The advice to “dance like nobody’s watching,” which you’ve undoubtedly seen everywhere from your Facebook newsfeed to hand-painted signs at craft fairs, has becomes such a popular catchphrase that most people don’t even remember where it came from (probably from Kathy Mattea’s 1989 country single, “Come From the Heart,” just for the record).
But these days, following that advice, at least in a public space, is harder than ever. In 2018, it would be more accurate to encourage people to dance like nobody’s watching, filming, posting, and commenting. (Good luck with that.)
At a music festival in 2012, Graham Dugoni was pleased to see a fellow festival-goer wildly dancing, lost in the music and the moment. He was less-than-pleased to see several bystanders filming the dancer, then instantly posting the video to YouTube.
It made Dugoni think hard about the impact of cell phones in public space.
Just about everyone feels crummy when their date seems more interested in swiping their screen than in engaging, or when conversation falls dead at the dinner table because everyone’s eyes are glued to their phones.
Yet who among us is willing to leave our phone at home for even one evening?
And there are other situations where the omnipresence of phones is particularly problematic. At concerts and entertainment events, audiences view the show through their phone screens. At school, students get distracted from learning by their phones, and in some cases even use their phones to cheat on exams. Taking a picture or video of a special occasion, like a wedding, will help you relive the memory later – that is, if you actually had time to make any memories between snapping and posting selfies.
Says Dugoni, “I don’t think people realize how radically different it is to be a human being with a phone in your pocket. If it becomes something that’s going to hollow out the meaning in your life, that’s something we’re going to have to address.”
And address it, he has. In 2014, Dugoni founded Yondr, a company that makes lockable pouches so that people can carry their phone into events, but can’t use them. Upon arriving, users lock their phones in the gray pouches, and can only open them again by swiping them over an “unlocking base” as they head towards the exit.
The pouches have been rented by entertainers, event planners, and by 600 U.S. schools. They have been especially helpful in places where discretion is important, such as courtrooms and hospitals. Schools using Yondr have seen grades and test scores rise, and disciplinary problems reduce. Court administrators have been pleased to find a way to deprive jurors of their phones without taking responsibility for them.
Yondr has also been used by comedians like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock at their live shows. Says Chappelle, “People actually watch the show, they’re in the moment and they’re vastly more fun to speak to.”
Cell phones have added a lot of convenience and efficiency to our lives – but at what cost? Younger generations have never even experienced a day in their lives without phones. We’re losing our capacity to, collectively, be present, intimate, and engaged with one another. If for no other reason, Yondr is a worthwhile experiment because, as Chris Rock explains, “You want a break from your phone. It feels good.”
At a concert where the audience has their phones “Yondred,” perhaps we could all dance together as though no one were watching.