I don’t use Twitter much, although WordPress tweets my blog posts automatically. But I’m aware of the changes taking place in people’s views about what is socially acceptable. Many people, today, would answer a call mid-conversation, or check a text, or text back – all without interrupting the flow of the discussion, or with a half-acknowledged pressing of the pause button.
The desire to tweet not just later but while you are still within the experience is part of the nature of Twitter. It’s about sharing the ‘now’ and not just the ‘yesterday’ or ‘a few minutes ago’.
But how does this affect, socially, those experiences that are traditionally meant to be uninterrupted – like going to the theatre? Is it just rude?
And at a more philosophical level, am I changing the nature of the experience, distancing myself from it, and perhaps distorting it, if I’m already sharing the experience with others and providing my own commentary even before it has finished?
There is something to do with quantum physics and the uncertainty principle and waves collapsing into particles and dead cats here – but I don’t have the time to get my creative thoughts straight.
David Lister writes about the morality of tweeting in the theatre:
Which brings me to Twitter. For here the etiquette of polite concentration in the auditorium is being challenged. People have been tweeting at the theatre. In a cinema, a light from a mobile phone is also irritating, but it does happen, and to no great protest. However the thought of it at a live performance is rather more disturbing.
It turns out that theatre tweeters are not chatting aimlessly on Twitter, but trying to be the first to post a reaction to the performance they are seeing. And this seems to mean getting it posted before the curtain comes down. It was reported at a performance of the current run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, and raised in a Q and A after the performance. And I have seen it happening, not always that discreetly, in London’s West End.
There’s little doubt that it disturbs other audience members, and probably even cast members. And, of course, one hopes that people are too busy concentrating on the action to fish their mobile out of their pocket or bag. On the other hand, they are engaged enough to want a post a review.
Is the answer, I wonder, a relatively recent American phenomenon, the tweet seats? This started at a theatre in Los Angeles and has spread to a number of other big cities, with at least one theatre on Broadway now threatening to get in on the act. A section of seating on the side of the auditorium (so that the lights from the phones – in theory – don’t disturb the rest of the audience) is reserved as tweet seats.
The first instinct of any regular theatre-goer is to foam at the mouth. But perhaps we should acknowledge the inevitable. OK, I’d be much more inclined to put them in the balcony, as the side of the stalls feels a little too visible. Why not make a small part of the balcony a silent tweeting zone for those who want it?
A few decades ago it would have been near unthinkable to take drinks into the auditorium. Now it’s commonplace. I suspect that in less than a decade tweet seats will be commonplace too.