Don’t Be Dumb With Your Smartphone

Michael Taylor is an old curmudgeon, but at least he admits that he is a curmudgeon, cf. this week’s Blood Sweat, and Tedium. In it, he complains about the ubiquitous use of cell phones, not just on sets, but everywhere in modern society.

While I don’t remember ever not having a computer in my home (I barely remember not having internet), there was a brief window in in my childhood when no one had cell phones or iPods or any sort of personal device beyond maybe a calculator watch.

Somehow, I can't find the square root function on my phone's calculator. This comes up more often than you'd think.
This made me the coolest kid in 4th grade.

Maybe it’s lost in the mists of memory, but I don’t recall people being particularly chatty with strangers while, say, waiting in line at the bank. Everyone just stood quietly in line and stared off into space.

Is staring into a glowing screen all that much worse? Arguably, it’s better. Instead of standing around, slack jawed and bored, I’m learning about world events, reading books on my Kindle app, catching up with an old friend about her children. Or maybe just looking at funny cat gifs.

I could watch this all day. In fact, I think I will, as soon as I post this.
At least I’m not bored.

Whether you believe this portends the end of society probably depends on how old you are. After all, back when Mike was but a young boy, people feared that TV would end literacy. Hell, go back even further, and no less than Socrates objected to literacy itself.1

If you’re a luddite, by all means, stick to your flip phone (or no phone). But for my part, I’m happy I have something to occupy my mind when I’m doing mindless tasks.

That being said, Mike does have appoint about cell phones on set:

These days, any break in the action on set prompts 80% of the crew to pull out their phones and stare into that little glowing screen, surfing the net, playing video games, or texting.

There is definitely something wrong here. You’re on the clock. You’re being paid not just to work, but to be ready to work at any moment. What in the world are you doing, checking your phone?

More important than not being ready, you don’t look ready.2 Your boss sees you texting or tweeting or whatever, she might start to wonder if she needs you around at all. Worse still, the PA (or AC or SLT or whatever acronym you are) next to you is not texting. Guess who she’s going to hire next time.

Plus, you’re not surrounded by strangers at the post office. These are people you know and work with. Why aren’t you talking with them? Make new friends, instead of messaging old ones on Facebook.

If your wife is nine months pregnant, or your dad is in the hospital, or you have some other urgent, something-could-happen-at-any-moment situation, by all means, keep your phone in your pocket.

Otherwise, leave it in your car or your ditty bag. The text can wait until lunch.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. The internet actually increases literacy, in case you were wondering.
  2. Is that cynical? That’s cynical, right?
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8 Responses

  1. Not all producers or directors came up “through the ranks.” As UPM and AD, I’ve had a number of instances over the years – even going back to the “Bad old no smart phone” days of the 90s – when a producer would ask me why a PA was “standing around doing nothing.” Never mind that he/she had just done three hours of errands in 90 degree heat and unbearable traffic. How dare he now stop and grab a water, or, Heaven forbid, sit down. I was told specifically on my first PA gig (early 80s) that I was NEVER to be seen sitting down, that was repeated to me often. My own instructions to PAs – if you aren’t busy, at least look busy or get the hell out of sight.

    While the same mode of slave labor is no longer the norm, TAPA hits the nail on the head when he says that if it looks like you have a lot of free time, I start wondering if I really need you.

    As I suggested on Juicer’s site, being in my mid-50s, I prefer phone calls to texts – they do not require use of my fat, slowing fingers or glasses to read – but I get why basic tasks are better done by text.

  2. I got rid of my cell phone (never even had a smart phone) and I’m much happier. Of course, if I went back to working on set again . . .I’d have to get one.

    Although, on set, I was on walkie, so I only really needed the phone when I was OFF set. 😉

  3. “Old curmudgeon,” huh? Fair enough — and you’re right, back in the good old/bad old days, people did not chat like songbirds while waiting in lines. We glared at each other, jaws clenched, in simmering, thinly-disguised rage… not. We just waited and yawned, bored like everyone else. I may have grown up milking goats and shoveling out the barn, but it wasn’t in Mayberry with Andy and Opie.

    Use of cell phones is like everything else in life — timing matters. Waiting at the bank is a fine time to be surfing on your smart phone, or when stuck in line at the DMV, or doing 8 miserable hours of purgatory waiting to be called (or not) for jury duty.

    I take no issue with Jessie M.’s argument for smart phones in the PA world. PA’s are there to facilitate the production, and they can best do that with a constant flow of information — thus the ever-present walkie-talkies, and now, cell phones. The problem lies in his last sentence: “Obviously be smart about when and where you use your phone.”

    There’s the rub — for lots of people, that’s not so obvious. I see far too many grips and juicers using their phones on set, during filming, or while the rest of their crew is hard at work. This is unprofessional at best, and as TAPA pointed out, potentially deleterious to their future job prospects.

    Sydney is right about cell phones allowing people to stay in touch with their real life during long days on set, and I can’t argue with her contention that “the emphasis should be on moderation rather than elimination of cell phones on set” — but I don’t recall writing anything about banning cell phones. I’m just tired of seeing crew members yakking on the phone when they should be working… but the trend these days leans towards people doing whatever they want, whenever they want to do it, regardless of the circumstances — and in the process, paying no attention to what’s going on right in front of them. At the core, that’s what bothers me. While this is mostly just an annoyance on set, at other times — like when driving a car — using a cell phone (hands-free or not) is demonstrably dangerous for everyone else in the vicinity.

    But that’s a rant for another, non-industry blog…

    The point of my post was not to that you shouldn’t use your cell phone, but just to be — in Jessie’s words — smart about it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

  4. ^Completely agree.If I didn’t have a smart phone, I wouldn’t have a job. It’s gotten me out of jams so many times, it’s insane.

  5. I agree with Jesse. A smart phone is an invaluable tool on set, and an expected one. How I do my job would change drastically if I didn’t have one.

    However, Im also going to challenge your thoughts on using your smartphone for personal purposes on set. We work 14-hours a day, at best. Sometimes 16, 18, 20-hours a day. That leaves very little time for family, friends and outside interests. Our smartphones allow us to have some resemblance of a connection to our “real lives” when our hours do not.

    By all means, we’re here to work. But no one is actively working all 14 of those hours. I can be on my phone (responding to this post) and still ready to work and bounce from my lock up at any moment. The emphasis should be on moderation rather than elimination of cell phones on set.

  6. I don’t get the smartphone hate. Every set I’ve been on has required me to have one. I often need to text with office coordinator while I’m on set. If someone is taking lunch orders, everyone just looks up the lunch menu on their phone and texts their selection to the PA who will be picking it up. If I’m out of walkie range on a run, texting is how people relay their last-minute additions to the shopping list. I once got into a fender bender in a rental vehicle, I was able to snap photos of the thankfully minimal damage on the spot and email them to production.

    The amount of productions I’ve been on that have actual printouts of move maps and callsheets has dwindled as they all expect individuals to be able to look this stuff up on their phones.

    A long time ago, I was on a set once and I was asked to look up a lunch menu on my old flip phone. And I had to say I couldn’t do it. I was chastised and told to upgrade. Stuff like that gets you fired. A smartphone is a tool you should have on your person like you would a pocket knife.

    Obviously be smart about when and where you use your phone.

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