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Cellphone Blackout: Can Your Attendees Handle It?

Skift Take

More and more artists are locking down on cellphone use at their events with a soft ‘phone prison’. As creatures of habit, can event planners learn to do the same?

Imagine attending a conference where mobile devices are banned. You are not allowed to look at your phone, your tablet or even your smartwatch. What would usually be seen as standard eventtech devices and embraced in the event industry, could in the future, be removed from the event scene altogether. Surely not?



Artists including Alicia Keys, Guns N’ Roses, Adele and comedian Dave Chapelle are doing just this, by insisting on deploying strategies to eliminate electronic distractions at their shows (such as texts, calls and anything performed on a cellphone).

Fellow comedian Chris Rock has made headlines recently by requiring all fans to keep their phones and other electronic devices stored away during his comedy sets. Mobile phones will not be allowed at his events – this also goes for technology including smartwatches, cameras and all other recording devices. Ironic, seeing as the title of his tour is called Total Blackout.

When the former Saturday Night Live comedian says blackout, he means blackout, as those who are caught using their cellphone or recording device, run the risk of being immediately escorted out of the venue without a refund. Instead, audience members are being asked to place their phones in protectable cases.

Events with zero tolerance on phones are now hyped as a way to cut down on illegal filming, ensuring that new or classified material doesn’t end up on YouTube, non-stop selfies and other distractions that can take away from the event itself.

Is the start of phone-free events of the future? At a festival, will you now be able to see the stage, without the hundreds of hands in the air holding mobiles? Will speakers at conferences walk on stage more relaxed, knowing that their audience will be fixated on them, rather than their mobile screens?

One could argue that the lack of a cellphone would mean no social media activity at an event. This could potentially mean two unfavorable outcomes. People may be put off attending your event completely. And secondly, as an event organizer you might lose out on important positive social media marketing your audience could be sharing.

How To Ensure Total Blackout?

Chris Rock’s tour team has joined a roster of artists and companies who are partnering with technology startups that help create phone-free events and spaces for artists, organizations and individuals, with tools and products like lockable pouches or bags for devices.

Universities and schools in the US have also started looking at using such services to decrease distractions in the classroom, as have wedding parties where the bride and groom prefer their professional photographer to capture their big day, before guests stream the event on social media.

Technology services are also being deployed in restaurants, at movie studios for pre-screening events, and live theater performances and sporting events.

How Does an Event Device-Free Zone Work?

  1. Cases. As people enter the venue, their phones will be placed in cases.
  2. Lock. Once they enter the phone-free zone, the cases will lock. Attendees maintain possession of their phones and are now free to enjoy the experience without distraction.
  3. Unlock. If at any point attendees need to use their phones, they simply step outside of the phone-free zone to unlock the case.

Flexible device pouches such as these – which, once sealed can only be unlocked at the provider’s designated area at the venue – are important in serving the psychological function of still being able to feel your phone in your pocket or bag, even if it is functionally inaccessible.  

In Conclusion

It is sad to think that someone’s art has to suffer at the hands of a mobile device. A device, that a lot of us rely so heavily on, to enable enhanced daily functioning, particularly with 24-hour access to our emails, calendars, social media and the need to be contactable, etc.

A venue or organizer can always insist that cellphone use is not permitted and trust visitors to comply, but you can never be sure.

As event planners, we encourage mobile use, whether it’s in the form of event apps, sharing content on social media, taking part in live polls or purely being constantly contactable onsite. So, would this technology benefit our industry? It’s hard to tell, but with any piece of technology, we at EventMB are eager to find out more.

Would you like to use this type of technology at your events? Or is it a bad idea? Let us know in the comments below.