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SXSW Encore: A Phone-Less Festival?

You lost your cell the first night of SXSW Music – now what?
Abby Johnston, 1:55pm, Thu. Mar. 22, 2012
It was only a matter of seconds that it was out of sight and then gone. There it was, sitting on the back of a toilet in the bathroom of a crowded bar. I stepped out, leaving it behind for one second, and by the time the next person exited it had disappeared. How was I going to do South by Southwest without my phone?

My first thoughts were less about the fact that my cell was gone, and more that it was Tuesday of SXSW, the one event permanently marked on my calendar. And now I was missing a crucial appendage.

I left the bar dejected yet hopeful that it could still be returned, but a quickly answered and dropped call confirmed my worst fears. Luckily, thanks to a bit of persuasion and begging to Verizon, they agreed to replace my phone for a reasonable price, but not until the priority overnight shipping came in the next day.

The next day.

The implications of this hit me instantly: I would have to suffer a night of SXSW without my phone. Tuesday commenced music festival showcases and I was ready to use my shiny new wristband, but I'd have to navigate the mass chaos that envelops downtown Austin without guidance or direction.

I was decisively pathetic. I know I could've easily found solutions to my immediate problem, but watching everyone with their personal assistants just a few touchscreen strokes away made me feel positively prehistoric. Last minute set changes would go undiscovered. I would actually have to ask for directions to get somewhere rather than using Google Maps. This was uncharted territory.

I realize I'm dating myself, but I've never had to navigate a festival without a phone. This particular loss hit me hard since my Droid basically dictates my life in such circumstances with my showcase schedules, band notes, and important contacts. Still, as I got off of work at 8:30pm, I dared to venture into the music madness without this valuable piece of technology. After all, I had a plan.

I filled my moleskin notebook with showcases I was interested in, back-up plans if the lines were too long, and the cross streets where I left my bike. I was wearing a wristwatch as more than a fashion accessory for the first time in years, and eager to go to the designated meeting place to meet my friends, as previously agreed upon via Twitter before I left work. 9:30pm: Side Bar.

I waited in the crowded outside area while nervously chewing the straw in my gin and tonic. 9:45pm rolled around and I still hadn't found them. My confidence waned, and I started to resign myself to a night alone. As I trudged towards the door, there they were! Tiny pinpricks in the crowd of people, and I found them! It felt like kismet, much more so than a quick search of the room before a "Where are you?" text.

I began to dream of a reconnection to the mid Nineties, free of technology all the time. Maybe I'd cancel that phone after all and live footloose and fancy free, judging everyone with phones stuck to their ears. A couple of drinks later, my false sense of accomplishment was fading fast as I began to dread splitting from my friends for the night's various shows alone.

After an initial bout of nail biting before the bands started, I found myself creeping toward elation at not being pressured to tweet my every movement. I knew people milling around, but I completely dodged text/call bullets and was able to blend into the crowd to enjoy French acts College and Yelle DJs undeterred by technology. Did I want to take a video of Yelle frontwoman Julie Budet flipping her cute little bob around on stage? Yes. I also itched to upload a video of her flinging herself into the crowd for a dance party, but I got to dance with her unconcerned with someone dumping their drink on my precious smart phone.

It made me think that maybe shows aren't about tweeting to prove you're actually there, or snapping Instagram images. It stripped me of any and all distraction and I enjoyed it in a unique way that I had really lost in recent years. It also saved me from having to give out my number to creepy guys. And hey, I unexpectedly ran into my friends when I moved showcases, a serendipitous sign that the universe didn't completely hate my guts.

My little white iPhone came in the mail the next day, bringing an abrupt end to my melodrama. Could I really live a phoneless life? Probably not, especially considering I receive at least 50 emails a day and have five games of Draw Something going. Smart phones are useful tools that are edging on necessities in many lines of work, but I hope to place less emphasis on its existence.

The main lesson I gleaned is that no one should go to shows to stand there with their face lit by glaring cell phone screens. We go see live music to see music, not announce to the world that we are there.

Here's hoping that from now on my phone dies before shows start.

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