Consider the Contrary: Why theaters allowing texting might actually reduce distractions

A sign at Regal Cinemas instructs patrons not to text -- and is often ignored.“Over my dead body will I introduce texting into the movie theater. It’s our job to understand that this is a sacred place,” said Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League at a recent CinemaCon panel on theaters potentially allowing texting during movies, a comment that has been championed by blog after blog in the days since. But as a theatergoer who abhors those brightly-lit retina displays showing up in the crowd as much as anyone else, I have to wonder: Would decriminalizing texting in a theater really make the situation worse?

Mr. League’s establishments are staffed with waiters who watch over the auditorium for orders, making a no-texting, no-talking policy much easier to police. The average megaplex, on the other hand, does not have an employee scanning every auditorium all the time, and if one happens to wander in, good luck getting them to tell a texter to stop. (Also good luck getting giants like Regal and AMC to introduce a new person to monitor every auditorium out of goodwill.)

If, instead, texting were allowed in the three or four back rows of an auditorium, then perhaps we wouldn’t be having this problem. Those who wanted to use their phones during the show would have no reason not to oblige the new policy, so they would sit behind every sane person who wants to use their $12 ticket to, you know, keep their eyes on the screen.

Certainly, there are counterarguments. Some may contend that having “texting seats” would create more of a chance of someone’s phone making noise, thereby still bothering the rest of the audience. Another possibility is that this makes texting during a movie more socially acceptable and, once people get used to doing it, they might keep on doing so at theaters that do not introduce “texting seats.”

I definitely understand these concerns, but given that movie theater texters are a problem that isn’t going to go away no matter how many pre-show public service announcements audiences have to endure, I think “texting seats” are worth a shot. In fact, in spite of those PSAs, I would venture to guess that many teenagers (and their naive adult counterparts), don’t even realize that what they’re doing bothers fellow audience-members.

So while it’s great that Tim League is able to keep the Alamo Drafthouse a text-free zone (God bless him), it might behoove the rest of us to be a little more open to the idea of “texting seats” at the megaplex. (Or how about this idea: Just as they have “Bring Your Baby” shows at many theaters, they could have “Bring Your Smartphone” shows.) Ironic as the proposition may seem, “texting seats” may just spare us the annoyance of texters.