"Should we go see Spielberg's 'Lincoln' this weekend?" I asked my wife the other night.
“What else is playing?”
“Bond. James Bond,” I utter in the poor Sean Connery imitation that for some of us remains the default Bond. “The thirtieth sequel to ‘Twilight’ is out, but you would owe me five movies of my choice if you make me go to that.”
“Never, but it should draw the crowds and the teens away to give us a clearer path to the others.”
That is the new math of moviegoing for us. Ever since our infamous ‘True Grit’ experience years ago we consider who else might be in the theater. Our viewing of ‘True Grit’ will be forever recalled as the night a row of drunken middle-aged men disrupted an audience of grey-haired viewers with loud asides and taunts of anyone -- including me, who tried to "shush" these jackasses.
I admit I was embarrassed that night by my own demographic stereotyping. As I looked around the theater and saw no one our junior (I am 54), I speculated to my wife whether this audience had seen a film in a theater since The Duke put leather reins in his mouth decades ago for the first ‘True Grit.’ There was a lot of drawling, burping and chatter that suggested a number of these people hadn’t been to a movie in a while.
“Look at that! Ads for TV shows in a movie!” I heard, said in the spirit of cultural discovery. “There is like twenty minutes of previews here? Don’t they have movies here?”
I leaned over to my wife and snarked, “I guess this isn’t a good time to flash my NPR membership card.”
“Be nice,” she warned, even though I am certain I felt her clutch my arm a bit more tightly and tuck her Birkenstocks out of view.
And then the jackasses started braying. Cut to the chase. When we left the theater, this line of relentless gabbers was in front of us in the parking lot and -- as God is my witness -- in a scene ripped from a bad TV script, the lot of them piled into two massively oversized, garish and high-sitting pick-ups. I distinctly heard the clink of empties being unloaded into the back.
Which does lead me to a mobile-related topic.
The Cinemark chain just updated its company consumer rewards app with a new attempt to modify the behavior of theater goers like Alex and his Droogs. The update includes a “CineMode” to be activated by users in the theater itself. According to the app:
“CineMode is an exclusive and interactive way to earn CineMark rewards while being courteous during the show. Your screen will dim automatically, and you will be prompted to set volume to vibrate. 1. Start CineMode when your movie begins. 2. Stay in CineMode for the duration of your movie. 3. Earn rewards.”
Apparently a coupon of some sort is sent to the rewards section of the app upon completing the viewing of a film and continuing to act like a socially conscious and decent human being.
When I tested the CineMode outside of the theater setting, it detected any activity on the phone and turned itself off with a notice that you turned off the mode before the end of the movie and should try to keep in the “mode” next time.
According to Hollywood Deadline, the new feature is a response to customer requests for CineMark to develop ways to keep people from texting and browsing during the films. This is an issue for theater owners who are battling against anything that diminishes the special nature of the moviegoing experience. They are bleeding patrons, after all. Most of us do the calculation on any new movie: can I just wait to view this on the home big screen without the outrageous cost of refreshments, the agony of line waiting, etc.? And when hundreds of people are in the theater essentially treating the place like their living room, then what is the point?
Given the smartphone’s highly personal nature, and our obsessive use of them, is it possible for an app to change behavior? After all, we have app-based training coaches and activity monitors, a back channel that gives encouraging feedback. And geolocation and location profiling even can detect pretty much where you are and infer what you may be about to do. It doesn’t take much of an algorithm to divine what you are doing at Krispy Kreme, after all. The basic intimacy and mechanics of a phone embed some of the very models used by behavior mod systems -- monitoring, alerting, rewarding. It may not all add up to the technology of the Ludovico treatment in in “A Clockwork Orange” but there does seem to be something there.
For the clowns at our viewing of "True Grit" the Ludoviko Treamtnet would have been too good for them, and even then it wouldn’t work. And there is a logical flaw in CineMode. My guess is that anyone who would tend to use it is not likely to be texting during the movie anyway. For most users it just becomes a way to get rewarded for their natural courtesy.
But it raises an interesting prospect, albeit idyllic. Can we have apps that reward people for not butting into line? For keeping their banshee children under control in public places? For using their turn signals before they change lanes, not after? For keeping their ringtone volume down below boom-box levels? For not double dipping? Could my phone emit a ‘Do Not Pester’ flag that goes to the cell phones of all those mall kiosk sharpies and overly helpful store salespeople who won’t just let me browse? Can smartphones have voice meters coupled with geolocation so they can detect and warn against your having a highly emotional discussion about your last breakup with “that rat bastard” in the middle of a Target where everyone else is being creeped out by your broadcasting such intimacies to strangers?
There are so many common courtesies begging to be rewarded. My guess is that mobile coupons are not enough to incentivize us out of a culture of self-absorption, however.
But now I am starting to sound like I am 54. Do you realize how many damned ads for TV shows there are during the movie previews now? When did that happen?