Would you ever use your phone in the cinema?

A new software update promises to make smartphones theatre safe for plugged-in patrons.


David Jenkins


Everybody knows that the optimal way to experience a movie is in a pitch black auditorium, audience members sitting silently in rows with nothing to ruffle in their hands, nothing to munch on and, most importantly, no buttons to press. Watching a movie is, in a sense, a test of endurance and discipline – not so much a fight to fully engage with a work for which you have paid money (sometimes rather a lot of money) to see, more an opportunity for a total disconnect.

Movies reproduce the same sense of momentary bliss that comes from setting an out-of-office auto-response prior to taking a holiday, or shutting down a laptop at the end of a long day at work. It shouldn’t just be the toffee-nosed rah-rah purists who cherish cinema as a monastic pursuit, a flickering sanctuary built for reverie, contemplation and, occasionally, epiphany. Cinema is the great leveller – everyone gets exactly the same movie, and everyone should get exactly the same viewing experience.

And yet, the swelling tide of technology seems to want to wash away those dreams of solitude like so much thick, browning foam. Rumour has it that the bright sparks down at Apple HQ are looking to include a “theatre mode” on their next software update, allowing customers to use their smartphones and tablets in a way which will, apparently, cause minimal disruption to other audiences members. This function will include a dimmer light setting, no sound or vibration and the ability to mute incoming calls.

It’s a bit like having a “music mode” so you can listen to songs from your digital musical library while playing vinyl LPs. Or having “book mode” which automatically scrolls through fetching gallery images so you can still surf while flicking the dog-eared pages of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Decline and Fall’. Moves like this are entirely in keeping with a tech culture that thrives on constant innovation, or maybe the false notion that customers need to feel like a brand buy-in is the same as employing a silent lackey at your footstool to wave a fan at your toes.

Whether this will offer new and exciting interactive experiences for the modern, pepped-up cinemagoer remains to be seen. Will movies screen with special multimedia inserts that require viewers to palm-mash their tablets to help some lantern-jawed hero dispose of a faceless goon? And if so, wouldn’t that make cinema seem like little more than a tacky computer game? Going to the cinema should be a process of shedding away the accoutrements of modern life, not taking heed of cynical life hacks to enable full-scale tech immersion, where your device becomes a unsightly extension of the body. Will this new mode only be permissible in cinemas, or will users soon be goaded into logging in during comedy gigs, theatre productions, piano recitals, funerals?

“Innovations” like this, though, are certainly in tune with our choppy political times. Possessing the ability to instantly sate the impulse of sliding into your DMs as, say, Andrei Rublev witnesses the sacking of a village by Tartar hoards, is redolent of a cultural swing towards individual liberty ahead of collective endeavour. It’s a way of cutting out the last stubborn sinews from the festering corpse of cinema going as a soft socialist activity, one that can only exist if patrons are able to exert a sense of basic cordiality to one another.

In short, if you’re the type of person who is unable to sit tight for 90 minutes without RTing the latest Trump missive (with added egregious commentary), then perhaps you’d be better off staying in and watching Happy Gilmore on TV while playing a Rammstein record and leafing through the new issue of Gardiner’s World.

What’s your view on smartphones being used in movie theatres? Have your say @LWLies

Published 4 Jan 2017

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Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.