Hunter Walk proposed an alternative movie theater experience where he'd be able to use his mobile devices and talk out loud:
Look up the cast list online, tweet out a comment, talk to others while watching or just work on something else while Superman played in the background.
Iâ€™d love to watch Pacific Rim in a theater with a bit more light, wifi, electricity outlets and a second screen experience.
If you took a theater or two in a multiplex and showed the types of films which lend themselves to this experience I bet youâ€™d sell tickets.
I don't think it's fair to call a preference a bad idea. As a business proposition, the "I bet you'd sell tickets" part is fair game. But you don't get to tell someone how they should prefer to enjoy any cultural artifact, whether it's popping open a laptop at the movies or reading the ending of a novel first. You can tell people to respect the prevailing rules of etiquette, which is why I don't pop open my laptop at the movies, but Walk isn't suggesting otherwise.
Since the experience Walk wishes for isn't currently available, is it possible that it's a bad idea in the sense that he only thinks he'd like it, but really people are always happier paying full attention to the movie in front of them? The answer is clearly no. Anil Dash writes that "American shushers are a rare breed overall":
The most popular film industry in the world by viewers is Bollywood, with twice as many tickets sold in a given year there as in the United States. And the thing is, my people do not give a damn about whatâ€™s on the screen.
Indian folks get up, talk to each other, answer phone calls, see what snacks there are to eat, arrange marriages for their children, spontaneously break out in song and fall asleep. And that's during weddings! If Indian food had an equivalent to smores, people would be toasting that shit up on top of the pyre at funerals. So you better believe theyâ€™re doing some texting during movies. And not just Bollywood flicks, but honest-to-gosh Mom-and-apple-pie American Hollywood films.
Note that Dash questions what behavior should be acceptable in "regular" movie theaters, whereas Walk is proposing separate theaters to provide a separate experience. The distinction is important, but the point remains: there is not just one way to enjoy a movie in the theater.
I'm reminded of an anecdote from Iron & Silk, Mark Salzman's autobiographical novel about his adventures in China. In one chapter, Salzman tells about his visit to a family that lived on a fishing boat, and what happened when they asked him to play his cello. At first he was disappointed that while he was playing, the family proceeded to ignore him, chatting with each other and horsing around.
But then I remembered what a Chinese friend had told me one night at a performance of instrumental music where the audience talked, laughed, spat and walked around during the show. I mentioned to him that the audience seemed unbelievably rude, and he answered that, on the contrary, this showed they were enjoying it. He said that for the majority of Chinese who are peasants and laborers, music is enjoyed as a sort of background entertainment and is intended as an accompaniment to renao, which literally means "heat and noise." Renao is the Chinese word for good fun, the kind you might have at an amusement park in America, and noise and movement are essential to it.
Compared to these descriptions of accepted audience behavior, Walk's suggestion hardly seems bizarre. Even if it were bizarre, it would fall in the category of "preference", not "bad idea".
Walk is criticized not only for how he wants to enjoy the movies, but for how he wants to use his computing devices. One commenter wrote:
That's the issue with people like you today. You can't put your damn phone down to actually interact with a person or place.
The bad-idea angle here is that introducing mobile devices into the moviegoing experience would aggravate a societal problem that has already gone too far. This is narrow-minded and needlessly judgmental, but it's a common sentiment. I would counter with Rachel Smith's blog post, "What I See When You're Using Your Smartphone".