Smartphone Ovation

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It was a good-sized elementary school auditorium, completely filled with maybe 300 people in attendance. Little brothers and sisters sat on their parents' laps or cross-legged on the floor. Every child had a part to play. My daughter's first grade class was dressed as elderly townspeople.

I'd never seen "The Music Man" before. I didn't know how to compare the kids' performance with the real thing. But there were some nice solos and it was obvious that the effort was there.
After the curtain fell, the cast took turns to bow. Older students held kindergarteners' hands. Their expressions beamed for praise. The director pumped his fists in the air. Someone whistled. Feeling a spark of excitement I stood up and clapped loudly.

After a few moments I realized that something was wrong. No one in front of me had risen to their feet. It was strange. The applause was weak. I turned and saw one or two other parents standing for the ovation. But the rest remained seated. With arms extended and faces bathed in bluish white light, about half of the crowd silently snapped away on their smartphones.

The cast of kids seemed unfazed by the paltry reaction from the crowd. They didn't know how much louder it should have been.

Later, on social media, everyone agreed that it was an amazing performance. But in the moment of the applause the exuberance had fallen short.


I've never forgotten when my own fifth grade class sang the music from "Cats." The reaction from the crowd was spontaneous and raucous and real. Frozen in awe, I knew that my classmates next to me couldn't move either. Sure there must have been cameras flashing, but not too many. In the front row tears ran from Mrs. Masserini's eyes. It was euphoric. I wondered if my daughter would ever have the opportunity to experience something like this.

I'm guilty of checking my e-mail at my kid's soccer and baseball games. Sometimes I find myself scrolling through social media during a conversation. The subduing of audience ovations is only one of the many ways that the smart phone has disconnected us from each other and ourselves. But it is a particularly troublesome one. There are some moments that we should all be in.

It isn't possible to clap when you have a phone in your hand.

With a Perspective, this is Jonathan Slusher.

Jonathan Slusher is a stay-at-home father and former partime New Jersey Turnpike toll collector. He lives in Half Moon Bay.