Me in 2012 enjoying some early morning quiet.
When Zoe was a baby, I would sneak out around 6AM, while she and K were still asleep. I’d high tail it to the car, get in like it was an actual escape, and drive off in a hury. I’d stop for coffee and drive to a park. Then I’d shut off the car and just sit in silence. It was beautiful. It was calming. It kept me sane.
In the wake of my sister’s death, silence became increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually, I phased out the periods of quiet on which I had become so dependent.
A recent New York Times piece argues that we need more than just audible quiet: we must have mental quiet, too.
A FEW years ago, in a supermarket, I swiped my bank card to pay for groceries. I watched the little screen, waiting for its prompts. During the intervals between swiping my card, confirming the amount and entering my PIN, I was shown advertisements. Clearly some genius had realized that a person in this situation is a captive audience. Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it.And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging.
Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think. What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.
The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.
Reflection for the day: Turn off the notifications on all electronic devices for the night. Enjoy.