Arts and Entertainment

Turn Off Your Smartwatch in the Theater

Smartwatches need to go next to smartphones in the list of devices to turn off before a show.

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When I and most theatergoers attend a show, it is to see the show. When the bright LED of a phone screen enters my line of vision or worse, its notifications barge uninvited into my ear, it distracts from the show, and this is bad. To prevent this, most theaters make an announcement reminding audience members to turn off their phones before the show begins.

For the most part, this seems to be effective, though some silence their phones and a handful of contemptibles ignore the announcement entirely (if you belong to the former category, please begin turning off your phone, just in case; as important as Amber Alerts are, no one wants or gets any use out of them in the middle of a show. If you belong to the latter category, repent immediately). Recently though, I’ve noticed a new, fairly unsurprising disturbance: smartwatches.

The typical “please turn off your phone” announcement does not mention smartwatches, and it’s easy enough to understand why: they generally don’t go off with noisy notifications. They do, however, display an LED screen. And unlike smartphones, smartwatches’ screens can be turned on entirely by accident. To begin with, they’re already out in the open—even those who leave their phones on tend to keep them in a pocket or bag. Contrastingly, smartwatches spend their time on audience members’ exposed wrists. Because they are designed to function like watches, their screens automatically display if their user moves their wrist as if they want to look at it. A great many movements can fit this criterion, so smartwatches’ screens turn on easily.

That’s annoying enough on its own, but it’s especially bad when it’s detrimental to the show. The superb production of “Oklahoma!” currently playing at the Circle in the Square Theater features extended sequences of total blackness, forcing the audience to see the world as the self-hating and depressed Jud Fry sees it. When I saw the production recently, the simulated ninth plague was interrupted by the intense glare of an audience member’s futuristic timekeeper.

It was disgusting. Abhorrent. Nothing short of soullessly evil. And it could have all been avoided had the audience member turned off their rip-off vortex manipulator.

Now, obviously, there are those for whom this is an unreasonable ask. Some of us track important measurements—heart rate, for instance—and need our smartwatches on at all times to do so. If you need your internet-connected wrist contraption, by all means, keep using it during shows.

This is not, however, the majority experience. If you’re just using your smartwatch as a time-telling pedometer, you don’t need to know the time during the show, and you’re not going to be getting many steps in your seat.

Turn it off during the show. Please. We are in a transition stage where this has yet to become standard theater etiquette, which is why you probably won’t be told to turn off your smartwatch the next time you see a show, but play your part in completing the transition. And while you’re at it, if you’re one of those people who don’t already follow the rules of theater etiquette, stop it. Get some help. Don’t kick the seat in front of you. Don’t unwrap candy, no matter how appetizing it may be. Don’t sing along with the songs, no matter how dear they are to you; if I had wanted to hear you sing “Maria,” I’d have come to a private recital at your house, not a show in Midtown.

And if this is the first time you’re hearing of this etiquette, don’t get defensive; now you know better. Now go forth and enjoy shows without ruining them for others.