Offbeat 17 October 2014
Silence is rare. I think the presence of noise is probably a subliminal choice by people, something to which humanity has become habituated and would not be able to live comfortably without.
My dog’s name is Digger, no prizes for guessing why. I haven’t seen him make his way through concrete yet, but he has made valiant attempts at doors. I think if he put his mind to it, concrete, perhaps even stone, would not be much of a challenge to him. Fortunately he has a short attention span. I rarely shut him in or out now, just let him have the run of the place.
Digger is an archetypal dog, full of noise. It’s useful to have him round the place. I like to know when humans are passing in the street, and what kind of humans they are. There are school kids and neighbours who walk along the road. There are also the other kinds of humans who walk past looking into houses. Those are the ones I need to know about, so that I can go to the door and look back at them.
He is accurate to my needs about thirty percent of the time. The rest of the time he makes dog noise, barking at the dog across the road, leaves blowing on the street, passing shadows and all the other things that dogs bark at. I have given up on the idea of telling him to be quiet, and also given up on the idea of silence.
My world is quieter than most. I have the sound of the fan, the subliminal whirr of the computer, occasional cars passing and because I am just a few kilometers from the airport, I get the sound of aeroplanes. Many people live with far more noise: the persistent sounds of radios, phones, offices and workplace noise. The evenings have different noises: people talking in gathering places, the sounds of televisions and neighbours.
What I observe is that there is rarely a moment of complete silence ever, except when there are power cuts, just after people drive off in search of places with electricity. Even then, there will probably be an alarm going off, one of those ones that runs on battery.
Silence is rare. I think the presence of noise is probably a subliminal choice by people, something to which humanity has become habituated and would not be able to live comfortably without. You can observe that in just about any circumstance. If the area around someone goes silent, that person will inevitably find a way to create noise, possibly by turning on a radio, even whistling if need be.
Perhaps it is a case of one of the senses being unfulfilled. The noise completes the need to use the sense of hearing. The sense of hearing is one of the ways in which we orient ourselves to our surroundings, and without noise, we cannot know that we are safe or if there are dangers. It’s probably a primal thing. If the birds go silent, there is a threat in the environment.
But there is a cost to noise. It takes up room in the head at the expense of other senses. It also shuts down thought.
Sometimes silence in the head can be an incredibly useful thing. The ability to stop and think things through is important but all too rare. A moment of quiet produces a better idea than a moment filled with noise and thoughts that are produced with divided attention.
Very often I hear people making the comment that they would give anything for a moment of peace and quiet. In theory some degree of peace and quiet should be possible. Just go somewhere and find a quiet moment to focus on one thing rather than try to survive the divided attention of multiple things. In practice, it never seems to happen. In fact the noise is multiplying as the world becomes more connected and more demands are placed on attention.
One of the strands that is becoming very clear on social media is the need for meditation, finding a personal space to reconnect to the core of personality, rather than responding to others in a reactive and rapid way. I am only now beginning to understand the sense of it. Perhaps, if I make the sacrifice to productivity and socialising I may even find the time for it, somewhere.
I will put that in my head and hope it finds room amongst all the other noisy thoughts. For now the dog is barking, and I have to go outside. Someone is passing and I have to go and stare back.