LD On The DL: Texting and The Console

The Knickerbocker Orchestra was playing at a concert a few months ago, and I was running the light board. They were enchanting, and the audience dreamily stared at soloist as she played music which spoke, no, sung, directly to our hearts.

Then my wife texted me. Done yet?

So I responded, but it got me thinking. Most of us have smart phones, most of us text, so where exactly do we stand as an industry on texting while driving lighting and audio consoles? I thought of three obvious arguments against texting, however, I'm not real convinced by them.

One argument is while texting the operator is probably not paying his or her full attention to the show or event. Bad things could happen! A PAR 64 lamp could explode and rain glass fragments on the stage, or, God forbid, the band suddenly switches from “The Thong Song” to “Wind Beneath My Wings” leaving you, the programmer, screwed. Or, perhaps, some errant, wailing cello starts to mess up the house mix.

On the other hand disasters rarely occur and the expectation one is to keep absolute attention is far-fetched. I worked for a regional musical theater company as a spot op for a summer and after the 200th show I think I could have done my job from muscle memory alone. Having turned off my higher cognitive functions (to enable the quicker passing of time), even without texting it's not like I was paying strict attention to the stage. Here in New York I see some light board-ops reading novels by the third show while the sound guy tweaks his next show on Q-Lab. And, maybe, not paying strict attention to the show itself is a good thing.

That same summer I ran the light board, once, and I was really into the show but ended up missing some huge percentage of my cues. Not good. At an event these days a programmer is monitoring the up-lights around the room, scanning for potential safety concerns on the rig, handling the movers, and accepting his or her next gig via text messages. Good or bad, they are not focused on any one thing. Better to be constantly scanning the room, rather than being emotionally caught up in the happenings in it. So ten years ago it was a book, and today it's a phone. The medium has changed, but the programmer in this example is no less or more engaged than he or she was before texting.

A second argument, related to the first, is that while texting there will be a delay in response time. Research is pretty clear that multi-tasking is not the brain's preferred modus operandi. It dislikes switching back and forth between tasks. Thus, if anything were to happen that would require immediate attention, there would be a delay while your brain re-focuses on the task of running a console.

Yeah, but, we're not flying a plane or driving a car. Apart from cues which trigger motors for a live move, it's hard to imagine any push of the GO button or move of the fader having life or death implications. Shows usually start and end without incident. This negates the need for split second decision making which requires constant, focused attention.

Furthermore lighting and sound consoles these days are quickly becoming robust, mini computers. They handle more of the operator's workload than prior generations while offering designers a level of customization not thought possible twenty-five years ago. Thus operators have some extra free time, since “getting it right” is the console's job now. We just trigger the elaborate system's initialization. Texting or any other form of distraction may be an inevitable by-product of the evolution of such advanced consoles.

A third argument is that while texting, the operator could appear as if he or she is blowing off the gig. I know all of us would hate to send the wrong message (That pun was so intended!) to our client's. I've said it before: All of us are in the business of managing our clients' expectations first, and we work hard to give the right impression.

This is a good argument, except for the fact every client I've ever had is texting too. How do I know this? Because sometimes they are texting me! Favorite client text: Earliest opportunity BO [blackout] stage and get these [insert bad word here] people out. It's kinda hard to get on a high horse about texting when all the bosses are doing it too. In fact a quick glance around a job site and you'll see that everybody is texting pretty much all the time. Has anyone tallied up how much lost time this adds up to?

Ultimately, I think it boils down to one thing, when an operator ... Oh … hold on a second…. wife just texted, wants me to bring home eggs.

So, what we were talking about again?

 

Lance Darcy is a Lighting Director and Director of Photography for The Lighting Design Group, based in New York City.  

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