O.M.S, I.A.S.S.T.D.O.C.P. – or Oh my stars, I am so sick to death of cell phones. Have cell phones gone from minor convenience to major annoyance? And at the speed of sound and light combined? One evening, I watched as a group of 50-odd teen-girls massed near our theatre entry. Over half of them were talking on cell phones or else madly texting away. I knew we were in for it so I preceded the show with a reminder to “please turn cell phones off”. Not that it helped. With intensified ushering we finally brought it under control.
A few weeks later I was watching a popular morning TV show and the host was talking about Regal Cinemas’ program where they hand out three-button pagers to known guests who can then page the staff from the theatre if there are problems with either sound, film or fellow theatre-goers. The host of the show laughed, saying: “The reason we don’t have problems on our show is because the live audience is sitting in a cell phone-blocked environment.” We should all be so lucky.
Cell phone abuse has become a serious impediment to the enjoyment of a movie. Anyone who runs or works in a theatre will agree. Abuse is rampant. Complaints are staggering. So, what’s a theatre operator to do? Blocking is a great idea except – in the USA at least – there’s the little problem of it being illegal. That said, a quick search finds foreign blocking devices widely available on the web for about $300. The lure is almost overpowering, despite the threat of fines or potential jail-time.
At the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, I peered out at a sea of cell phone screens, clear as day. The users seemed belligerently numb and brilliantly indignant when first warned and then ejected for continuing use. It not only is not ending, it’s getting worse and is an addiction. Cell phones saturate the hip, pocket and bag of every mouth-breather today and serve the apparently unending, and growing, need to communicate – and here and now – every last small thought.
Q: “What are you doing?” A: “Nothing.”
The challenge is to make the film-going experience a pleasure for our customers. We control the light, sound, temperature, seating, cleanliness, restrooms, lobby, music, décor, and we also police behavior to give customers what they want. While everyone seems to want to talk on their phone or text their VBG (very best girlfriend), it appears no-one wants to be bothered by their neighbor doing the same. Well, we will all lose if business becomes negatively impacted by customers who choose to do something better than sit through a movie while endless cell phone abuse occurs all around them.
In our theatres we have signs; we deliver speeches before showtime; there are policy trailers and wandering ushers. No amount of effort seems to have worked to reduce this use and abuse. We’re now ready for the next step – blocking. Even if it’s illegal. It’s clear that Good Morning America does it. I’ve also been at major conferences where not one cell phone would work.
It’s now high time for the real world to catch up and permit legal cell phoneblocking if to preserve the theatre experience. Legal or not, blockers are coming quickly to theatres near you, and undoubtedly very near to a theatre very near to me. Not that I’ll have a clue why your cell phone won’t work, of course. I.W.B.A.A., M.V.D.F – I won’t be admitting anything, my very dear friends.