April 21, 2010

In pursuit of silence.

I work at a computer all day, quietly, not saying a word. Yet, I tell my partner, once I'm done with work I crave stillness.

Not talking does not mean there is no noise. While we're at work a million things go through our minds, dozens of "non-verbal" conversations take place (Twitter, Facebook, SMS, MSN, e-mail, etc), ideas come and go.

Every e-mail & every article I read is part of the daily conversation that goes on in my seemingly quiet world. Once I'm off the grid, I don't want to have to think about these things. I also don't want to engage in small talk about my day or what I had for lunch with my partner, at least not within the first hour of finishing work. My favourite thing to do is head straight for the pool, where the water envelops me and I can't hear a thing.

Although, you could call this a form of escapism masquerading as "exercise".

In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, a book by George Prochnik, helped me rethink my definitions of silence and noise.

Right on the outset it says "More than money, power, and even happiness, silence has become the most precious—and dwindling—commodity of our modern world."
In order to understand the pursuit of silence, it would be necessary, also, to track the pursuit of noise. The two were bound together -- each, in its own way, was reactive. It's a torrid, choppy affair that we are often in denial about, or tend to laugh off as a bass-heavy, summer's night fling. But it seems to have a surprisingly tenacious hold on us, and if we are ever going to being making a serious investment in the cultivation of silence, we have to understand how we became so entangled with noise. 
Instead of being against noise, I think we need to begin making a case for silence. This means getting imaginative about expanding our understanding of silence in ways that develop associations between silence and a vibrant, fulfilling life. Anti-noise activists often compare noise pollution to air pollution. But unlike smoke, lots of noises are good, at least some of the time. Instead, we might frame noise as a dietary problem. Most of us absorb far too much sonic junk. We need to develop a more balanced sound diet in which silence, and sounds we associate with quiet states of mind, become part of our daily regimen. 
Prochnik concurrently maintains a blog of silence as well.

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