12 April 2017

Paperless Programmes

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A Paperless Concert Programme?
For the Millennials, reality only exists through the prism of their smart phones and tablets.  To engage with them you must address them through their devices, and to achieve this you need to understand that face to face, verbal and written interaction is meaningless.

Not my words but those of a marketing guru whose workshop on how to sell to the current generation of teens and twenty-somethings I attended on the basis that I occasionally do some advertising copy-writing and I wanted to get to understand how to communicate with the modern tech-savvy generation from whom I feel totally detached.

Clearly what the guru had to say made good sense, and armed with advice and guidance from one of the break-out sessions, I decided to do my own bit of “engagement” by starting, for the first time, a Facebook account.  Despite my protestations that I am a really with-it bloke who knows modern technology so well that I can administer a blog and, with a lot of trial and error, send a five word text message to the wrong recipient, I was told that this is pass√©.  With the tiny, visually-driven attention-spans of the Millennials whose world revolves around bite-sized morsels of dubious value (but elevated to importance by the mere fact that they exist on social media), I needed to exist in short sentences of such utter inanity that it would drive me mad but make me exist in their world.

Twitter is a drop too far intellectually, but Facebook, I was assured, would immediately ignite interest and growth. I would be inundated with “friends” and my blog and other writings would experience a sudden upsurge in traffic simply because of my recognised online existence.

Incredibly, this has turned out to be true.  Aiming to be the most friendless person on Facebook, I have accumulated them in their droves in the space of a week, and long lists of complete nonentities of whose existence I have remained blissfully unaware all my life, seem to be beating a path to my Facebook account to befriend me. 

Can I charge them a dollar each for the privilege?  Marketing guru’s assistant thought not.

The problem is I have a life to lead and it seems Facebook requires 24/7 attention (see, I am already writing like a true Millennial).  I can spend time there only once every few days, and good friends who leave messages give up when no reply is forthcoming by return.  So, sadly, while I’ll keep the Facebook going (it’s been wonderful to be reminded of old friends and heroes – Alyn Shipton and Barry Rose take me back through the mists of time) I don’t expect I’ll be able to engage with Millennials – only those who, like me, felt it was worth the effort (or, more likely, felt it was a way of pretending to stay young).

However, since the marketing guru drew my attention to the ways companies engage with Millennials, I’ve understood a lot more of what they are doing. 

Take, for example, the current trend to do away with concert programme notes and, instead, put a bar code by the door of concert halls and instruct audience members to scan it with their devices.  Apparently, as if by magic, this brings up the concert programmes on the screen of your device and you can happily sit in the concert, staring at the illuminated screen (and distracting everyone else’s attention from the action on stage), taking a few pictures and posting them on Facebook while the concert’s going – and if the phone rings (which is unlikely – Millennials, I was told, do not use the phone to make voice calls – ever) that’s a small price to pay.  Concert halls no longer tell you to switch your phones and bleeping devices off – simply to turn them to silent.

For weeks I berated the long-suffering staff at the Esplanade’s Recital Studio, where this is now standard practice.  Indoctrinated over the years to leave phones behind when attending concerts, I now am told that I MUST have my phone to experience the concert to the full.  Now, of course, I realise that this is for the benefit of Millennials for whom reality only exists through the prism of the smartphone or tablet.

However, this was not what I was told by the staff.  They proudly proclaimed that the whole reason for this policy of downloaded programme notes rather than printed ones was their way of showing their concern for the environment.


A few concert programmes printed on recycled paper does far less damage to the environment than the precious rare metals used in the manufacture of smart phones and tablets, the energy used to manufacture and power them, and the irreparable harm to the natural world created when they are discarded.  Batteries leak, harmful acids leach into the ground and plastic cases remain for thousands of years.  If I wanted to protect the environment, I would print programmes any day rather than encourage the usage of electronic and digital devices.

So angry have I been at this appalling piece of blatant hypocrisy, that I have vented my wrath on the issue tirelessly (and not through Facebook) and, perhaps I, and others, have scored a minor victory.  At last Sunday’s recital at the Esplanade Recital Studio in which I was by far and away the oldest audience member – the next being a colleague in his 30s who was, himself, twice the average age of the rest of the audience -  printed copies of the programme were available to all who wanted them.  I notice that even the fidgety kids who spent the concert texting on their smartphones, all had chosen the hard copy programme above the downloaded one.

May this continue.  By all means, attract the Millennials by addressing them through their devices, but please accept that some of us are not Millennials and in our huge, dinosaurian ignorance, we prefer something rather more tangible than a small illuminated screen to help us get to grips with music.

After all, if we geared everything around what the Millennials wanted, how could we cope with the younger generation (the Tenners as we might describe them) who will see Facebook, Twitter, and today’s electronic devices as yesterday’s technology.  Who knows what tomorrow holds, but let’s not abandon yesterday or the day before, just to satisfy a small group who will, in less than a decade, be dismissed as old-fashioned and irretrievably reactionary?

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