When Ignoring “Show, Don’t Tell” Is The Best Option

Hat tip to Artsjournal.com who listed an article from The Conversation about how your phone can interrupt a concert experience. Author Christine Van Winkle discusses research she and her team conducted at outdoor summer music festivals over the course of five years.

Because the research was conducted at festivals, the detrimental effects of using a phone at a concert was more focused on the quality of the user experience rather than the impact on those around the person. With factors like heat, cold, rain, bugs and people bumping into you, the glow of a phone screen isn’t as big a distraction to others as it can be in a concert hall.

As a result, the research is potentially more effective at persuading people not to use phones because the message is about why they aren’t having the best experience rather than that they are causing others to have a poor experience.

As you might imagine, some of those participating in the study intentionally left their phones at home and didn’t miss them. Others were discomforted without their phones or by the failure of the phone battery.

It is interesting to note that the anti-social behavior of peering over your phone in a group can create social pressure on others to use their phone in a similar manner:

Festival goers described sitting with friends who were texting or searching on their phones and suddenly they felt compelled to use their phone as well. This mirroring behaviour is a well known response people have in social situations.

The idea that phone use is “infectious” may provide some incentive to arts entities to prohibit the use of phone. But it isn’t just the performers and venues which may be dissatisfied with this type of phone use, the practice can lead to disappointment for the phone user as well.

The research shows that when we decide to use our phones to check work email, to check up on the kids or any other activities that have nothing to do with the festival, our satisfaction with the experience goes down.

However, Van Winkle’s research shows using the phone for activities related to the experience doesn’t impact satisfaction either positively or negatively. While the outcome is currently neutral, it may be worthwhile for artists and organizations to think about creating content that augments the experience. The lack of a positive sense of satisfaction may just reflect the fact that most activity related content mentioned in the study is of neutral value like schedules and maps.

When we do use our devices at festivals it doesn’t affect our satisfaction with the event if we are using our phones for festival-related activities like looking at the festival schedule, the venue map or even texting to meet up with friends who are joining us.

Van Winkle offers some tips for phone use, most of which involve limiting your interactions with the phone and the amount of content you receive from others. What was most interesting to me was her suggestion that offering too much information can actually diminish the number of opportunities you have to relate your experience to others. Essentially, contrary to all prior storytelling advice, this would be the one time to tell, don’t show. (my emphasis)

Wait to post. It’s fun to share your experience with your extended network but consider waiting until you return home. Sharing the memories captured on your phone after the experience gives you an opportunity to reflect on the day and prevents you from being distracted by other people’s posts while you are at the event.

Consider not posting any images of your experience to social media at all — you might find it leads to more conversations with people when they ask about your weekend or summer. Often, once people have seen your post they assume they already know how your weekend was, robbing you of the opportunity to share your experience with them.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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