Column: Should cell phones be banned at concerts?

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Photo Credit: Chester Omenukor | Daily Texan Staff

A weekend at Austin City Limits Music Festival costs $250, but it only takes a $20 piece of equipment to ruin the experience.

A selfie stick is a monopod used for taking self-portraits, or selfies, with a smartphone or camera by extending the device beyond arm’s length. People use them everywhere, from historical sites to music festivals. Critics of the stick have dismissed the device as an obnoxious and potentially hazardous fad.

Attendees of music festivals have started using selfie sticks to record performances. This can block the views of others, and it breaks rules about recording concerts.

On March 30, Coachella and Lollapalooza, two major music festivals in the United States, announced a ban on selfie sticks in an effort to reduce the number of obstructions between fans and the stage. In the announcement, the festivals said the move could be an improvement in the overall experience for everyone involved in the event.

But are selfie sticks the root of the problem, or is it cell phones that actually ruin the experiences of fans?

Musicians have been “banning” cell phone use at concerts for years, expressing concerns that cell phones reduce the musicians’ performance quality. And data may backup that claim.

A study by T-Mobile shows that in 2012, 66 percent of concert attendees used the cameras on their phones to take pictures during the performance. Artists such as Prince, Beyoncé and She & Him try to reduce this percentage by placing restrictions on cell phone use.

Since 2012, rock musician Jack White has led the movement to prevent cell phone use at his concerts. He claims that the devices prevent him from using the energy of the crowd to determine his next song.

“People can’t clap anymore, because they’ve got a fucking texting thing in their hand,” White said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Some musicians don’t care about this stuff, but I let the crowd tell me what to do. There’s no set list. … If they can’t give me that energy back, maybe I’m wasting my time.”

Recording concerts without permission has never been legal and was once preventable with simple bag checks. Cell phones with recording capabilities made recording concerts easier, and selfie sticks only complicate the issue. Festivals have attempted to combat the problem by filming the events and releasing the video to the public.

Geophysics freshman Logan Hashmi said he attended an Arctic Monkeys concert last semester where cell phones ruined part of the experience for him. Hashmi said devoting one’s full attention to the event would create a better experience than anything a video could recreate.

“It would make you actually watch the concert and let you enjoy the real-time view of the event rather than see it through a screen,” Hashmi said. “It would promote being in the moment.”

While Hashmi said he supports a complete ban of recording devices, electrical engineering sophomore Matthew Tan said the decision should be based on the venue size.

“It depends on the context,” Tan said. “I wouldn’t be averse to attending a concert where cell phones were banned, but I don’t understand the supposed harm they have.”

Tan said he sees no harm in taking a 10-second video or a quick picture, but recording an entire performance does reduce the experience.

Efforts to reduce cell phone use may be in vain, but, with the recent ban on selfie sticks, there will at least be fewer cell phones suspended in the air, blocking people’s view.