Apps & Mobile

Is Narcissism Ruining the Live Experience?

Phones-at-concertAlicia Keys recently joined the likes of Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Guns N’ Roses and many more who want you off your phone at their events by turning to Silicon Valley startup Yondr – a company dedicated to creating "phone-free spaces" at concerts, events and other places. They're not alone, as more musicians and entertainers are speaking out at the interference phones are presenting at live shows. What's really going on here? Can it be argued that rampant narcissism at live events is getting out of hand these days?

There seems to be a divide in the debate – especially on the consumer level, as many advocate their phone is how they capture memories for an archive of special moments for later reflection. However, most aren’t reflecting on those moments at all. Let’s face it, a large number of those phones are being used to broadcast the egos of their users onto social media for instant gratification and virtual pats on the back.

There’s a well-known term in social psychology called BIRGing: Basking in Reflected Glory. The textbook definition of BIRGing is a self-serving cognition whereby an individual associates himself or herself with another successful individual such that another’s success becomes their own. One of the more fascinating components of BIRGing is that the simple affiliation to another’s success is enough to stimulate self-glory. The person engaging in BIRGing does not even need to have been personally involved in the successful action with which they are affiliating themselves.

Go to any show and you’re bound to see BIRGing run rampant, with bright screens illuminating dark spaces designed to remove attendees from the outside world into the artist’s world – all in the true hopes of boosting the ego and self-esteem of the user. 

The live music experience is inherently about being present; about fully absorbing that moment in time and allowing it to be etched in your memory forever.

When did it become all about getting the Snap?

When you’re more focused on being the best cameraman you can be to ensure your followers can recognize how cool you are, you miss out entirely on the emotional connection that live music gives you. Live music is about escapism, about being vulnerable, being real. It’s about entering the mind and world of the artist that has chosen to put themselves on a pedestal for your interpretation and entertainment.

A common argument to this notion is that when an artist performs, “it’s their job” and attendees “have the right to do what they want” at concerts.

This is entirely short sighted.

Live performance artists rely heavily on energy and feedback from the crowd to fuel their shows so that it becomes a dialogue between them and their audience. I can easily understand the frustration of those entertainers mentioned earlier after putting in countless hours into their craft, only to be used as an ego boost for their attendees. Live broadcasting and Snapping stories the whole time puts the focus on yourself, making it about you and your desire to be noticed.

However, some artists like Radiohead are actually encouraging phones in the air with initiatives like live Periscopes. Frankly, I'm not sure if this is motivated by a desire to empower fans and have them become engaged in the show in a new way, or simply a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Either way, it's certainly a marketing tactic aimed at raising awareness. 

On the flip side, there are artists like Jack White – one of the more outspoken people for phones being away at concerts. He once took the stage and said to the crowd, “In case you didn’t notice from behind your three inch screen, there is a huge show happening right in front of you.”

Can't empathize with him? Take this analogy for example:

Imagine spending your entire life searching the world for special, secret ingredients. Then imagine being given the opportunity to prepare a meal using those ingredients for someone you really care about, creating a special ambiance and setting to go with it. Finally, imagine serving that meal with absolute care and deliberation. You go to sit down and break bread with this person, only to witness them taking selfies throughout the meal.

As a technologist, I completely understand and value what live broadcasting and social sharing bring to our culture. However as a musician, I also understand the value of undivided attention in a live setting. Ultimately, it comes down to respect. You’ve entered the artist’s world – get a few pictures if you must, but put your phone away for the majority of the show and try losing yourself. 

Social media gratification pales in comparison to the experience and memories you’ll walk away with by absorbing the moment and letting it take over your essence.

Sing, dance, go nuts… just be present

What do YOU think? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below!


Hisham Dahud is music / tech marketing strategist and musician based in Los Angeles. He’s also an avid skateboarder and pro wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter @HishamDahud.

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  1. agree!!! although I don’t mind when people have their phones out. the generation divide is so huge now, even a few years in age difference and people have different attitudes/ideas about things… tough issue. thanks for the article!

  2. Great piece! You’re totally right that the experience is compromised by filming the entire show. There’s an element of BIRGing, but it’s also just a fact that we are now an interactive society and we expect our experiences to be interactive. Up until about 150 years ago, live performance was interactive. Technology shut that down, and now new tech is pushing back. Problem is, phones aren’t designed for concerts. But they are incredibly powerful connections to the digital life of fans. We have to start designing Smart Concert experiences that take fans back to that immersive, interactive moment.

  3. Thanks for the words! Indeed it is a tough issue, though at the same time, many don’t find an issue at all here. I suppose it’s all preference by both the artist and fan. As a marketer myself, I totally see the value in having fans share video content in a state of excitement. But as I mentioned above, the musician and music fan in me can see what’s truly happening – and that’s the notion of social media pats on the back outweighing being present enough to ingest the performance art on display. Theaters, plays, comedy shows… phones are more of a taboo there, why not the live music space?

  4. Totally agreed, we are an interactive society – we all have been granted the megaphone and naturally we’re going to want to use it. As I mentioned to the reader above though, other live performance arenas shun phone usage (movie theaters, plays, comedy shows…) – why not the live music space? I’m incredibly intrigued at what the Smart Concert could look like, though…

  5. This is a tough one. If you break it down, why do people come to shows in the first place? I am a performer, songwriter, (the works), and I think about this all the time.
    In my opinion, I think the biggest reason I attend a show is for self-fulfillment. It’s not to benefit the person up there on stage. Performers know that their job is to make it about their audience and to make them feel great. In other words, I think people attend shows to feel good about themselves anyway. Phone use has become a huge part of our culture now. This isn’t 1972 anymore. Yes, a show is a personal experience, but let’s face it: unless you’re in a living room concert, you’re just another face in the crowd. It’s not as personal and intimate as a private dinner or private concert would be.
    Do I like that people are always on their phones? Not really. But if you make too many rules, people don’t come around. I say let people figure out what their definition of a good time is and let them have it their way. If it becomes an issue of ruining the experience for everyone else, then I say that’s a whole other issue, and of course set some boundaries. But if it’s just about the performer’s feelings, I say get over it and remember it was never exclusively about them anyway. Everyone wants to be a star in their own world.

  6. I understand your point and even agree with some of what you’re saying. But I completely disagree with the approach. Banning anything goes against the basic need of freedom – I’d much rather be convinced that it’d benefit more to put the phone away then be forced to behave according to someone else’s idea of what’s right and what’s wrong.
    The other thing is that when you’re at a gig and look around it’s true that there always are cameras/phones up – but it’s rarely the same person throughout the whole concert. It’s more likely that everyone gets it out for a while and then puts it away again – rinse & repeat. So the argument that people don’t get to experience the connection, the music is not very valid. At least based on the concerts I’ve been to.

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