Hannah Gadsby is not one to shy away from challenging her audience’s beliefs, and now the comedian will also be challenging their phone use.
- Hannah Gadsby’s audiences will be asked to lock their phones in pouches
- The approach pioneered by a US company is proving popular
- It has been rolled out in hundreds of schools globally
Gadsby is one of a growing number of performers to turn to a new technology which provides a simple solution — locking the phones away.
“I have autism and the use of phones during a show is a very distressing distraction for me when I’m performing,” Gadsby recently tweeted, before the launch of her new show Douglas.
However, the phones themselves are not confiscated.
Instead, they are set on silent or aeroplane mode and then secured in pouches which are electronically locked before the shows begin.
Audience members are able to hold onto them, and unlock them in designated areas if they need to.
“It allows the phone owner to keep their phone while not actually being able to access it,” said Monash University media expert Brett Hutchins.
“It’s really something designed to ensure people can’t take footage or distract others.”
The technology has been pioneered by US company Yondr and is also proving popular with musicians.
Guns N’ Roses has also adopted it at gigs, as well as Alicia Keys — who helped bring it to prominence in 2016.
“Hannah’s team did an incredible job of sending out messaging so most patrons know exactly what they’re coming to,” Yondr spokeswoman Alexis Munnelly said.
“There was very little pushback.
“We’re looking to give people space away from their technology.”
The company is also spruiking broader applications, including in schools where phones can interfere with learning.
“We partner with educators, entertainers, anyone that’s looking to have a phone-free experience,” Ms Munnelly said.
“We work with folks that want phone-free weddings, baby showers, birthday parties.
“We are in nearly 1,000 public schools in the United States and we’re beginning to partner with schools in Australia, France, Italy and Ontario.”
Wauchope High School in New South Wales is planning to trial lockable mobile phone bags from the start of next term.
“We’ll be keeping a close eye on what effect it has, and we’re hoping for a significant reduction in how distracted students are during the day, and for some more face-to-face social interaction during breaks,” principal Glen Sawle said.
“We believe this could be a big benefit for students’ schoolwork and social wellbeing.”
‘A joke is not the only tool’
After appearing at the Adelaide Fringe festival, Gadsby is about to embark on a sold-out run of shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Hannah Gadsby tweet: I have autism and the use of phones during a show is a very distressing distraction for me when I’m performing. That is my reasoning not my answer. My team is working on a solution.
She explained the phone ban was not about exclusion.
“If you require the use of a device for medical/accessibility purposes, please speak with a Yondr manager on arrival, and they will be able to accommodate,” she tweeted.
“We also encourage you to reach out to the venue in advance, so they can properly prepare.
“All should feel welcome.”
Professor Hutchins said Yondr was not the only company to offer the technology.
“There are other versions of this around,” he said.
“They’ve worked out different ways of using it at concerts, in comedy shows, in schools … [and] in the courts system as well.”
Professor Hutchins said while a main aim was to stop copyright infringements, temporarily blocking access to phones could provide a refreshing break from an otherwise invasive technology.
“There’s intellectual property issues in play but also that notion of intimacy and the social experience,” he said.
“As phones become ever more ubiquitous as well as wearable media devices, it creates an appetite for phone-free experiences.”
As for her new show, Gadsby is promising to push boundaries.
“I believe there is a revolution in comedy about to happen — a real, big global revolution,” she said at today’s festival launch.
“It’s a revolution where a joke is not the only tool in a comedian’s kit.”