I had the great pleasure to attend this week's U.S. Open Championship golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. All in all, it was a remarkable experience on many levels:
- the immense skill displayed by the players (as of this writing, Rory McIlroy was running away with the tournament),
- the beauty and challenge of a U.S. Open-caliber course, and
- the sheer logistical effort associated with getting approximately 45,000 patrons to and from the event, around the premises etc.
But the most interesting thing to me, something I haven't seen in many years, was an almost total absence of mobile devices: phones, cameras, PDAs, and the like. The USGA bans mobile phones and cameras from the Open to prevent distracting sounds at inopportune times, and spectators were told that mobile phones and other devices were not permitted on the grounds or even the shuttle buses. In fact, we were wanded at the entrance to the club to enforce this, and there were "disallowed items" tents where spectators were forced to check their devices.
- People lacked access to information they were used to ("Did Havret win the British Open?" "What's Phil Mickelson's wife's name again?" "What time is it? I don't wear a watch anymore.").
- Coordinating meetups was exponentially more difficult than it had been since, say, 1995. Something as simple as "Meet me at the concession stand behind the 7th green" had to be planned out before arriving at Congressional.
- A profusion of what looked like spasms from people continually and reflexively patting their pockets or groping for an absent belt-holstered phone.
- People were more engaged with what was going on around them (one of the great events in golf), and with each other, actually looking one another in the eye and mostly listening when spoken to.
- Other than some "overserved" patrons, people were generally walking in a straight line, with purpose, toward their destination, rather than weaving, head down, oblivious to the flow of people around them.
Overall the effect of this grand social experiment was...refreshing. I don't know when or where I'll see something similar, but it made me cherish the "unplugged" time even as I counted down the hours until I could tweet and blog about it.
[Note: A great article in the Washington Post about this phenomenon today provided inspiration for this post.]