The Quest for Quiet Is the Latest (Shhh!) Trend
By Dylan Schenker
As a writer, I spend a lot of time staring at a computer. The first thing I do in the morning is flip open my laptop and start looking at my Google Reader. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Click, click, click—as if my sole mission was to know every little thing, just in order to keep up. It may be quiet in the room, but for hours it’s an endless flood of noisy information, softened barely by the glow of the computer screen. And since we’re constantly plugged in, with Facebook and Twitter and Wikipedia, not to mention smart phones and WiFi, when does it ever stop? What happened to…silence?
Apparently, I’m not the only one asking: The quest for quiet is surfacing as a silent trend. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, more people are quieting their lives by taking silent retreats instead of traditional vacations. From pensive hikes in the mountains of New England to meditative classes at a monastery in Iowa, a new wave of destinations offers frameworks for activity that’s decidedly peaceful. (And you won’t risk looking strange or antisocial; you can opt to wear a silence badge like the heroine did in the popular book and movie, Eat, Pray, Love.)
Given the amount of information we have access to, it may seem counterintuitive that silence connects us better to the world around us, but we need those moments of quietude. They allow us to process all that information, to appreciate and reflect on the people in our lives.
The acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton is an advocator of such living. A seeker of natural soundscapes—the songs of birds or the trickle of rain—as well as an Emmy Award-winning sound recordist, he fears that soon there will be no place on Earth where we can escape the sound of technology. In fact, he said in an interview with The Sun Magazine that he believes there may be fewer than a dozen places in the United States where if you sit for 20 minutes, you won’t hear a plane overhead. Hempton’s mission, as outlined in his book, One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Silence in a Noisy World, coauthored by John Grossman, is to preserve these places so we can still escape. Without silence, everything—making a pot of coffee, folding laundry—starts to sound the same, like traffic or your favorite song on repeat. All the distinctions between those sounds and the information we associate with them begin to blur into a wall of noise.
Even automotive companies are passionate about silence these days. The engineers on the all-new 2013 Chevy Malibu were determined to create a roving quiet space to give us a break from our daily routines. And they succeeded. Through a rigorous testing process, they were able to reduce road and wind noise substantially. As Malibu acoustics engineer Kara Gordon explains, “Not only do we want customers to have a quiet experience; we also want them to enjoy the sounds they do hear,” like perhaps a conversation with a loved one, or the music playing or simply their own thoughts. “A quiet car can give us that quiet time we’re looking for, or create a comfortable experience on a long drive.”
This past summer I made an effort to tear myself away from online addictions. I spent less time keeping up with the rat race and more time with myself. It’s funny; you don't really realize the effect noise can have on you until you make an effort to recognize it. I’ve been playing guitar for a decade, and by just closing the lid of my laptop for a while I was able to write and record music for the first time in my life. Shutting off the noise may even welcome a whole new kind of sound.
Dylan Schenker is a Brooklyn-based writer primarily interested in art and new media technologies. He has written for PSFK, The Creators Project and Creative Applications. You can follow him on Twitter: @dylanschenker.