Most people would agree that cell phone use during a performance or concert can be incredibly distracting. Violators of cell phone policies are asked to silence or turn off their devices, and in some cases, asked to leave the venue. In China, however, some theaters have adopted a policy that uses lasers to “shame” theatergoers into putting their phones away.
According to The New York Times, Shanghai Grand Theater, Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts, and others are opting to use red or green laser pointers to point out cell phone users. The beam is aimed directly at the screen until the user puts the device away. Rather than having an usher approach a cell phone user mid-show, which is often more distracting than the phone itself, the laser serves as a silent indicator of poor theater-going etiquette.
The decision has received mixed responses from theatergoers and performers alike. Some fear that seeing the laser light in a crowded room is too reminiscent of the laser sight on a gun. Others prefer the small beams of light to the large, glowing distraction of a mobile device, but do express concerns about the lights being a much bigger distraction, in minimalist performances. Shows in which the audience is itching to take a photo of the performance have been likened to coordinated laser light shows; often a dramatic juxtaposition to the style of performance underway.
In China, however, laser pointers have been utilized in theater settings to curb poor audience behavior, for quite some time. Compared to the United States and Europe, the average age of attendees is much younger, correlating to a decrease in standard theater etiquette. The laser pointers, coupled with cell phone jamming technology, are just a few of the ways theaters are attempting to improve the show-going experience, for all audience members. While safety is a concern, the lasers are not pointed directly at any audience member or performer, reducing the chance of injury.
More than a few theater owners feel that utilizing the laser pointers is the best way to handle a consistent issue, and hope for a day where “laser shaming” is no longer necessary.