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It's Time We Start Allowing Cell Phone Use in Movie Theaters

This is the only time the modern movie theater is cell phone free.
This is the only time the modern movie theater is cell phone free.
Photo by Sarah_Ackerman.

On Monday, a grown man in Canada picked up his cell phone and dialed 911 to complain that another grown man was using his cell phone in a movie theater. While most folks agree that this was a grand overreaction - 911 is for serious things, even in Canada - they also understand his frustration: cell phone use in movie theaters is out of hand.

Unless you're lucky enough to live somewhere with an Alamo Drafthouse or a similar theater with a strong anti-cell phone stance, there's a good chance at some point during your movie viewing experience you'll notice the soft glow of a screen being checked.

As much as it sucks and as annoying as it is, rather than fight the good fight it's time for true lovers of cinema to start thinking about how to change the system rather than fight it. Cell phones are too omnipresent in our culture to pretend the masses can be changed.

It's time to give the masses what they want: approved cell phone use in movie theaters.

There are few objects in modern society that cause as much debate as the cell phone. We argue about using them in our cars, at restaurants, and during sexual intercourse. And while their use in the previous examples are respectively unsafe, awkward, and just plain weird, it feels like the most passionate fight against them has been in our movie theaters.

However, try as they might, the forces are against movie lovers in this battle; they're the only ones who don't want cell phones in theaters. Everyone else seems to think it's a really good idea.

A lot of theater owners love the idea. As they worry about how to get more people to actually spend money on going to the movies, allowing free use of cell phones is an idea that's been floated about as way to increase business. Most people want to be able to use their phones during a movie, and most theater owners don't want to deal with the hassle of tossing patrons out of their theater, no matter what they ad they run before the movie states.

Studios think it's a pretty good idea too. They might make a big stink about piracy, but they know just as well as the people who pirate movies that it's not some kid with an iPhone sneaking in to the multiplex that's getting their films on to the Internet; theatrical film piracy happens overseas, Americans just get to benefit off of other people doing the uploading. In fact, Disney is going the complete opposite direction and encouraging people to bring their iPad to the theater so they can download an app that will help them sing-along during The Little Mermaid.

 

Then there's your average movie fan, like the one who left the above voicemail, the person that just wants to go out with the friends or loved ones, see the latest flick, and maybe check Twitter two dozen times while the movie plays. For them the movie theater isn't some sacred space that needs to be defended, it's that big room that shows explosions and smells like popcorn.

As you can see, lover of cinema, the days of common courtesy at the movie theater are coming to an end. You can either make peace with that fact, or get crushed by it.

But you need not give up your movie theaters to anarchy. There is another way, a suggestion that everyone knows exists but no one wants to embrace: we need to encourage movie theaters to start having screenings where cell phone use is approved.

By marking off certain screenings as "cell phone friendly" and having other screenings "cell phone free" we might all be able to reach a peace: theater owners and movie studios will be able to allow and encourage cell phone use without alienating those who want a quieter theater experience.

It's not an ideal solution, but it's the only solution that anyone might take seriously. There will still be "cell phone free" theaters - this is not a suggestion that every movie theater everywhere be forced to start allowing cell phones - and "cell phone friendly" screenings would draw away those annoying movie patrons who ruin the experience.

It's cliché, but there are some movies that just have to be seen on a big screen, and unless you're rich enough to have a projector system in your home that means going to the movies. It means finding parking and lines and pre-movie commercials. It means little white screens breaking your focus on the big white screen in front of you. But unless you have a way to change human behavior for the better (and if you do, there are way better applications for it than movie theater etiquette, no offense) the cell phones aren't going away.

Unless, of course, you're willing to allow them on a limited basis.


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