what are the potential upsides of allowing people to use their smartphones in cinemas?


By now you’ve likely heard about the proposal put forth a month ago by venture capitalist Hunter Walk that multiplexes put aside screens in which the use of smartphones is encouraged. A taste:

Instead of driving people like me away from the theater, why not just segregate us into environments which meet our needs. I’d love to watch Pacific Rim in a theater with a bit more light, wifi, electricity outlets and a second screen experience. Don’t tell me I’d miss major plot points while scrolling on my ipad – it’s a movie about robots vs monsters. I can follow along just fine.

This prompted exactly the sort of outrage you might have imagined. Scott Mendelson at Forbes exuded that terrifying kind of calm rage while getting at the most insidious problem with such a concept:

[O]n a practical level, Mr. Walk’s solution, of offering separate auditoriums for text-happy/chatty moviegoers, will only increase the harm of a very current problem. First of all, you run the risk of text-friendly theaters becoming more popular than “turn off your damn phone!” theaters, leaving traditional moviegoers segregated to the smallest auditoriums. Second of all, and this is a big one, there are only so many screens on which to show movies. We already have the biggest blockbusters taking up 2D, 3D, IMAX, and/or EXT screens. Now you want to give the biggest movies another screen just so certain moviegoers can play Candy Crush while they watch Pacific Rim?

Do you want to be in a position where your local multiplex doesn’t get that print of Fruitvale Station, even for just a week, because that available auditorium was reserved for another “second screen auditorium” of The Wolverine?

Moved to come to Walk’s defense was Anil Dash, who accused those who wish to preserve the moviegoing experience as “monastic,” akin to anti-feminist, anti-gay, pro-slavery conservatives, and being “super, uniquely sensitive.” Seriously.

Are there are any good reasons to consider Walk’s proposal? I certainly haven’t come across any. But, purely as an exercise in creative contrarianism:

What are the potential upsides of allowing people to use their smartphones in cinemas?

Remember, this is an exercise in thinking outside the box. Even if you personally would prefer that people around you not text, talk on their phones, or be disruptive in other ways at the movies — as I imagine most of you reading this would — let’s brainstorm. Feel free to throw out crazy ideas. Might it, for instance, lead to the creation of interactive movies where the mood of the audience controls the plot, in which reaction tweets are monitored and steer the story in a Choose Your Own Adventure sort of way?

@DeputyMasterWAH suggested we talk about the texting-in-movies topic, but not my spin on it, so don’t blame him.

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

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