Thoughts & Ideas

On Abundance and Deficiency: Silence and Noise

If silence is golden, what color is noise? I ask this question as I am bombarded by noise: distractions, information, “stuff.” Music plays in the background, giving my life a soundtrack; an internal laugh-track laughs at every one of my jokes, giving my life meaning; and the images and words of journalists, news anchors and pundits give my world context.

Visually and aurally, progress is becoming exceedingly noisy as more things vie for our attention. Advertisements and advice, news and trivia, meaningful words and pointless punditry, latest technologies and past innovations, who to vote for, which book to read, why reading doesn’t matter, how to be happy and fit, how to succeed in business without really trying, it’s all there and more, in the guise of making us better people. But it’s still noise. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned silence?

Silence and Noise–Visually

Stillness vs. Motion: There is something about the calming nature of stillness, a complete lack of motion. We notice when there is no breeze, the stillness of the air. A soft gentle breeze blowing through the trees is often a picture of serenity and tranquility. Yet, too much wind is scary and destructive. Look no further than the destruction caused recently by tornadoes and hurricanes.

Visual stillness–as represented by media such as photography, painting, drawing and sculpture–can imply a sense of motion, but often the inanimate qualities of those particular mediums force us to stop and ponder the meaning of the art piece. As motion is added, in the case of film and television, the elements of noise available in those mediums increase infinitely, and even the absence of audible noise itself can be noisy.

How do we process the motion? Do we have a harder time stopping ourselves from moving while allowing the visual silence and noise to envelop us? Do we lose focus the faster images are cut together? How quickly do we change the channel or stop the movie when we are bored or fail to see the relevance?

Order vs. Chaos: In many ways, visual silence is bringing order to the chaos of visual noise. Whether that is through form, composition or simply choosing to hold on a specific shot longer, this desire to be less noisy can actually increase understanding of artistic intent. But, it is easier to allow the chaos to unfold instead of processing, analyzing and bringing a visual sense of order.

Chaos can be interesting, and if that is your intent, excellent. Use it. Embrace it. But if you long for understanding, purpose and meaning, you are going to need to allow your audience, the people viewing your visual imagery, time to process what they have seen. Perhaps that is why films end a scene by fading to black, a visual form of a breath, giving us a moment to relax and let thoughts move throughout our mind?

Noise and Silence–Aurally

In the realm of hearing, noise and silence is easier to distinguish than in the visual spectrum. While there are certain similarities between visual and aural, audible noise affects us in deep ways, especially as we look at a trait that is in decline in our modern times: Focus.

Distraction vs. Focus: I love to listen to music, especially the hard rock sounds of crushing rhythm guitars, pounding drums, and thundering bass. But I find that the louder the music, the less I am able to focus on tasks that require intense thought and purposed action. When skills are internalized and have reached a certain level of mundanity, the music becomes louder. But as I move beyond my comfort zone, the volume decreases. Eventually, I have to stop the music, turn off the phone, and focus.

Once I am done stretching myself intellectually, music and other sources of noise are re-introduced, and I move throughout my day.

Ignorance vs. Intelligence: Is there a correlation to the amount of noise in someone’s life with their level of ignorance or intelligence? Does the volume of noise matter? If you are constantly distracted, are you able to effectively learn? Does that even matter?

The establishment, maintenance and growth of our individual intelligence is critical in order to fight the collective ignorance that we face throughout society. The only way to grow is to endure moments of silence, because in those moments, we are confronted with the thoughts that are in the forefront of our minds. Could that be the reason we love noise so much and why progress is so noisy? Because we are afraid to be alone with our thoughts?

It’s All In Your Mind

Ultimately, whether you choose to succumb to the noise or fight for an increased amount of silence depends upon one thing: your mind. The more you learn about yourself, listen to your thoughts and become okay with your place in the world, the less noise you will let into your life. If you are increasingly unhappy with who you are and what you do, I believe that your life will be that much noisier.

However, as you long to be at peace internally, which only comes as you “know thyself,” you will strive for more moments of meditation and reflection. It is only in times of silence that true peace is possible.

So, how noisy is your life?