This weekend, San Francisco-based venture capitalist and early YouTube employee Hunter Walk wrote a blog post in which he reimagined the moviegoing experience. See, he doesn't like sitting quietly in the dark. That's boring, and unproductive. What Walk would like is a movie theater that's a little brighter, has wifi, and allows for a "second screen experience." Meaning, he wants to tweet and fiddle on his iPad while at the movies.
To his credit, Walk isn't advocating this rather troll-y idea for the masses. He's simply saying it should be an available alternative, for those like-minded people who are unable to leave their various devices and social streams for even two hours. Walk says of his suddenly realized vision of the movies, "Increasingly I wanted my media experiences plugged in and with the ability to multitask. Look up the cast list online, tweet out a comment, talk to others while watching or just work on something else while Superman played in the background." That may sound like a pretty bleak way to spend one's time in a movie theater, and it should, but I'd guess that for many Walk's suggestions will strike a chord. Yeah, why can't we tweet and surf and do whatever else we want to do with all our glowing external organs while, y'know, Superman (or Schindler! Whoever!) flits by in the periphery? That's what we do at home, isn't? Well, yes, that is what we do at home. Which is exactly why we shouldn't be doing it at a movie theater.
As the annoying viral splat of Sharknado reiterated for us recently, people love to goof off on the Internet while watching television. At this point, live-tweeting, an activity that's undeniably fun despite its odious name, is simply a way of life for many people. Whether it's the Oscars or the Super Bowl or a particularly awful episode of The Newsroom or Princesses: Long Island, sending out one-liners or earnest questions throughout the broadcast has added a vital component to the live viewing experience, which is oddly both unifying and isolating.
And that's all well and good. Our houses, our couches, are colloquial places, familiar and indented by our pajama-clad (or nothing-clad! Do you!) butts. And a lot of television is designed to appeal to that sort of easy comfort. We don't have to pay frame-by-frame attention to The Bachelorette or Dexter, so the distracted, multi-platform, "second screen" (if we must) viewing experience is a perfectly acceptable mutation. Sure there are episodes of shows that I definitely should have paid more attention to rather than making a joke about Rosie Larsen, but for the most part, all this plugged-in consuming feels harmless, occasionally even enriching.
But that's home, not the movies. Back when DVDs came out and home theaters were beginning to become a real thing, there was much talk of declining theater audiences, people preferring to stay home and watch something away from crowds and high prices and popcorn that's been sitting in a glass case all day. And that did happen to some extent, some fled the theaters and never looked back, and now watch and tweet and do whatever the hell else they want from the comfort of their own home. Some theaters, in response, have adapted. They offer reserved seating, fancier food delivered to your seat, amenities that make going to the movies the special experience it was way back in the Jurassic Age, or the 1940s, or whenever. And that's great! If people are willing to drop all that coin for Wrath of the Titans, more power to 'em.
Most theaters, though, have remained pretty much the same. There's more stadium seating and the drinks are bigger (unless you're under the thumb of Michael Bloomberg) and everything's in 3D now, but at most big chain theaters across the country, things are as they were twenty years ago. Everything's over-priced, your fellow audience members are jerks, and the movies are by and large crappy. And yet! People keep coming, in droves. Why? Because going to the movies is fun, and communal in a way that dicking around on Twitter never will be. And that experience, however frayed and crass and exhausting as it may have become, should be preserved as much as possible. To lay on the corny shtick that people who write about movies for a living (or, for that matter, make movies for a living) always lay on when they're trying to get people to care about entertainment, movies do have transformative, transporting powers. There is still, despite our cynicism, something awe-inspiring about watching a story unfold in a big dark room. A place you've paid to be, an experience you've worked to have, even if that work was just a quick walk or a short car ride. You still left your house and trotted yourself out into the flow of the human experiment to see a show. Let's have a little respect for that.
If nothing else, going to the movies should be one of the rare times in this techno life that we can't use our phones and pads and implanted wrist-units. Shouldn't we appreciate that, rather than let the very notion of the singular movie experience be eroded by some Silicon Valley VC's blog post, lightly insincere as it may be? This debate, if we can call it that, points to a larger issue: Should we really be working to accommodate this "second screen" existence? Is this something we want to foster and more fully weave into the fabric of life, or should we be working more to compartmentalize it? Not shun it outright, but at least say, it's acceptable to have your nose buried narcissistically and lazily (it is lazy — it's not "multitasking," it's letting yourself off the hook of having to focus on one thing) at these particular moments, in these particular places — the coffee shop, in line at Chipotle, at home on your couch — but not at something whose very existence demands your attention, like the movies. Walk's little proposition — a modest proposal as it might be — blurs lines that are lines for a reason, and suggests a world in which we will all own two iPads. I don't like that world. You shouldn't like that world. Hunter Walk shouldn't be asking for that world.
Not at the movies, anyway. Sticky floors and rude teenagers be damned. A movie theater is still a sacred place. Mr. Walk can wait to tweet until he gets home, just like the rest of us.