Recently on a family trip to see my mother in Florida, it was not hard to notice how noisy the world has become. In years past, when making a phone call in public, we used a pay phone, which was either in a booth with a door that closed behind, or in a cubicle into which we tucked our heads so no one would overhear the conversation. This was not only to politely keep our conversation from intruding into others, but it also allowed us to keep conversations private in a public place.
This is no longer the case. It is all too common in public to hear people on cell phones, often raising their voices several decibels such that their conversations are broadcast to everyone within the proximity of a twenty-five yards.
In the Tampa airport, I learned the speaker was talking to Julie, somewhere in the world beyond, and he was:
. . . just like doing nut'in, so I thought I'd call you and see howse it goin . . . Oh, so nut'ins happen' there? . . . It is like sunny today. . . . oh !! . . . It's raining there? . . .
This goes on for twenty minutes. It is before 7 o'clock so the person must have a plan that gives him "unlimited minutes." Oh joy.
Cell phones have become umbilical cords for people who cannot stand silence, so they must be constantly checking for messages or playing a game to pass another monotonous moment of existence in which they might otherwise be alone in the quiet of their own minds.
If it is not the cell phone chatter invading a person's privacy, it is the incessant prattle from televisions, be they in bars, airports, health clubs, or "wherever," tuned to the likes of CNN where Barbie and Ken newscasters busily repeat the latest happenings every three minutes. Modern newscasters epitomize what Marshall McLuhan meant when he stated "the medium is the message"--the newscasters are more important than the news! In the television polls it is all about who tuned in to see Elizabeth Vargas, Diana Sawyer or Bill O'Reilly and not about the truth and accuracy of what they are reporting.
Try finding a restaurant or bar without televisions hanging from the ceiling beaming images of everything from MTV babes grinding about to the beat of uh . . . uh . . . uh . . . uh to multiple sporting events set to a series of commercials reminding us men we need more beer, Viagra and four-wheel-drive vehicles to scale the mountains.
Not to mention the image of women that is cast upon the television. While men have always been attracted to women, and women, I suspect, do try to look attractive to men, the commercials constantly remind women their beauty really is skin deep and they had better buy the latest shampoo, subscribe to a diet plan and get into those low-riding jeans for optimal performance before men.
While the health conscious citizens in Lincoln, Nebraska, worried about the effects of secondary smoke being exhausted into their lungs and recently passed a law banning smoking in restaurants, bars, and all public places, who is worried about the babble being exhaled into our souls from the radios and televisions in supermarkets, department stores, restaurants, bars, waiting rooms, airports and the like?
Why do moments of silent contemplation continually have to be interrupted by the exhalings of complete strangers trying to manipulate us to buy the latest gizmo or swallow a political position, or by intruding with their one-sided cell phone conversations?
It is good to remember that silence is a virtue that requires a person to be still, to hold his tongue, so he can listen to the inner voice of his soul. It is an ancient adage that "only he who can speak can be silent." While both an animal and a rock are capable of being quiet neither is capable of being silent--that requires an act of the will.
In this I am reminded of Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, who noted that "leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear."
And so it goes. *
"We can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." --Plato