Thursday, March 3, 2011

Breaking the sound barrier

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone"
 Blaise Pascal

With all the people in all the world... and so many of them talking and tweeting and facebooking all at the same time, it seems to me the roar of technology must be deafening. How many bits and bytes and mega bytes and sound bites and videos and messages... "rushing through the air above our heads in a million tiny pieces," to quote Wonka.

The other day I was was standing quietly in a desolate parking lot looking at the evening sky. It seems to me there is a glimpse of infinity at every dusk. Somehow, even though it was very quiet, I found myself thinking about all the invisible noise that goes on around me every day. There are a hundred conversations flying around my head, carried inconspicuously from those nearby, through satellite receivers, to people scattered across the globe. Some of these conversations are very precious. Sisters planning a visit. Lovers trying to understand each other. Negotiations of business. But alot of it is pure drivel - bad hair day!, my breakfast:, he's such a hottie, i'm sooooo bored, lol. The voices join in a chaotic chorus. A roar of human communication. 

What are we saying to each other that's so important? Why is it that we feel this innate need to be digitally connected? What is it that makes us willing to sacrifice our precious time, our creative energy, the company of those around us, sometimes even our lives on the freeway... just to check our phones, just to be up-to-the-minute?

I mean, technology is great, and I'm thankful for the convenience. What intrigues me is when people stop using the tools - facebook, twitter, texting, calls - as the tools that they are, and seem more to be enslaved to the tools themselves. It seems we are caught in the Great Web of social networking. A constant cause and effect of pictures, comments, thought and data.

There's a phenomenon afoot in our culture that may be related. I call it the "oh yeah, me too" syndrome. If you've ever people-watched in a cafe or restaurant you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, because you can observe it happen a hundred times a day. It goes something like this: exactly two people are sitting at a table together. Although they have probably gone to great lengths to make this arrangement happen, at one point the first friend decides to ignore the second one indefinitely in order to make or receive a call/text. Here's where the syndrome kicks in. Within two minutes, the second friend will inexplicably have his cell phone out too, making a call that he seems to have suddenly remembered, or checking his email or something. And all of the sudden, two people who are "having coffee," are actually not with each other at all, they are with two other people. In an interesting twist today, I watched a guy do it when his girlfriend got up to go the bathroom. And when someone answered his call, I heard him say "Oh nothing, just wondering what you were up to." I can't help but think that these - the second friends - are merely doing some strange unconscious gesture to try to prove that they are equal. "Oh yeah, me too. I'm totally as busy... and popular as you are."  I personally don't think the guy needs to prove anything, but he is in fact fighting against an equation which has crept into our social subconscious that says Guy On Cell > Guy Sitting Next to Him.

Are we really so insecure without a phone in our hands, without a wifi connection, without something to do? Are we that afraid to sit quietly with our own thoughts?

When I speak, I want what I say to mean something. To be thoughtful... inspiring... encouraging... or bring cheerfulness. To teach or to ask. To nurture justice and love. I want my words to have substance. Not that I will never speak of trivial things, but that I won't speak just to fill the air with more noise. I want to be unabashedly unafraid of being quiet. 

Sometimes we can say a lot more to each other, and feel a lot more connected, with a smile... or a kind deed, than a million empty conversations fluttering through space.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to my friend Sarah Beth for sharing the Pascal quote with me.


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