Research shows some festival goers choosing to make memories the old fashioned way

Five ways to respectfully interact with your mobile device and the festival experience.


The uptick in street closures, pancake breakfasts with local politicians, mini donuts and music playing off in the distance can mean just one thing—festival season is upon us.

While most Edmontonians’ social media feeds currently exist as a stream of festival highlights, research out of the University of Alberta shows a growing number of people are choosing to turn off their devices while attending festivals so that they can tune in.

“People are starting to make the conscious decision to either leave their phones in their bags, pockets or even at home,” said Elizabeth Halpenny, associate professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. “They want to fully immerse themselves in the festival experience free of distractions.”

For her research, Halpenny, along with co-researchers Christine van Winkle and Kelly MacKay, analyzed mobile use of patrons during festivals. The study showed that everyday uses like talking, texting and reading online content decreased during the festival, yet functions like capturing images and videos slightly increased during this time. However, the amount of people deciding to disengage with their devices was much larger than Halpenny expected, with non-users citing various reasons—poor wifi connection, desire to disconnect with the outside world, not wanting to interfere with the festival experience—for going digital-free.

Halpenny, who analyzes the role mobile devices and social media plays during leisure time, said despite the move towards a distraction-free festival experience, the use of devices interactively during events is not going away anytime soon.

Her hope is that her work can help organizers better invest their resources in marketing and social media to better engage with their audience, which would ultimately improve the festival experience.

With that, Halpenny has come up with a list of five ways for festival goers to take advantage of the social media opportunities and ensure that good memories are made by all.

1. Research ahead of time

Most festivals have their own social media accounts and/or festival apps. Take some time to look for, follow and add these accounts and apps. Familiarize yourself with festival hashtags and look for ways to engage with the accounts before, during and after your festival experience.

2. Capture and share the moment

Festivals encapsulate many feelings and memories for patrons and organizers alike. Sharing image of food, festival scenery or friends and family enjoying in the experience is generally encouraged. Using those hashtags and tagging festival accounts will help spread the happy memories wide and hopefully encourage more people to take part in these unique leisure activities.

3. Be aware of your surroundings

When taking those photos and videos, be sure to look around you first to ensure you are not obstructing anyone’s view. No one likes to have their view of fireworks or a performance interrupted with someone’s mobile device blocking their view. Festivals are also generally family-friendly. Look around for little ones too, especially during parades, to ensure you are not blocking their views.

4. Be aware of festival mobile use policies

Sharing images and video is great and normally encouraged, but also be aware of mobile use policies, especially during live performances. Festivals that have live shows, musical acts and street buskers can sometimes have a no-recording and flash photography policy. Performers may verbally mention these policies prior to the performance, but also look around for any signage, especially in indoor venues. Try to refrain from talking and texting during a live performance as well. If you need to take a call, remove yourself from the venue or immediate area as to not interrupt the performer or attendees around you.

5. Don’t be afraid to “unplug”

While we all may feel a need to have our phones on us, and compelled to share every moment with our social media networks, taking a digital break and fully immersing yourself in the festival can change the overall experience for you. By leaving your phone in your bag or at home, you may find new aspects to the festival that you may have otherwise missed if you were engaging with your device.

Halpenny's research is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.