Behold: The future.
Nobody wants this future. Well, to be fair, I don't want this future, and nobody I personally know wants this future. General opinion seems best summed up in this AV Club piece by Sean O'Neal, answering a question put forward by theater owners themselves at CinemaCon, an annual gathering of the people responsible for $12 tickets, $6 popcorn, $4 Jujyfruits, and 30 minutes worth of commercials that run before the 20 minutes of commercials that run before a cool computer generated roller coaster ride happens before the movie starts.
So why is it completely, utterly, irrevocably inevitable that texting in theaters will be commonplace within the next five years?
Because people aren't going to stop carrying around highly powerful personal computers in their pockets anytime soon. They're ubiquitous at this point. Ubiquitous things don't just go away, especially as generations of people become accustomed to their presence in almost all manner of social situation.
But let's imagine a future where we, the just and righteous, are triumphant in convincing theater owners it's in their best interest to discourage texting as strongly as possible. There will still be popcorn. There will still be candy, and nachos, and hot dogs, all crinkling and crunching way too loudly at just the wrong time. There will still be rude people with no concept of what an inconsiderate inconvenience they're being when they narrate what's happening, or engage in one-sided conversation with the film, or heckle the images being (often shoddily, and dimly) projected onto the screen.
Don't mistake me for being permissive, here; I'm not saying "let them text, your movie's going to get ruined one way or the other." When I'm in a theater and someone pulls out a phone, I ask them to put it away. When people are being verbally disruptive, I ask them to be quiet. But what I'm saying is that if major-chain theater owners actually gave a shit about the experiences at their theaters, they'd have tried mitigating any of these circumstances already, as opposed to accommodating them. But they always choose accommodation. They're a service industry, after all. And they charge us accordingly for that service. They're indulging our wants, aren't they?
A whole bunch of us WANT to rip open a five-pound bag of M&M's with all the grace of Oceanic 815 making an emergency island landing. So why not sell us that candy at a markup? A lot of us want to babble incoherently at the screen while the movie plays. Why not instruct the ushers to zip in and out of the screening once or twice while staring straight ahead and absentmindedly waving a stunted toy lightsaber from side to side? How many people have complained that the film is scratched, or dim, or jumpy? Oh, just one or two people? Nobody else came out to the lobby? I guess they're okay with it, then. Let's save some cash and run the bulbs at half power.
You know how these same owners dealt with a vocal minority of complaints, after people got sick of their theatrical experience being a dim, jumpy, scratchy, noisy mess? They didn't train projectionists, they didn't train ushers. They did reduce staff, and increase automation, and they paid large amounts of money to refit their theaters with digital projection technologies. Then they charged you more for it. And you paid, happily. Except there was still all that noise, and that unruly riff-raff. So they created special rooms in their multiplexes, rooms with couches and tables, and restaurant service. And they charged you more for it. And you paid that premium, happily, for the opportunity to experience the theater "the way it was meant to be."
The message these purchasing decisions sends is this: You can be coerced into paying 20 dollars for the privilege of watching a movie, distraction-free, with appropriate focus on exemplary audio and image. If you want a regular, old-fashioned, jus'-folks styled moviegoing experience, you can pay the 12 bucks to sit in a regular, old-fashioned theater full of jus'-folks eating, chewing, slurping, yapping, and yes, texting/tweeting their moviegoing experience to their hundreds or thousands of followers.
Of course these major chains are going to let people text in the theater. They're not about to jeopardize their constantly-shrinking audience by telling people "no." And they're definitely not about to lower prices. They've got too many gimmicks on deck; 3D, IMAX 3D, 48fps TruMotion 120hz Realer-Than-Real vision. None of that stuff is cheap, and competition costs a lot of money, and there's way more to compete with now than ever before. $500 televisions are advanced enough that the 1080 lines of resolution they display is already hitting the upper limits of visual discernment for most moviegoers. 200 dollar home theater receivers can decode 9 channels worth of high-definition audio. The personal computer you carry in your pocket everywhere? You can play movies on it. Plug a pair of headphones in, and for many, you've defined immersion: It's not you, in a darkened theater, staring at a 50ft screen. It's you, your phone, a small space to occupy, and some earbuds.
Do people want to text in the theater? Obviously, because exhibitors are wondering aloud, in front of microphones, if they should let you, as if they don't already. They're obviously not all that interested in stopping you, just like they weren't that interested in shutting you up, getting your feet off the seat, or having you deposit your trash in the garbage receptacles located by the doors.
And if you want to watch a movie without having someone flaunt their inconsiderate nature by flicking their finger across a touchscreen to livetweet whatever superhero blockbuster you just paid 16 bucks to watch in 48fps IMAX 3D? I'm sure you'll have no problem paying the $25-30 premium ticket price to gain admission to a room in an alternate theatrical universe where the employees give a shit about the picture they're projecting, and the ushers care whether your feet are on the chair, and nobody in the theater is doing anything but engaging with the movie they paid to watch.
If you care, then you get to pay for caring. And if you don't want to pay that much, you'll either learn not to care (which happens in the case of many technologies as they proliferate throughout our culture) or you'll seek out alternative means to enjoy what you used to enjoy.
Maybe that means you build out a beautiful home theater system and you simply wait the extra two or three months for a film to finish it's theatrical run and appear on the home market. Maybe you turn to television entirely, riding your trusty Netflix subscription until the wheels fall off, consuming series after series of stuff you should have watched by now. Maybe you're lucky enough to live within distance of an independent theater owner like Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse, or Greg Wood of the Roseway Theater, or Justen Harn and Dan Halsted of the Hollywood Theatre, people who still care about the theatrical experience and put in the effort to ensure audience satisfaction on all levels. And if you're lucky, like we are here Portland, or Austin, Texas, or at Tarantino's New Beverly in Los Angeles, they'll charge decent prices for that experience, too.
But if your choice is major theater chain or nothing? I don't see how the answer to CinemaCon's question is anything but "Yes."
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