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No smartphones allowed? That’s just how Dave Chappelle wants it

It's hard to go to a concert or show where people don't quickly pull out their phones. But some artists and performers have had enough. Jeffrey Brown reports on a startup that’s trying to dial back our phone use.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    These days, it's hard to go to a concert or show where people don't quickly pull out their smartphones to capture the moment or let their friends know that they're there.

    But some artists and performers have had enough of that.

    Jeffrey Brown tells us about a start-up that is catering to that sentiment, and its ambitions for dialing back our phone use in a much bigger way.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A recent concert at the famed Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, filled with music and laughs.

    But note something missing, no smartphones held high capturing the proceedings. That's just the way comedian Dave Chappelle wants it.

  • Dave Chappelle:

    But I see how it distracts people. Well, I used to make requests of the audience, could you not use your phone during the show? And they can't honor the request.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    They can't?

  • Dave Chappelle:

    Oftentimes, they cannot. Grown, responsible, disciplined adults have a hard time watching a comedy show without the distraction of their phone.

    We all need a break, just from the technology, just for a minute.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Chappelle is part of a growing movement of comedians and musicians pushing back against the ubiquity of the smartphone in the concert hall and in our lives.

  • Dave Chappelle:

    The phone is an addictive device. I don't know if you have ever lost your phone. Like, just the anxiety you feel, it's almost like worse than losing a pack of cigarettes or something else that's addictive.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Here in high-tech central, with Silicon Valley nearby, companies large and small vie to produce and monetize the latest gadgets.

    But one local start-up, called Yondr, is after something different, prying them away, at least for a few hours.

    Thirty-one-year-old Graham Dugoni is its founder.

  • Graham Dugoni:

    It's just going hey, here's a phone-free show, here's a classroom. Here's an event, or a wedding. You step into this space. While you're there, what happens there stays there. It's socially acceptable to unplug. Your nervous system can relax from kind of the call-and-response pattern of modern life.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's deceptively simple. At large events, a Yondr team passes through the line, takes your phone and puts it in a locked pouch, which you get to hold onto. At the end of the night, your pouch is unlocked.

    If you really need to use your phone, there are spaces available, a bit like smoking areas at the airport.

    Dave Chappelle likes the idea so much, he's become an investor in Yondr, which charges a fee to the performers or venues, not the phone users. Some 400 artists and musicians have used Yondr so far.

    But, for Dugoni, Yondr is as much a cause as it is a business.

  • Graham Dugoni:

    And I think people are looking for new ways to kind of — to live, and things that can center their lives. I see us as just part of that, creating a real, functional, practical sense, just creating — by helping people create device-free spaces.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In the age of social media, people are experiencing art in new ways. Exhibitions like the recent blockbuster by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama come Instagram-ready.

    "Wired" magazine editor Arielle Pardes has written about art and technology.

  • Arielle Pardes:

    So, it's not just the show that the artists put on for you, but it's actually you taking that, capturing it, remixing it, posting it on your Instagram account, and turning that into your own version of art.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes, so the art that's on the wall or the music up on stage no longer lives by itself?

  • Arielle Pardes:

    Exactly. And I think artists are a little bit squeamish about that, understandably so. A lot goes into creating art.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In today's music world, social media cuts both ways. In part, it's a marketing device. At most of his concerts, guitarist and singer John Mayer allows smartphones, which help get the word out about his music.

  • John Mayer:

    If that's how you want to enjoy the show, I get it, because we — I also have a phone in the dressing room, and I will go do something at night and take a picture with it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In your career, though, you have watched that take off, that technology and evolution.

  • John Mayer:

    Yes, sure. But it's helped me. I can also promote things from bed.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But when performing with Dave Chappelle, as on this night, Mayer abides by other rules, and likes those too.

  • John Mayer:

    It's become unconscious thinking now that, when you sing something on stage in front of people, and you have a bad note, you go, well, that's going to make the tape.

    I'm working something out. Dave is working something out. Sometimes, that has to be cumulative. I learned last night, OK, I messed up the chorus in my own song that I just wrote. I don't have to suffer the indignity of knowing that that lives in repetition in 50,000 views.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    People in line at the Fillmore seemed happy enough to play along.

  • Man:

    It's cool. Like, you want to do something and you don't want everyone watching every single imperfection of a new performance, it's cool.

  • Woman:

    You paid like a significant amount of money to go see the performer. So, you should see the performer.

  • Man:

    I'm not that guy that is taking pictures of the act. I'm going to experience that and just let it be right here.

  • Woman:

    People don't have that self-control, so I am all for it. Lock it away. Lock it up.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And Yondr is now being used in other places, at weddings, for example, including Serena Williams', and in courtrooms and more than 1,000 schools, like West Potomac Academy in Northern Virginia, where teacher Nancy Mantelli is happy to have her students' full attention.

  • Nancy Mantelli:

    In my opinion, cell phone use is a mental health issue, because I feel that the students are addicted to it. They simply can't put the phone down.

    So, here I am as an educator, and I'm trying to give them this neutral environment, a safe environment to teach them. And that cell phone puts them right back into that place where they're potentially being bullied, where they're getting harassed.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All this raises new questions, of course. Does locking up a phone limit free speech? Who gets to decide what's a phone-free zone? Especially in a world where cameras can help monitor and expose bad behavior.

    Yondr founder Dugoni.

  • Graham Dugoni:

    What is the interplay between privacy and transparency in modern society? And the answer is, in a way, it's complicated. I think that's part of a healthy, ongoing dialogue in a well-functioning society, is to understand that there are choices.

    But, if you think, if anyone thinks endless transparency is going to lead to more freedom, I think that's naive, because it leads to — it's a prison of its own.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And technology itself changes, like these recently released sunglasses that capture video, potentially outstripping efforts like Yondr.

  • Arielle Pardes:

    I see it as a bit of a cat and mouse game. Yondr is sort of fixing the problem of the iPhone, but what about what comes next?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For now, though, Dave Chappelle thinks it's keeping the focus where it belongs.

  • Dave Chappelle:

    It's also about the quality of the performance. And we always have this feeling of being lucky like, we're an us, like us in this room, we're the only ones who get to see this or feel this. Or you're not thinking about outside the room or anything, and it is kind of wonderful now.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Something to think about for those on and off the stage.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in San Francisco.

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