Unplug from the modern noisy world

By Hannah Sparks

Courtesy of iPhone Providers

Above all things, modern life is noisy, both literally and figuratively. Of course, I’m not the first person to say this, nor is this the first ever cluttered, chaotic period of human existence.

For every new technological development or shift in society, there is a hoard of controversial traditionalists decrying the latest advance as the downfall of humanity and seeking a return to a “better time.” Progress is cumulative however, making it such that there really is no going back.

In the Slate article “To Save Everything,The Wrong Way to  Discuss New Technologies,” Evgeny Morozov tries to fight against this kind of attitude, which he calls technological defeatism.

Defeatists believe that, once new technology is introduced, people are helpless to stop its preordained “trajectory” of progress and must conform themselves to the innovations. Morozov says that this isn’t the right way to think about technology, as it introduces unnecessary phobias and anxieties about technology “taking over,” which prevents real change from happening when it’s needed.

If we thought about this technology in a more rational way, we’d realize that humans have created these things, and therefore, we exercise control over them.

And here we come to noise and the active, non-defeatist fight against it which began in the early 20th century. As the sounds of automobiles and factories and the clacking of typewriters and other machines began to disrupt the previously quieter world, anti-noise campaigns began to spring up across industrialized nations.

With dour names like the “Anti-Noise League” and the “German Association for Protection from Noise” (though there is something delightfully snobby about New York’s “Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise”), these groups aimed to return to a pre-industrial hush via laws banning certain sounds, the creation of “silent zones” and inventions like brake silencers and quieter motors.

There was certainly no defeatism there; however, as we now know, the noise never really stopped. But it has changed.

The predominant sounds of today’s technologies are the pitter-patter of laptop keys, barely perceptible emanations from headphones, the soft buzz of a phone on vibrate. The sounds of loud ringtones, an iPod click-wheel or even the obnoxious keyboard of an outdated phone or computer can draw looks of irritation or scorn.

What is likely more easily noticeable are the sights of compulsive phone-checking, ubiquitous ear buds and eyes glued to screens.

We can argue that today’s latest tech is more visual than auditory, but to assert that would be to deny the other kind of noise that nearly-silent devices create: inner noise.

Waiting on expected texts or analyzing cryptic ones, creeping on people on Facebook and constantly checking email are all examples of inner noise. So, however new-agey the term sounds, inner noise adds unnecessary anxiety to an already hectic, stressful world.

This can be seen as stress that people didn’t have before. Take, for example, the exponential multiplication of forms of communication in recent decades. While the trials and tribulations of relationships have affected humanity since the beginning, new forms of instant communication have likely only complicated things further.

The biggest issue with this loud, stress-laden culture is that it largely feeds on itself. It seems that few people nowadays are technological defeatists; rather, people embrace technology wholeheartedly.

Cell phones and related technologies are beneficial to some extent, but more importantly, they’re so engrained in our society that it’s hardly defeatist to say that they’re not going away anytime soon.

It’s important for us to note that these devices contribute to, rather than reduce, the scattered dissonance of modern life.

Our society places a high premium on being constantly busy. Many of the devices we own are made not only to enhance communication, but to give us endless means of distraction to fill the “awkward” gaps in our day when we, for a moment, have nothing to do.

Taking a break in between classes or during work to fool around on your phone has essentially replaced the cigarette break.

This is great news for lungs, but it has basically eliminated the few moments of escape that the break symbolized during the workday. We have to realize that these idle gaps are beneficial and use them to their fullest potential. And there are much better ways to waste time than with Angry Birds.

I’m not saying we should all start smoking, but I do think that we could all stand to take a break from the inner noise that technology creates and clear our minds.

The poem “Leisure,” written by W.H. Davies in the second decade of the 20th century, begins, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” Davies had a point in his own time, and he certainly does now.

Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]