is a writer whose work has appeared in Slate, The Guardian, and the Daily Beast. She teaches writing and research at Boston University, and blogs about the relationship between science and science fiction at Could This Happen?
The notice appeared on the website, the ticket and on signs outside the theatre: ‘This is a phone-free event.’ People milled around the lobby talking, texting, and Snapchatting, but as they headed to their seats, attendants instructed them to silence their phones and lock them inside grey-and-green Yondr pouches. ‘What?! Why?’ I heard someone ask as she handed over her phone, unable to bear locking it up herself. Others looked quietly stricken.
But as Chris Rock cracked jokes, people laughed at the same lines at the same time. No one held a phone aloft to record the moment. Rock could see our faces and adjust to us, and we to him. The collective laughter (and the occasional groan) built energy, generating a feedback loop that heightened the show as we all experienced it together, in real time.
And then the lights came on and people beelined for the pouch-unlocking stations. They unearthed their phones and bathed, relieved, in the glow of their screens, often without stepping aside or moving toward the exit. Unlocking the phones was like breaking a spell. Until then, it had felt like everyone in attendance was alive, awake, and part of a single organism – a feeling I hadn’t had at a live performance in years.