Turn your phone off while you're watching a movie, please

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| July 9, 2011

In the large theater chain in my area, the advertisements before the movie trailers start go on and on about how you shouldn’t have your cellphone on while the movie is playing. It’s a pretty common sense ad; after all, if you’re watching a movie you shouldn’t want to be in a conversation with someone outside the movie theater. It’s bad enough when people talk at all, but when a phone gets thrown into the mix the whole situation just becomes overly-dramatic. Nowadays texting is the big issue. People must think they’re clever, keeping the conversation to text-only. The bad part? That remarkably bright screen.

That aforementioned advertisement is something like “No Texting During the Movie.” They throw in an acronym for good measure, just to make sure it’s easy to remember: NTDM. To be frank, it isn’t working. The whole advertisement thing isn’t working. People just don’t care. I go to a lot of movies, and there’s not one that I’ve been to where there’s not just one person on the phone, but quite a few. It’s to the point where I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not talking to one another, sharing their thoughts on the film, maybe critiquing it as it goes along. That still wouldn’t be okay.

Yes, this is a rant. The truth is I can understand why having a conversation with someone not in the movie is appealing. There are all sorts of reasons why you might be texting them: maybe they really wanted to go but couldn’t; so you’re filling them in on what’s going on. Or, maybe you were having a serious conversation before the film started, and you just can’t stop it because of a movie. That’d be ridiculous, right?

But that aside, it’s starting to really bother me. It’s always bothered me, but it’s become a real issue this summer. The more movies that are released, and the more times that I’m in a movie theater, the more I find myself watching the glowing light of a phone, rather than the movie itself. True story: a few movies back (a couple of weeks ago, probably), this young kid sat down next to me. He seemed to be really excited to watch this particular sci-fi flick. He was sitting cross-legged in the chair (which is strange in of itself) and maybe that should have been a red flag that things were about to go awry. And sure enough, even before the movie started, he had his phone out (a landscape flip-phone with a full keyboard) and was texting someone furiously. And it’s a physical keyboard, so I can hear the tap-tap-tap with each and every single key press.

Folks, this just isn’t the way things should go. And since it’s getting worse (at least here, locally), I feel like I need to ask you, from the bottom of my heart – shut off your phone. Not before you get in the theater. You know what? Not even through the trailers, if you really have to keep that conversation going. But, during the movie, turn off your phone! Actually, I’ll concede this: if you have to talk to someone, and you can’t leave the theater, then turn down the brightness of your phone. And, put the phone against the back of your chair, or inside your shirt, or use your popcorn container to block the phone while you text away. Do something. Don’t just sit there and show the whole theater your phone’s incandescent display. It’s uncalled for.

Of course, I know this isn’t going to stop. And now that I’ve written about it, I’m probably going to start noticing it even more. That’s just the nature of the beast. But I can hope. And I’m going to continue to hope. I’m a phone fanatic, and there’s rarely a time that I don’t have a phone in my hand and I’m using it. But, when I’m in a movie, I know that putting it down and away is something that’s not just important to the filmmakers (they made the movie for you to watch, after all), but even more so to the rest of the audience around me. There’s no reason why I should want to ruin their experience. And yes, a bright screen out of the gloom of the movie theater is a distraction.