Vexing texting


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

We'll do this by the numbers. First, an actual incident report.

At a local movie screening, the knucklehead sitting next to me pulled out his cell phone halfway through the film and began texting. I gave him a minute, just in case he was an on-call brain surgeon being consulted. But when I asked him to put it away because it was blinding me in the dark theater, he refused. He then swore at me, as he had a right to do whatever he wanted in a public theater. We had a brief argument and he eventually put it away, but not before pointing out there was a guy a few rows ahead of us who was playing on a GameBoy.

Although most theaters run a trailer asking audiences to switch cell phones off, some in the audience simply don't care. The least texting-junkies can do is sit in the back row, or take it outside when their thumbs get itchy.

Second, what can you do about it?

“;Our on-screen ads ask people not to use cell phones, and that includes texting,”; said Brian Grover, manager of Consolidated Ward Stadium. “;It does no good to tell us after the movie's over. We have ushers periodically coming in to check air conditioning and picture and sound quality, but we don't catch every cell-phone abuser. We ask them to leave.”;

Grover allowed that texting was on the rise, even among adults.

“;There's been a kind of social shift, and texters need to understand they're in a situation where their behavior is taking away the quality of the theater experience from others.”;

The manager at the Dole Cannery multiplex said it was Regal's policy not to explain their theater rules to the press, so you're on your own there. But it's likely similar.

Third, is theater texting a trend?

Cruising the Net reveals that it has become a matter of hot debate. The Great Escape movie chain in Harrisburg, Pa., embarked on a zero-tolerance policy two months ago, escorting texters out of the theater. In Arlington, Texas, the AMC 24 multiplex has called police officers to eject texters.

“;I always inform people that with stadium seating everyone (behind you) can see your phone,”; complained one projectionist. “;I think overall in this country and industry, there is a complete lack of showmanship.”;

“;Those cell phones light up like a candle. It is very disruptive, and I don't need to see everyone around them all lit up in the glow as well,”; commented another.

And another: “;The screens on these new phones are made to show up in bright sunlight, so in a darkened theater they stand out like beacons!”;

On the other hand, in a Wichita, Kan., movie house, a man confronted a female texter, and the man was barred from the theater for life. And last year, Verizon had a promotion that encouraged texting during screenings to gauge audience wishes.

Fourth, the battle lines are being drawn.

The problem is both generational and social. Those annoyed with having their movie-going experience ruined tend to be older or have manners. Habitual texters come from a multitasking generation with an alternate set of thinking skills - what software developers call “;constant partial attention”; - who are so closely suckled to their constant communication devices that, like drug addicts, they angrily freak out when deprived.

The social compact of using personal communication devices in a public setting is still being hammered out.

Fifth, what next?

“;Cell phones have no place in a movie theater, and anyone who uses one there should be required to wear a badge saying, 'I am an inconsiderate moron,'”; notes film critic Roger Ebert. “;The time is coming when theater chains will be forced to take action against audience misbehavior because it is alienating so much of its customer base.”;