Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Silence is golden, and frighteningly rare

I look at birds differently these days than I used to, ever since getting a great pair of binoculars a couple years ago that opened my eyes to the incredible variety of birds out there.
But I quickly learned that if you really want to see birds, the trick is to stand still for a few minutes and listen. In the stillness, life goes back to normal in the spot you were just about to rush past, and you hear a whole lot of bird talk that you’d never have heard otherwise.
That there’s meaning and purpose in silence is hardly a new philosophy. But it took birds for me to find it, and to remind me of how much of the world we no longer hear simply because we’re drowning it out with our own noise. What will the future hold for this cranked-up, hyper-communicating world of ours if we forget that?
There are days at the bird marsh when the sounds of loud cell phone conversations are just about as common as those of the song sparrow. We’re living in a time when “staying in touch” has morphed from a sweet sentiment about human connection into a jangly way of life that smothers the silences under a din of ringing phones and buzzing Blackberries.
I made the mistake of taking my cell phone with me once on a bird walk - once and never again. I hadn’t expected it to ring, but it did, and I was mortified to be the one disrupting other people’s nature walks.
Choosing not to answer, I then wondered for the entire walk back who it was who had called, as if it made one whit of difference. The only thing that being available for constant communication does is ensure that no time is ever really your own.
I regularly see people interrupting their lunch dates - important ones, romantic ones, it makes no difference - to take a call. I see them digging wildly through their purses and pockets to answer the ceaseless calls of people who simply have to talk RIGHT NOW.
I overhear the most personal conversations everywhere I go, conducted at top volume by someone who I’m quite sure has no idea of how widely they’re disseminating the news of their breakup, medical problem or weight gain. I’ve been in the midst of what I thought was a genuinely engaged discussion with someone only to realize that in fact, they’re sneaking in text messages to someone else.
Until Jack Knox got his Blackberry (why, Jack, why??), I hadn’t realized that the cursed devices buzz every time an e-mail arrives, prodding you into thinking that yes, you’d better answer right now.
Sounds like a genuine nightmare to me. But researchers say they’re finding that wired-up Canadians have actually begun to “crave the idea of access to a world of information,” and to associate their ringing phones and Blackberries with feelings of importance. “Being plugged in validates your importance,” noted Solutions Research Group in a report last March.
The private consumer-research and consulting firm, which conducts surveys four times a year on the communication and technology habits of Canadians, noted rising levels of anxiety in its spring report when people were asked about being unable to use the Internet or their cell phones.
Almost 60 per cent of the 3,100 people SRG surveyed reported experiencing “disconnection anxiety” at the thought of being left out of the communications loop, even temporarily.
“It’s almost like you lose your sense of freedom because you can’t just call someone,” explained one respondent in the Fast Forward survey.
“It’s like you are cut off. You’re just a little person walking around. You might as well be in the 1800s, like you don’t have contact. We are so used to having that with us nowadays, it is like security.”
Just 10 years ago, less than a third of Canadian teens and adults had cell phones. Now, almost 70 per cent of us do - 19 million people. In just four short years, Blackberries and other “smart phones” have emerged from obscurity to rule the lives of more than two million Canadians.
That the din from all that communicating renders us deaf to the small pleasures of life that are audible only in the silences - well, that’s a given. But what else are we no longer able to hear over the din of our constant chatter? How is it possible to think deeply about anything amid all this noise?
The lesson of the birds: Take in the silences once in a while. You’ll be amazed at how much you can hear.

1 comment:

Ferne Dalton, Thompson River, Kamloops said...

Thank you for this. You have put my thoughts into words better than I could. I will pass this on to those I feel connected to. Someday I am hoping our society will be more aware of the rising noise levels around us. I dream of the day of silent motors when we can hear birds on a highway. Wouldn't that be something to experience.