see how performers can be perturbed by a sea of phones capturing/streaming the show. And a month ago, when Jack White announced a “no-phones” policy at his shows — with Yondr pouches available to prevent cellphone activity, a controversy ensued. One could say that the quality (sound and video) of today’s phone images is poor enough that no “serious” image capture can come from it, but at current rate of smartphone evolution, it won’t be long before ultra-high res files from such devices become reality.

As for me, I just have to wonder how we arrived at a point where audiences can’t merely sit and listen for 90 minutes or so, but maybe I’m just in the minority. But perhaps more importantly — no, you can’t use one of my AC outlets at FOH to charge your cell phone…

For George Petersen’s introduction to the May 2018 issue of FRONT of HOUSE, CLICK HERE


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