Usher Hall in Edinburgh has become one of the first venues in Scotland to support a ‘phone-free’ event – following a request from American rock star Jack White for audience members to hand in their devices.
The concert venue worked with San Francisco-based company Yondr, which has developed specialist ‘lockable pouches’ that can be used at a variety of events, including live entertainment and conferences.
The pouches are issued to attendees and are then locked secure for the duration of an event – albeit kept on the person; the user can set their phone to vibrate for emergency messages only, if they choose.
However, the intention is that gig-goers or delegates properly ‘engage’ with a performance or presentation, and are not tempted to wave their torches, check emails, tweets or just stare blankly at their screens.
American rocker Jack White – who rose to fame with his band The White Stripes, alongside ex-wife Meg – has worked with Yondr, founded by former professional footballer Graham Dugoni, on a ‘phone-free’ tour.
He has said: “I thought it would be great if people showed up and found out when they got there that there were these pouches for phones. I thought it would excite them and possibly make some of them upset. It’s funny. I go to movies and everyone turns their phone off. You go to the symphony, there’s no phones. Church, no phones. There’s all these places where it’s already happening.”
The SSE Hydro in Glasgow has also experimented with phone-free events, with American comedian Chris Rock performing without interference from people on their devices.
Usher Hall is said to be considering using the policy at future events and the move is part of a global backlash from events organisers who are trying to direct people’s attention to the actual event content.
General Manager Karl Chapman said: “Phones have become a bit like the new cigarette lighter as there are so many of them being held in the air during a show. On the flip-side, bands like Coldplay and U2 use them creatively and can ask audiences to interact with the show through their phones.
“I really get where Jack White is coming from. For a lot of people mobile phones are quite annoying and if you’re using a phone you’re not actually watching the show, It must get pretty annoying for artists.
“It’s the first time we’ve had anything like this with a pop or rock artist. It all went surprisingly well here. We were quite apprehensive about it. It’s a complete social norm to use your phone at a gig. The feedback was very positive. Quite a few people said it was like rolling the clock back 20 years.
“I could definitely see us doing it again. These things are driven by artists. I’d imagine we will see a few requests coming forward having seen Jack White do it. The structures are in place now.”
Designated phone zones were set up at Usher Hall so people could go and check their messages if they needed to. At the end of the event, the pouches are unlocked by a specialist de-tagging device.
Jack White performed at Usher Hall last Sunday. For information on Yondr visit their website.