January 13, 2012 at 11:41 PMI feel for Patron X.
If you haven't heard, his iPhone alarm went off during the spellbinding fade-away to Mahler's Ninth Symphony at the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday night.
It broke the spell, and it also seemed to unleash everyone's latent exasperation with modern technology's intrusion on even the most sacred moments of our lives. Audience members shouted angrily, conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the show, and recriminations and jokes have abounded all over Twitter, YouTube, and I even heard one on the radio this morning.
And yet -- who among us can say that their cell phone has never strummed, or chimed, or belted out an inappropriate tune during the wrong moment? That sexy riff from your favorite pop tune seemed like a really cool ring tone -- until it started jangling during a funeral, or during a tense meeting with your boss. It happens, in modern life.
As the New York Times reported, Patron X is 20-year subscriber to New York Philharmonic, a devoted concertgoer who is in his 60s. He also hasn't slept since the embarrassing incident.
His company had switched him from a Blackberry to an iPhone just days before, and he really thought the thing was off. It turns out that, though the phone was not taking calls, the alarm was accidentally on. Patron X has apologized to the orchestra, the audience, and personally to conductor Alan Gilbert.
Has your cell phone ever rang at the wrong moment? And when it comes to concerts, what can we do to help prevent this?
I think it's also good to note that Alan Gilbert has accepted Patron X's apology.
Californians know full well that cell phones are illegal while driving, yet everyone is always on the phone. The same thing here in Oregon, where I often see people looking down at their keypads as they drive. I was almost knocked off my bike by a woman diddling with her phone (when I tapped on her window at a stoplight, she started screaming at me).
We've also managed to zombify our teens (and younger), many of whom can't stop themselves from texting throughout the day and into the night.
And of course, we're all frittering away our money on these gadgets when we should be saving for college or our own retirement (hmmm....I wonder where it's all going?).
So outside of the concert hall, we've fully embraced the good and bad of cell phones. Why should anyone expect some sort of miraculous cell-free zone in concerts? The only thing that would really work is blocking technology.
I have a cell phone but I only carry this leash in rare cases such as when I'm out of town. I've lost too many friends due to their crackberry addiction that I simply won't take a job that requires me to carry a cell phone or blackberry all the time no matter how much I'll get paid.
I was particularly alarmed at the zombification of using such device when I returned Shanghai (the place I was born and grew up) a few years ago when I saw the sudden change in people’s way of socializing with each other. Those thoughtful and attentive face to face conversations we used to enjoy so much among friends and relatives turned into constant interruptions with texting messages and phone rings, for matters of no urgency, such as saying hi or sending jokes. At first I was totally flabbergasted to see they’d let these trivia interrupt engaging conversations with their loved ones and with me who they hadn’t seen for years, but soon I realized that this is an addiction, which altered not only their behavior but also perception and self-awareness. What was shocking for me to witness was natural for them to be.
Fortunately, it wasn't during the performance. I thought Mr. Perlman showed great class.
Yes, it did happen to me once a long time ago, because I did not turn it off. I fully accept the blame for that. The stakes were a lot lower and I made sure that turning it off became an ingrained habit ever since.
I don't want to stone the guy and I'm glad he apologized. But I counter that "a few days" is more than enough time to learn the most basic function of these devices, turning them on and off -- and not just silent, but completely off. Something that ought to take fifteen minutes and I think that's being generous. This was not his first cell phone.
People who live in glass houses...
As much as cellphones are social devices, they really are more like social inhibitors. Honestly, I've seen people text others to break up with them or tell them a parent has died. While I love my iPhone, I don't abuse my social relationships with it.
The Borg on the other hand...
Kidding aside, I felt bad for Patron X. Not only did he experience the humiliation of accidentally ruining a concert, but then he further endured loads of angry pixels heaped on top. That is a bitter icing on that foul cake.
On top of that, I check and double check that the alarm is deactivated. Still, it's an accident waiting to happen. Leaving it in the car or in your coat (the theater in my home town has lockers for those) seems the only SECURE solution - at least as far as avoiding a disturbance to the event is concerned.
Why should we care? Music is the most evanescent form of art. The composer has put much thought into acchieving a certain effect and the musicians have put in much effort to be able to execute the music in the most moving manner. Setting off a cell phone (or coughing, or sneizing, ...) during such a "silent climax" completely destroys the moment for all involved. Therefore, it is the cultural equivalent of pouring a can of paint over the Mona Lisa: this specific work of art (which, in my opinion, is the concert/performance, not the score - or even a recording - those are just a "depiction" - like the photo of the famous painting in your art book at home) has been destroyed forever.
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