“Auld Lang Syne” is a song made up of words in the Scots language, which means many of us understand only that it's about old friends and days gone by. And yet, "Auld Lang Syne" has been sung at the start of more than 100 new years in North America, including the one we've only just begun. We continue to observe this tradition despite the language barrier, as well as dramatic changes in the world and our way of life. I mumbled through it myself Sunday night in downtown Los Angeles as Lyle Lovett and His Large Band led a chorus in the warmth of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Most of Lovett’s audience stood and sang in happy voices, same as their parents and their parents' parents sang it in their day. Some clutched their sweethearts. Some held hands. It felt very heartwarming and timeless, until I spied three women in about the 25th row raising their Blackberry (Crackberry?) devices aloft and waving the brightly lighted faceplates to-and-fro in unison.
I’d seen this before. The most memorable time was in July 2000, when Don Henley played the Universial Amphitheater. While Henley sang the lyrics of the Eagles’s tune “Hotel California” during his encore, many concertgoers held up cell phones with the green screens turned face forward.
Although some might have done this to share the sounds of the moment with friends in distant places, it's more plausible that most were flipping their phones as an alternative to flicking their Bics.
I have never joined in on this metamorphosis of pop culture, and don't expect that I ever will. When the cellular distractions start to sway, it always makes me shake my head. The open flame of a butane lighter actually improved the ambiance of concerts, particularly during the all-important power ballads of the '70s, '80s and '90s. But a color display? What contribution can that possibly make to a moment, other than proof that, as Henley sang, "we are all just prisoners here of our own device."