Cheating on Your Cinema: Why So Distracted?

By Sruthi Dhulipala

When was the last time you saw a good movie?

Now, answer this: when was the last time you “watched” an entire movie? Note the difference between the two questions: the first one did not enquire about your constant mental presence in the film, while the second one did.  

Let me explain…

A week ago, I decided to reward myself with an authentic movie experience, bringing out the cinephile in me, and going to a movie theater. From the minute I stepped into the theater, my mind hit first gear into its track of thoughts. Even though I looked forward to a delightful dark-lit Dolby surround experience, I was constantly assessing the people around me. Nervous that the noisy teenagers sitting in front of me would be chatty throughout the movie, or the guy beside me would not stop his texting, I started to think – did I really need to drag myself here? Maybe I could have watched it in the sanctity of my own house, on my HD TV? Why was I so distracted?

Distraction – the Devil’s Spawn!

Do you ever settle down to watch a great movie, with your Diet Coke and bucket of popcorn and moments later, you’re no more in the present?

Uh-oh, did I leave my laundry half-done? Did I complete all tasks on my checklist for the week? As the movie progresses into its first half, I find myself thinking about things in my life, and end up missing chunks of the story or dialogue. Sounds familiar? It is truly challenging to transition between work and pleasure. If only there were a switch between thoughts, just like how you could turn your smartphone off. The constant creeping of these other fragments of our world makes every leisure experience half-fulfilled. 

This is distraction! According a study conducted with 2250 adults by two Harvard psychologists, 47% of people spend every hour getting distracted. Similar studies confirm that we are addicted to distraction and love looking at our phones or thinking about something else. Over time, we enjoy the prompt fulfillment (instant gratification) and continue our patterns, even while watching TV or movies.  

Additionally, cinema theaters must keep up with our rapidly changing mindsets and habits. The digital age offered us a vibrant palette of streaming and social media, making it arduous for us to consume content wholesomely. Companies like AMC are trying to keep up with our trends by adding a 360-degree surround sound to increase involvement in the movie, comfortable recliners, bars, interactive lounges, and not to forget – the interesting and themed food and concessions.

Smartphones – Can’t Shake them Off!

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

A 2018 Nielsen study reported that 45% of their respondents used smartphones while watching TV or a movie! Mary Meeker, an American venture capitalist, says that 71% of these people are “researching” the show or movie they are watching – learning about the plot, quick facts, etc. And, 41% are scrolling through their social media platforms. (June 11). Imagine the tens of thousands of buzzes and clicks around the world intruding over the ambiance of an ideal cinematic experience.

We don’t want to put our phones down, even while watching our favourite movie or TV series. One reason could be because we are not totally invested in the script of the movie. We know we can keep up with the story even while simultaneously using our phones for other purposes.

But, this to me, is not an equivalent of a wholesome cinema-watching experience. And of course, another reason for our constant digital use could be us texting our friends actively about the movie. Or, tweeting our opinions about the plot to engage with people around the world who are experiencing the same event in their life, in the new era of Social TV and sharing as we go about building communities or brands by engaging with the worldwide universe.

Do All Movies Demand Deep Focus? 

Do all films need our undivided attention? I tend to zone out while watching an everyday romantic comedy, maybe because I know how the movie will pan out – guy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Or maybe, reality wants to take up most of my mind when I watch clichéd happily-ever-afters; the same mind that decides to keep a deep focus when watching the murder mystery of a small-town schoolgirl.

Movies can be mundane or distracting for many reasons. To some watchers, the constant repetition of cliché or the obvious is boring. Without dramatic twists every now and then, the mind tends to veer off or space out.

Our attention spans are led by our diverse interests, music, dialogues, costumes, dreams and so much more. To go beyond the instinct of turning-off, and actually connecting to a movie plot or its characters is overly ambitious in a stress-filled era of smartphones, student loans, and substantial taxes.

The next time, you step out to your local multiplex, or when you snuggle into your cozy comforter to stream a favourite movie, think about the persistent distractions that will hinder your movie-watching experience, and maybe tune them out. How? Use mindfulness apps, watch calming videos, maybe pick up your favourite craft kit, or just take a deep long breath and a moment to relax! We all deserve to hit pause on our regimes to enjoy our favourite chick flick, drama, or sci-fi fantasy. What’s keeping you from enjoying true cinema?  

Sruthi Dhulipala is the Global Communications Specialist at Autodesk in California, USA, and is soon moving to Canada.

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