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Bowler's Delivery: Stick those selfies

9 February 2015

Communication, letting us down?

THE regular reader of this column – good afternoon Colin – will know that there’s a great regard for the values of tradition and the past here. The past, as they say, is a foreign country, they do things differently there. And, generally, they do them properly.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration purely for comic effect – I trust you’re laughing – but there’s a kernel of truth in it, for while many and varied are the advances that we make through the years, sometimes they come at a cost. 

Personal technology is a particular case in point. The ability to be in contact with your family, your friends, the world, pretty much wherever you are in that world is, of course, a huge positive. But in some ways, although it keeps us in global touch, it takes us out of the moment. We are so busy spending time keeping in contact with others elsewhere that we are no longer present, we fail to live in the here and now. 

Marshall McLuhan’s view from the ‘60s that 'the medium is the message' has never been truer, for as journalist Studs Terkel has noted: "We’re more and more into communications and less and less into communication."

Ironically, this is nowhere more obvious than in the field of live entertainment of any stripe. Take live music. Stand at the back of any concert and you will find that in front of you, there’s a forest of hands holding up little luminous screens ready to capture what’s going on onstage. Then they take their hands down and play back what they’ve recorded, possibly even sending it on to their mates, missing what’s going on right now. 

Football suffers in the same way. Watch a penalty being taken, especially at the tourist trap grounds such as Old Trafford or the Emirates. Behind the goal, among the people watching, there are plenty of others filming the events on their phone, ready for sharing across Facebook, Twitter and the rest. Throughout the rest of the game, Twitter is exploding with people celebrating or moaning as each event takes place.

All of that is fine perhaps, grist to the mill of social media, the numbers involved bringing tears of joy to the eyes of Richard Scudamore and the Premier League’s marketeers as they look to spread the message of the product near and far. The bigger the conversation, the greater the money and, let’s face it, it is that money that fuels the Premier League’s engine.

But the babble of that conversation comes at a cost, and that cost is concentration, just as it is if you go to a music venue. When Kate Bush played her concerts at Hammersmith Apollo last year, a request was made prior to the start of the show that the audience refrain from taking film or photos of the show. They complied and you could feel the difference in the quality of concentration that that crowd brought to the shows. After years of digital interference, it was suddenly crystal clear.

Perhaps the time has come to bring the same kind of thinking to bear at football matches, because most of us would agree that the atmosphere at games is not what it was. There all kinds of factors, not least the all-seater stadium which has unquestionably dampened things – the real noise in our stadia these days tends to come from the away fans who, generally, stand up all through the game. But equally, we can all agree that not even safe standing is coming back into our game.

Clubs have to take a chunk of the blame too. Ever since supporters started to be regarded as “customers”, they’ve started to act that way, less blindly following their team, more inclined to complain about their shortcomings. And if they are paying the healthy ticket prices that Premier League football demands, you can’t blame the ticket buyer for wanting to be entertained, wanting to have their money’s worth.

These are elements that are perhaps intractable. But there is something we could look at, taking a leaf out of the book of clubs on mainland Europe who are banning wifi in their stadia. PSV Eindhoven introduced wifi only to be told, in no uncertain terms by their supporters, to remove it.

The argument of those fans is that you should be spending the 90 minutes focused on your team, on the game, getting behind them, cheering not multitasking, supporting not browsing. 

Perhaps they are right. Perhaps the time has come to add mobile phones to the list of prohibited items in football grounds. Perhaps the time has come when all of us simply concluded that if we are coming to a football game, we might as well watch it and concentrate on it while we are here, rather than spending our time looking at everything but the football. 

And if we do, then at least the post match phone-in conversation might be a bit more informed. Especially if we could switch off certain pundits as well.

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