There’s nothing like the archetype of the foolish millennial, enslaved by their iPhone, blinded to reality for the sake of uploading it to Instagram underneath a coat of X-Pro II, to send my eyes rolling quite so far to the back of my skull. So when I heard about pioneering entrepreneur Graham Dugoni and his company Yondr, my extraocular muscles were treated to quite the workout. Endorsed by quite the slew of artists – Alicia Keys, The Lumineers, and even comedian Louis C.K., who I felt I could trust to be a reasonable man – the premise is simple. Patrons of an event where Yondr have been called in are not permitted to enter with their mobile phone in hand. They must instead place them inside a grey, rubbery pouch, which is then locked. Then, go ahead, continue to clutch onto it if you must. But you may as well chuck it in your back pocket or bag – you won’t be able to unlock your phone until the show’s over.
Dugoni maintains that the Yondr pouch has two purposes: firstly, so that artists may try out new material and assess the crowd’s reaction without it being leaked. Secondly, and dare I say primarily, so that fans are living in the moment, able to truly experience the show if they are not preoccupied with documenting it, desperate to rake in a few tens of views on YouTube with a clip of a three pixel tall Ms Keys backed by a tinny soundtrack of what might once have been ‘Girl on Fire’.
“There’s something about living in real life that can’t be replicated”, Dugoni says.
But something about this does not sit right with me. It reminds me, in spirit, of a cartoon you may see shared on Facebook by an older relative, of a horde of zombies staggering along, all absorbed by their mobile phones. Oh no. I can’t stop using the device that helps me stay connected to my friends and keep track of what’s going on in the world. I truly am a slave to Apple’s whims. Won’t somebody please think of the children? It’s all just a bit… Banksy. Technology is evil. Thomas Edison was a witch.
The idea that if somebody wants to record a snapshot of the gig they are seeing performed, or to store a video of the memory in glorious 480p, means they are somehow cheapening the experience, is ridiculous. To bother taking an evening out, spending what can often be a considerable amount of money, in order to see an artist whose work you appreciate perform, is unsurprisingly an experience we want to keep the memory of. And in this day and age, mobile phones and social media are what we use to store them. To slap audience members on the wrist, take away their means to do so, is as patronising as it is pretentious. It ties into the ideology, increasingly prevalent and inescapably irritating, of technology as this crippling vice, stopping people from living in the real world. If an artist does not want their music documented, they need to either suck it up, or not perform it. To rebel against advances in technology, maintain that if one takes a photograph of an event, then those few seconds spent focusing the camera have pulled them out of the experience entirely, tarnished the entire evening, is nonsensical.
Picture this. It’s the bronze age. The wheel has just been invented. An aging farmer scowls at some youths in their horse-drawn cart in disgust, shaking his head. “No work ethic, these youngsters,” he mutters. “Back in my day, if we wanted to sell our wears at market, we dragged them on our backs, rain or shine, uphill both ways. This is lazy. They don’t know real toil.” Silly, isn’t it?
It’s 2016. People are easily able to record the memories they want to look back upon, and they might even dare to share them with others. How can we not see this as a good thing? For an artist to claim that the documentation of their art is taking something away from their performance is preposterous, and downright insulting to fans. These people admire them and their work so much they want a permanent record of the handful of snatched hours they spent in their presence, appreciating what it is they do. And the artist who endorses Yondr treats them like naughty children, confiscating their favourite toy as though they’ve behaved badly, pulled the head off their sisters barbie doll or refused to eat their greens. It’s demeaning. It’s backwards thinking. I can only hope that it is Yondr, instead of a harmless sea of admiring screens at concerts, which disappears.