Don’t be dim - dim your phone!

Is it ever okay to be on your phone in the cinema? Thomas Atkinson and Will Capuano battle out over whether Apple’s new theatre mode is acceptable or not.

Will Capuano
13th February 2017

For - Thomas Atkinson

I love the cinema. It’s a place you can escape the qualms and responsibilities of everyday life – even if the popcorn is overpriced and the floor is covered in a layer of solidified sugar.

Why am I defending theatre mode then, a system which is surely designed to pollute this nirvana? Well, humans will be humans. We become addicted to the dopamine rush of social media and feel powerless if we’re not connected. I’d prefer it if they’d just enjoy the film they paid for, but alas, they won’t. At least here everyone else is not forced to endure the bright lights, pinging and vibrations accompanying the latest invite to a night out in Digi from a person with a social life several times better than mine.

The raison d’être of theatre mode is to reduce feelings of social inadequacy by dimming the display, muting sounds and disabling haptic feedback. It also stops the phone waking up when a message or call is received. “Wait!” I hear you cry, “Why does this even need to exist!?” One of the more sensible scenarios I came across was if you were an on-call medical worker, or had a close person who may need sudden medical intervention. This would allow you to still enjoy your downtime without the embarrassment of full-brightness checking of your phone. There’s also scope in an Apple patent application for the system to be triggered using a wireless network when in proximity of a cinema, potentially ensuring even frequent offenders are forced to subdue their activities.

I still believe that you should turn it off, but this gives the option for those that can’t – or won’t.

Against - Will Capuano

The year is 2013. I’m watching 12 Years a Slave at the cinema. The film has reached the gut-wrenching scene in which Solomon Northrup is torturously resisting death by tip-toeing while hanging from a tree. All of a sudden, at this crucial moment in this brilliant film, I’m blinded by white light as the person in front of me proceeds to browse Facebook on their iPhone.

Apple’s new theatre mode update might put this annoyance to an end, with its brightness and sound adjusting options. But that’s not the point. As infuriating as being distracted at the cinema is, the principle behind it is what really grinds my gears. You’ve paid money to enjoy a film at a high quality venue – so why are you on your phone?!

Cinema adverts of the pre-smartphone 2000s told cinemagoers to turn off their mobiles to stop calls disrupting the film. But now that smartphones are more infotainment devices than simple telecommunications tools, the game has changed. This goes beyond the cinema. I’m not going to do give a generic holier-than-thou rant about how smartphones have made us unsociable – I’m a huge tech fan and love my smartphone – but there is a balance. It’s perfectly acceptable to scroll through your phone when you’re idle, but a lot of people I know persist to scroll through their phones while watching a film or TV show. Why?

Many people have to check their phones at all times, such as parents and carers. But I’m sure they’re perfectly capable of turning brightness and sound down without an update. Seriously, just turn it off and enjoy the film.

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