The Rest Is Noise
SPOT.ph blogger Lourd de Veyra savors the silence.
The city hungers for decibels. It is inevitable. Noise and flux are as vital to it as power lines, mammoth concrete pylons, cranes, steel beams that pierce the monoxide sky. It is never sated.
I am writing this at 2 a.m. and not a single minute passes when the bass vowel of a motorcycle doesn’t throb on my window.
I want to write about silence. I want to talk about that space where nothing happens and nothing matters. About retreating. Inward.
Because we have become addicted to noise.
But as a philosopher once argued, silence is not merely the absence of sound.
The irony is that you are reading this on a computer screen, on a tablet, on a cell phone screen. All these, gateways to a world that is about as quiet as a cement mixer. But it is a portal to which we have been dwelling all along.
We are lulled to sleep by sounds from our earphones. We wake up to electronic screeches. Our first instinct, even before stretching our bones or brushing our teeth, is to reach for our phones.
We have become deft acrobats in the circus of inattention. We check in on our posts for likes to validate our existence. Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons. We measure ours in views, likes, and shares. This is now our concept of engagement.
This is now our world. We cannot listen to a song without imposing it on the rest of humankind. We cannot walk on the beach without thinking of the caption for an Instagram image. We can’t even write without taking a screenshot of the blank document with only the title. We can’t even finish work—any work—without announcing it to the universe.
Nothing wrong with that. Except this: of our private musings we have tended to show more to the world than what is necessary. Conversely, we consume more information than our minds require.
Once upon a time, our days ended with the color bars and white static at midnight (Come to think of it: when was the last time you saw static and the station I.D. that played before networks went off-air?).
Before the age of cable, the playing of the national anthem and station I.D. were our guilty cues that it was way past bedtime. The recitation of the engineers' license numbers had narcotic effects on our bodies. That was before colored screens and remote controls.
Now? Before the end-credits of the last show could even roll, we just switch to HBO or Cinema One or any one of the 100-plus channels bundled with our monthly plan. If things get boring on cable, we just turn on our laptops or tablets for Netflix or YouTube or Youjizz or whatever. Thus: the mind and its endless transactions. At 2 a.m., just when we’re supposed to be asleep, an innocent comment on a Facebook post might escalate into a full-blown debate, later on to descend into uncivilized name-calling. Clicking on a cat video connects you to a constellation of funny animal-clip compilations. Before you know it, it’s already five in the morning.
Once upon a time we wrestled with the hobgoblin that is television. Now we’re grappling in the mud with the infinite angel of cyberspace.
We welcome—no, actually, we invite— gatecrashers into what should be our most solitary moments. Likewise, for amusement, delight, solace, we hurl ourselves into this vortex of images and sounds. Horror vacui.
Technology has made it impossible for us to even hear ourselves think. Our heads are always wrapped in 10,000 little tendrils of information. The culprit is that blank box with the imperative “write a comment.” Our fingers clack faster than we can judge, evaluate, discern.
As such, we have debased discourse. That small comment box has unleashed the barbarians in us. We have mastered a new language of hostility.
What has this new technology done for humanity? The masterpieces of our generation were mostly written in ink, by hand or on big, clunky typewriters. Think about it: the Gutenberg press changed how civilization communicated and its first project was the Bible.
Now? Yes, we’ve become more connected than ever before. But we share fake news. We share inanities, glorious, delicious, life-affirming inanities. Likewise in the name of progress and order, we share poisoned entreaties for rape and homicide. At a time when we think we can decide who to consider human and who is not. Maybe this is the very essence of humanity: often distracted, quick to hate and murder.
The funny thing is that under all that noise seems to throb a great, black, howling loneliness.
Understand: each post is a cry for a place in the world. A landscape photograph, a selfie, a long rant, or even the most nonsensical monosyllabic grunt, is a longing for some kind of immortality. Even the lamest of memes or jokes shared is a way of saying, Here I am. I exist.
We have forgotten—there is pleasure, too, in stillness.
Buddhists have a term: “monkey mind.” It likens the fundamental restlessness of the human mind to simian chatter. Now, with all the data and information that assault our every waking second, “monkey mind” should be an insult to all monkeys. Monkeys don’t demand the WiFi password from every store they walk into. Yes, zoo monkeys throw shit at you—literally—but at least they don’t have to Instagram it first.
We were already shallow then. The question is: how much shallower are we now? And the most supposedly profound and brightest of us allow shallowness in the guise of irony, or maybe as playful distraction from our life’s work, and before we know it, we have pummeled our own heads with the blunt instruments of our own contradictions. I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by Facebook.
The developed world knows it: silence is a commodity. But the time will come when it becomes as monetized as something like water. And the Finnish are aware of it.
What about the interior life? That space within us where everything is at rest and content. A song, a poem, a painting enjoyed stays private, destined to dissolve into the mystery that is ourselves. Most of our spiritual initiatives merely revolve around liking and re-distributing posts about cancer patients (“1 click = 1 amen”) or inspirational quotes with dramatic sunsets. We read and share “listicles” about how to be smarter and more successful, as if the wisdom of the ancients and the mental stamina that had become the foundation of all great thought in the world can be imparted in “instantly shareable” bite-sized servings.
The mind-experimenting rebels of a previous generation once urged, “Tune in, turn on, and drop out.” Today’s dissenters should say: “Log out, turn it off.”
Yes, I am addressing you, the one reading this on your mobile device, in what is supposed to be a season of reflection. But for all I know, I may be speaking mostly to no one else but myself.