Here's a Message for Theater Texters: You're Being Rude. Knock It Off.

By John Kelly
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If history has taught us anything, it's that humans are incredibly inventive. The brassiere, the harmonica, the cannoli, the ink-jet printer: The sheer number and variety of things mankind and womankind have invented is nothing short of amazing.

But what humans seem to be best at inventing are new ways to annoy other humans.

The unholy union of the movie projector and the cellphone is the latest irritation, not because of people who talk on the phone during a film but because of people who text on it. Almost every time I've been at the movies recently, someone has been reading or writing a text on his or her phone, the bright little screen burning distractingly at the periphery of my vision, like some annoying floater shining in the vitreous humor of my eyeball.

I've even noticed it at the AFI Silver Theatre, not the sort of place that attracts unruly teens who shout back at the characters. When I saw "The Soloist" last week, a gentleman sitting alone a few rows in front of me spent the first third of the film consulting his phone, its tiny glowing screen competing with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx on the big glowing screen.

What to do? I was about to creep down and ask him to put the phone away when he got up and left. What vitally important text message did he receive that prompted his mid-movie exit? "My water broke"? "Your pizza is ready"? "We got bin Laden!"?

Actually, I don't care what it was. I just don't want him texting.

Texting during a movie is rude for a couple of different reasons. There's the aforementioned distraction -- the human brain is now wired to zoom in on any and all screens in view -- but there's also the message that it sends: This movie bores me, says the texter. The rest of you morons may be able to suspend disbelief, convincing yourselves that despite sitting in a dark room clutching a $5 soda and a $5 bag of popcorn you're really on the Starship Enterprise or in a secret chamber underneath the Vatican. Not me. I'm wired to the outside world.

For me, another problem is that My Lovely Wife gets even more irritated by movie-texting ("mexting"?) than I do. That means I have to worry about her. How much will she embarrass me with her Charles Bronson-style vigilantism? During a recent high-school band concert (it happens there too, and in live theater performances) she walked down to a teenage girl and whispered, in a voice that I'm sure was honey on sharpened steel: "I'm sorry, your iPhone is very distracting. Can you turn it off, please?"

The girl grunted some sort of assent, lowered the phone on her lap about a millimeter then continued to tap away at it.

I convinced my wife that rather than reenact "Death Wish," we should just move seats. But you can't always do that, especially when texters are spread throughout the theater like fireflies on a summer's night.

"It takes you right out of the movie," Jon Gann of the D.C. Film Alliance told me. "We're all so consumed by ourselves and our technology. If your life is that busy, then you shouldn't be at the theater. If you're that bored, get up and leave."

Some theaters have added "no texting" notices to the "no talking/look for the nearest exit/buy our candy" slides they show before the film starts. One will soon be going up at the AFI, said the theater's Susan Bluttman. "It's getting to be a problem everywhere," she said. "[Managers] have noticed it here. Hopefully that slide will be ready soon and we will alert people to please be aware of their text habits."

A few high-profile Taserings would probably work wonders, too.

Weed Whackers

My column Monday about plant-nappings in local parks prompted several readers to write in saying I may not have seen what I thought I saw. The folks pulling up plants from Sligo Creek could have been "Weed Warriors," volunteers trained and certified by Montgomery County to identify and remove non-native invasive species such as porcelain berry, kudzu and mustard grass.

"I try to get people to understand that if they really want to help save the forest in our parks, one way to do it is to cut the vines off the trees," said Carole Bergmann, the Montgomery Parks forest ecologist who founded the program -- -- in 1999. Other area counties have followed suit.

Onward, brave Weed Warriors.

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