movie theater texting

For most cinephiles, there’s nothing more obnoxious than a glowing cell phone screen in the middle of a dark theater. But the fact is that there are plenty of other moviegoers who don’t mind, or even prefer, texting during movies. And now some theaters are experimenting with a new way to welcome them. Certain cinemas in China are rolling out “bullet screens,” which will display text messages from the audience about the film that’s playing. More details after the jump.

According to THR (whose story was accompanied by an adorable illustration of a dragon family at the movies), Chinese people in general and young Chinese people in particular like to watch films on their tablets and smart phones, while trading messages with friends. The new bullet screens would simply replicate that experience on a larger scale.

The idea is being tested in locations all around the country including Beijing and Shanghai, and so far the results have been mixed. Some have criticized it as a disruption and a distraction, while others praised it as a positive “reform.” Even some filmmakers are on board, including Shen Leping (The Legend of Qin), who said such viewer feedback could be “very helpful” to filmmakers.

While the bullet screens have yet to reach the U.S., it’s not farfetched to think they might if they take off in China. After all, American moviegoers are similarly split between those who love the “second screen” experience and those who hate it, and movie theaters have alternately tried clamping down on mobile devices and catering to them.

Even individual viewers don’t always behave consistently. Alamo Drafthouse devotees who’d never dream of whipping out their phones at a public screenings still live-tweet Sharknado from home, for example. But the public-private distinction is important here. I’ve no problem with people texting in front of their own TVs, but as more and more theaters try to normalize that behavior, I fear iPhone-free public screenings will become rarer and rarer.

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