An article about Director Christopher Nolan's attitude to the use of mobiles on his film sets caught my attention recently. He is something of an outlier compared to most when it comes to communication technology, apparently, he has neither a mobile or an email address.
He is well known for having strong views on the effect phones can have in a production environment. The relationship people have with their phones is clearly generational and while I spend more time looking at my phone in company than I’d like to admit to, it is nothing compared to people half my age who have gone full “phone zombie”. While the received wisdom is that attitudes change over time and phone etiquette will also inevitably change, are there still some environments where phone use should be seen as unacceptable? I think the Studio can be one such environment.
Learning How To Behave In A Studio
I’ve spent the last ten years working in education, training the next generation of audio professionals. Something I’m extremely aware of is how for the majority of people under 25, uninterrupted access to and monitoring of phones is simply non-negotiable. In a formal educational environment people of my age (I’m 46) might imagine that it is possible to ask a room full of students to switch their phones off for the duration. That will not happen. I won’t go into a discussion of the expectations of students paying expensive University fees but things have certainly changed. The amount of times I’ve looked at a phone on the console and asked a student which it’s going to be - phone or console? You can't do both.
We’ve all seen the engineer at a gig looking at their phone, I confess on occasion that’s been me. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling realising you’ve missed something on stage because you were looking at your phone - not cool!
Any production environment which relies on teamwork and communication is always going to be seriously compromised if the people in that team are only paying attention some of the time. We all understand that attention to detail is the difference between a demo and a professional product and expecting attention to detail when you’re not really paying attention is ridiculous!
The Myth Of Multitasking
There is a common assumption that if you are looking at a phone and not making any noise you’re somehow not affecting the others around you and the idea that your decision on whether or not to give your attention to what is going on around you is in some way a personal and private decision which doesn’t affect others around you is simply false. Often the justification is that you can monitor what is happening around you and that nothing important is happening right now. I don’t buy that!
Creating A Bubble
This is about the erosion of focus, focus is hard to achieve and distraction tends to kill it. Focus, which for me is just another word for that time when we work at our best, is fragile and should be celebrated and protected. Phones are the enemy of focus.
I find it ironic that devices which undoubtably have completely revolutionised the way we communicate, and mean we all communicate more should, at the same time, isolate us. Rather than engage with our surroundings and the people in it, we can bring our lives and relationships with us wherever we go. You might see this as a good or a bad thing, or more likely both, but in working relationships and when creative work is being done I believe it is preferable to risk boredom (remember that?) rather than allow distraction to kill good ideas before they have a chance to happen. Phones rarely help in the studio.
I’m reminded of a joke I heard recently. If you want to call an impromptu family meeting just unplug the WiFi router and wait. Maybe we should try that in the studio?