It’s 4 PM on a Thursday afternoon and both of my hands are under an LED-lit fan, as I impatiently wait for my manicure to dry. My iPhone lights up from inside my handbag and I instantly glance over. “Have you heard of Sofar Sounds?” it reads, “Was thinking it could be fun for tonight.”
I don’t know if what I’m reading is a typo, or if Sofar Sounds is a bar I’ve never heard of — but I risk my barely-dried nails to search “SOFAR SOUNDS” on my phone.
I immediately find the Sofar Sounds website, along with its tagline: “Get Closer: Intimate gigs all around the world.” I learn that the organization holds small concerts around different cities, encouraging guests to experience music in a new, personal way. The company uses everyday spaces to hold live shows around the city, creating an immersive atmosphere that allows guests to discover small artists in secret venues. “I was going to a lot of concerts and noticed how easy it was for everyone to get distracted from the performance in front of them,” says Rafe Offer, the co-founder and CEO.
In my experience, first dates typically include a subpar mojito at a local bar, a few laughs, and lots of awkward phone-checking. Needless to say, showing up at an impromptu, intimate concert seems like a completely foreign concept. Then, something else on their site catches my eye: “We ask guests to refrain from talking or texting.”
First dates are awkward enough on their own. A date without a phone? That’s an even more foreign concept. I love music and I’ve been to lots of concerts, but plenty of them have concluded with a dead phone battery from filming each song and sharing a live clip with my Snapchat followers and Facebook friends.
The thought of turning my phone off during a first date made me immediately uncomfortable, and I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. In a world where our phones function as extensions of ourselves, we tend to turn to our devices as security blankets, often feeling incomplete, or “off,” when we’re separated from them.
Uneasy and slightly anxious, I reply, “Sure!” and meet my date on the Upper West Side, only a few hours later.
Sofar Sounds prides itself on a process that keeps each show’s lineup a secret until the show begins, so as we walked into a small youth hostel, the venue for the night, neither my date nor I knew what to expect. We sat on the wooden floor next to fifty other strangers, and were kindly asked to put our phones away in order to enjoy the music without distractions, and create an environment for the guests and artists to be brought closer together. We awkwardly chuckled as we turned off our phones, checking for any last minute texts or notifications before the first artist entered the room.
Two and a half hours, and four talented artists later we were thanked for attending the event and encouraged to turn our phones back on, and even follow the evening’s performers on social media.
As I got back to my apartment and texted my date a typical “I had a nice time” thank you, I didn’t feel compelled to spend the rest of my night scrolling through Instagram or catching up on emails I had missed. Instead, I thought about the room of people who turned their phones off to connect with one another and take in music in a way that our electronics often don’t allow us to do. I think a lot about the importance of unplugging and recharging, but when push comes to shove, why is it so hard for me —for most of us, really — to detach from devices?
Don’t get me wrong. The experience of venturing outside my comfort zone and stepping away from my hand-held security blanket was exactly that — uncomfortable. But, in a world where we constantly swipe, scroll, tap, and unconsciously detach from the present moment, there was something surprisingly comforting about spending a few hours in a room without screens, simply sitting with other people and listening to music. I might even consider shutting my phone off at concerts (and on dates!) more often.