Thursday, March 15, 2012

The sounds of silence

I'm thinking about silence tonight. Specifically, lack of shouting and outrage and earnestness. So that would be silence online, I think.

I'm working on a really interesting story at the moment, one that requires me to delve deep into the future. It's a fascinating place, the future. I'd tell you about it, but that would negate the need to write the story and then where would we all be?

In the course of working through my story, I found myself talking to a social researcher (SR) this morning. (As an aside, I think that if I were to ever decide I didn't want to be a writer anymore, I'd find myself heading in that direction. Finding out what makes us tick, why we live the way we live? Oh yes, I could do that when I grow up.)

Anyway, today's lovely SR is researching, among other things, the effects of social media and other technological advances on we poor guinea-pig humans. The fact that delving regularly into this brave new world may bring on as-yet-unforeseen health problems in the future. The fact that so much information shared so quickly and with such instant responses required might be affecting the way our very brains work.

I ventured that there are days when I find the levels of outrage on the internet to be exhausting. If it's not one thing, it's another. One corner of my brain recognises that outrage drives traffic, the rest of it is left thinking 'really? again?'.

My friendly SR laughed. We agreed that at least on the internet you can look away.

We live in a world where opinion is currency. Look at me, having one right here. It used to be about facts, balance. There'd be one or two columnists in a newspaper or magazine. One or two opinion pieces dispersed through a sea of third-person features or objective news reports. One or two pieces that began with 'I'.

Now it seems that 'I' is all there is. Particularly online (just look at the first word in this post!). So many voices out there shouting to be heard.

You have to wonder, though, who is listening? Everyone and no-one?

[image: Sounds of Silence 2 by JKphotography/etsy]


  1. Brilliant post Al. I think about this often. The world has changed and moved so fast even in the last five years. I keep waiting for the bubble to burst, the internet information overload bubble that is. But sadly, I don't think it will.

    Oh and yes, I would love to delve into SR. Fascinating indeed.

  2. I find it absolutely intriguing must be a frustrated sociologist!
    I was discussing some ideas with my uni supervisor the other day about the power of blogging, the role of sharing your inner most thoughts and the way in which sharing can feel anonymous despite everyone being able to read them. Its odd how willing people are to be hostile and rude and unforgiving, I often wonder where all that hatred went in the days before social media. Maybe I was just hanging around with the wrong people?

  3. Sometimes I find myself so exhausted trying to keep up with blogs, FB, twitter. The pace of information sharing is astonishing. Incredible and sad at the same time. It's almost like you read and absorb someone else's opinion before you even get a chance to form your own. An amazing development for the modern world but sometimes I think we'd all do well from just turning everything OFF for a while.

    1. Love that Bridget - that's exactly what it is. You feel as though you've absorbed someone else's opinion before you get a chance to form your own.

  4. Sometimes (no actually, a lot of the time) Al you just take my thoughts and crystallise them for me. The outrage and spin side of things sometimes puts me off the whole writing gig a bit. The fact that most of the time 'factual and balanced' isn't good enough - there needs to be a healthy dose of "and here's what I think" in order for your words to be heard. And then they get drowned out in a tidal wave of return opinion. Sometimes I too seek out the silence just so I can form an opinion on my own!

  5. Yes. What the other said, about this being an excellent post.
    Those parts of the internet where people get all venty and agro and annoying are the bits that I avoid like the plague. I prefer the quiet and gentle parts I think (to which this blog belongs).
    But it will be very interesting to see what social media does to us in the future.

  6. I agree on the issue of media outrage... I get a bit tired of causes, challenges etc wafting about via social media and I worry the resulting fatigue means we won't be ready when we really need to focus (akin to 'the boy who cried wolf'. Sort of!)

  7. Silence... separation... the chance to think my own thoughts... yes, that's something worth pursuing once my current project is over! I have to turn off, stay away from the shouting – the outrage – just to function. I'd forgotten that! My Mum wonders why I don't watch or listen to the news. I can't - I get too angry and frustrated with the world and that rolls over into my "real" life.

    Yet, online I find my peace too (totally agree with you about this space, Amanda!). It's nice knowing I'm not on my own; reassuring that maybe the world is wonderful place after all.

    Thank you.

  8. I actually don't love the silence, except for when I'm walking and even then I talk to whichever dog I am walking. Even when I am home alone I turn on some inane (spell check?) movie and then enjoy my version of silence.

  9. With two kids in the house, silence is a rare thing!

  10. yes online social networking can be draining and although there is no physical noise, its still creates at times an inner 'white noise' - and you know its time to literally switch it off, problem is some never switch off.

  11. On the silence point, I had a bit of an epiphany about all this stuff last year – about the pressure to keep up with all the info – which was overwhelming even though I don't have an iPhone, I'm not on Twitter etc. Perhaps it's because, deep down, I'm always going to be a journo?

    Anyway, I can't remember how I stumbled across Leo Babauta's – and then his Zen Habits site – but it was exactly what I needed. Totally recommend reading his stuff on the importance of silence, on refusing to be always available to the rest of the world's demands, and decluttering the info coming your way.

    On your point about 'I opinions', Mia's column on the weekend had a similar sentiment on how everyone is now an 'expert' – and while I'm all for questioning the status quo, I'm not sure we benefit from all the extra noise these opinions make.

    (And I'd like to be an anthropologist or philosopher when I grow up.)


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