Point/Counterpoint: Reading from Smartphones
In my opening argument, I make the claim that ill-prepared performers are awkward regardless of whether they go “analog” or “digital.”
There is an audience present, and considerate readers ought to do everything they can to prove that matters to them.
In Defense of Smartphones
by JD Scott
1a. In my opening argument, I make the claim that ill-prepared performers are awkward regardless of whether they go “analog” or “digital.” Much like you wouldn’t print poems on the back of a Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon because you’re out of paper, or like, in yellow ink because you used the others up, there’s a certain protocol for smartphonians. The most important is: there’s nothing special happening in your hand. You didn’t just touch Beyoncé. Just like how you don’t go up to the mic and say, “Uhh, I’ll be reading… off of… 8 1/2 x 11 inch bright white laser paper… today,” there’s no reason to get all meta and announce how you’re reading off a phone. Displaying shame for reading off a phone is just another facet of this patriarchal bullshit that only values “The Poet” as a dude who lays down in a field and writes about birds and trees and bird ghosts. Print is not more valuable than ethereal server space. We are not that precious. You are allowed to write about the internet and use technology, and it does not make you any less of a “poet” than one who hides in the bushes watching 28 young boys bathe in a lake or whatever. You signed that two-year contract with Sprint to get that luxury phone for “free.” You deserve to use it.
1b. Further stipulations of readiness to demonstrate a prepared smartphoner is equal to a prepared papertarian: turn ‘Airplane Mode’ on so no one can call or text during your performance. Turn off your weird eye scanner unlock screen. Your screen should not dim during your performance (which also adds extra points for ambiance and lighting). Make sure you battery is full. This is no different than having readable text printed on paper. Instead of printing your work out you save it as a PDF and sync it to your Dropbox & BAM!, you’re ready to read in style. Look at you: you are amazing.
2a. Smartphones = statement of chicness. If you have your shit together you can scroll with your thumb with one hand, and [if you possess an additional hand] use your second one for flair. Maybe sip a cocktail while reading. Do a magic trick. Translate your own reading into ASL. Shuffling papers is noisy and sounds like a stork got into your pots and pans and is flapping around madly. Phones: noiseless.
2b. But if you want noise, you can have it. Figuring out how sound can complement your performance is important. Literally any DJ mixing/fart soundboard/spooky ghost echo can be played off from the SAME phone you are reading from for XXXtra effects. WHOA!
- Papertarians are notorious for throwing a page to the ground after every poem. Much like throwing a wine glass dramatically, what looks defiantly cinematic in your own head actually just makes you look like an asshole IRL (also holla @ that moment at the end of the reading where you crawl around picking up pages while the audience gazes on awkwardly). If you throw your phone down at the end of a poem, it just shatters … which actually might be pretty spectacular. Look at that wordless comment on consumerism!
Conclusion: this isn’t 15 years ago when we were all running around with brick-hard Nokias—the extent of their technological performance being an Atari-era game of Snake. Printers have more in common with that decade than they do with the performance of the now. You’re just gonna throw that stack of papers out anyway as soon as you’re done. Most of us have HAL 9000s in our pockets that are capable of displaying every poem we’ve ever written as well as our Kim Kardashian Hollywood dreams. You are the rainforest-saving poet of the smartphone era. The red carpet is being rolled out for you, for you. Now read for us off that beautiful, glowing screen.
An iPhone Is Not a Teleprompter (but that’s a good app idea)
by Adam Robinson
I love hearing new work from good writers, especially poems that are still in progress. I get to hear the newest of the new. I get to be on the leading edge of poetry’s advance guard.
And I’ve benefitted from doing this myself. It’s a great tool of revision, standing in a roomful of smart people and realizing you’re too embarrassed to read something. I’ve learned the hopelessness of a poem or two this way. (Sorry, Forgiving Audience.)
But, since the poems are unfinished test-cases, why should anyone have to print them? Why waste paper? Plus, using a phone reminds the audience that it’s a work in progress. Furthermore, having a complete repository of poems at your literal fingertips allows for spontaneity. You can see what the audience is responding to and plan your reading on the fly.
Recognizing that, I won’t argue that there’s nothing good in reading from a phone. I’ll also say, from the start, that there are probably some Scott McClanahans out there who can use a phone and make it amazing.
But here are some things I’ve seen go wrong:
- not being able to find a poem
- awkward apologies for using the phone
- readers losing their place
- readers ignoring the audience as they try to keep their place
- screens freezing or some other tech problem, like AppleID requests, argh
- bad jokes about apps
- a notification popping up mid-poem, breaking the flow
- the phone and the microphone next to each other creating a strange barrier between reader and audience (phones are held closer to the face than paper)
- there’s a weird glow
Here’s what I do: I plan what I’m going to read given the time allotted. I print the poems in big type. While I read, I might veto a poem at the last minute. Often I’ll move a funny or sad one up in the order.
Afterward I go home and throw the wad of papers somewhere, and three months later I find it behind a shelf and go, like, “ah.” It’s—I’m serious—it’s interesting to remember the things you’ve done this way, to revisit your past readings as if they mattered.
But sometimes I don’t bring them home. In fact, I like to give away the paper I read from, if someone seems interested. One time my friend Chris arrived late to the bar and told me he wished he’d seen me read, so I gave him my pages. Poems should be desirable like the Bob Mould and Moldy Peaches setlists I’d snag from the stage after awesome concerts.
When I ran a reading series called “Say It With Writing” with Stephanie Barber, people often hung out after the show. We’d commonly find ourselves sitting in Stephanie’s backyard, talking about the poems we’d just heard. We’d ask the readers to repeat something. Often we’d pass around their small packet of papers and read them again. Good things come from this. For example, we did this with a poem by Mark Neely a dozen times and I liked it so much I asked Mark if I could publish it, and here it is.
Of course, we could have done this with a smartphone, but I really doubt we would have, drinking canned beer and chillin’ as we were. And I am sure I could have emailed my poems to Chris, just like I could find Bob Mould’s setlist online. But that’s not the point and you don’t have to be a luddite to agree.
There is an audience present, and considerate readers should do everything they can to prove that matters to them. What doesn’t do that? Standing at the front of a room and scrolling through your Evernote, trying to find the funny or sad one.