Playing to the Crowd

Smartphones, at their most fundamental reason for being, are communication aids. They bring us together. Before they were smart, this was true. After they got smart, this was even more true.

Of course, they’ve also become communication wedges where what’s happening physically around us is less interesting than what’s happening on servers far away from us. The second somebody takes out their smartphone at dinner or during a conversation or on a drive, they’re basically telling whomever they’re with “goodbye.”

In other words, smartphones bring people who are far apart together, but isolate people who are close by.

But here’s an example of somebody using them in ways link people close by together. A musician named Dan Deacon has created a free app for his fans for use at his concerts. With the app, he can control and coordinate the colors and flashes emitted from those phones, as well as the sounds coming from them. More interestingly a technology perspective, the apps are controlled using “audio tones” to get around the problem of WiFi-less venues. The whole thing redefines “playing to the crowd” and inverts the “no cell phone” policy of many locations.

Here’s how he describes it on his website:

The thought of an audience being the light and the sound source for a show became one of my main goals. The detailed spatial sound environments that could be created: lights all in unison coming from endless and constantly changing direction as the audience moved and change yet the lights all change in unison; using the LEDs as strobe lights, etc. A whole world began to emerge.

After seeing all the companies applying for patents for technology to squelch smartphone usage in communal venues like theaters, concerts, and mass transit, it’s really cool to see somebody taking the opposite approach. I mean, somebody pulling out their smartphone at a Dan Deacon concert is about to join in, not check out.