‘Silence in the Age of Noise’

For Christmas my dear wife gave me two books with the word “silence” in their titles. Perhaps she was trying to tell me something. They are both amazing. I haven’t shut up since.

Really, though, I seek silence. On land. At sea. It recharges me. Gives me time to wonder. The downside, having experienced the space of silence and solitude, is a low tolerance for noise.

We are gregarious creatures, looking for others and social approval. We have issues with the hermit. The hermit’s weird, right? I remember, last summer, seeking solitude and sailing around to a little cove I was sure would be empty. I was stunned to encounter a rafted group of perhaps 20 center-console outboards crammed into the small nook. One boat had probably texted a friend of a destination idea, and word spread like text fire. There’s not much serendipity anymore. Everyone can know where everyone is. In some ways, I think that’s a shame.

In his book, “Silence in the Age of Noise,” Erling Kagge is eloquent about the silence issue. He’s certainly experienced it, having walked across both the north and south poles. People, he says, often choose to do almost anything to fill the silence with only themselves. Philosopher Blaise Pascal, way back in the 1600s, perhaps put it best: “All humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Last summer, anchored under an osprey nest in one of my favorite Maine hideaways, I heard an incongruous and offensive buzzing, like a loose fly in a small space. It was a jet ski. It zoomed around and around both me and the small island-studded bay – that day and every day thereafter.

I tried to make sense of it, but finally came to the conclusion that this person was just filling space and time to avoid being alone and facing silence. Maybe he had a fear of getting to know himself better and dodged it to do something distracting. Today, it’s frighteningly easy to distract, to dispose of time. Time-sappers are everywhere.

Kagge writes that, according to studies, humans are worse at concentrating than goldfish. They lose their concentration after eight seconds. In the year 2000, it was 12 seconds, while the goldfish averaged nine. With each passing second – in great part due to technology such as phone apps, texts and emails – we are losing our ability to focus on a single topic. The value of concentrated intelligence is being replaced by fluid intelligence. Is there much nourishment in chatter? I think not. I think we’re eating popcorn rather than asparagus.

Humans are insatiable – rarely or never satisfied. It’s why they constantly check their phones, check who likes them on Facebook. All these apps are creating an addiction, one that plays right into the pockets of their producers. It’s as if we’re terrified of boredom.

But, according to Kagge, boredom can be rich, allowing us to reflect on who we are, rather than just filling space until the end. Ideas, I’m thinking, don’t come from jet skiing, or Facebook surfing, or Snapchatting. They come from the world of silence. Not from the world of distraction.

I’m not Erling Kagge, but I have put myself in a remote world of silence many times. It’s where I experienced what’s behind the phrase “silence is deafening.” The picture herein is of that world. It’s of Desolation Sound, British Columbia, a place where one can truly be alone with one’s thoughts. (And I think that’s a misleading name – given by Captain George Vancouver in 1792 – for this magnificent place. I think Vancouver was irritable that day. Needed alone time.)

Maybe it’s not so bad if our jet skis run out of gas once in a while.

Dave Roper’s new novel, “Rounding the Bend: The Life and Times of Big Red,” was released in mid-June and is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

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