In Barbara Kingsolver's fascinating new novel, The Lacuna, the protagonist writes this in a 1946 letter:
"The radio is at the root of the evil, their rule is: No silence, ever. When anything happens, the commentator has to speak without a moment's pause for gathering wisdom. Falsehood and inanity are preferable to silence. You can't imagine the effect of this. The talkers are rising above the thinkers."
I'd been pondering the lessening of silent reflection in our age of instant-response blogging and tweeting and the resulting rarity of signal in a tsunami of noise, when I came upon that concern about the effect of radio. Does sound familiar, doesn't it?
Laughing at myself, I pictured a tribal curmudgeon railing against the advent of drummed messages -- "So what's wrong with running to other caves and just telling them the news?" (It's too slow, Pops.) Maybe smoke signals were also decried by change-resistors. We know the greatest communication leap forward -- the printing press -- had its opponents. The hoi polloi getting their hands on books? Surely it was the end of wisdom as then known, to the few.
Despite seeing the absurdity of those nay-sayers of the past, I'm taking a 2010 stand for fewer communications, for timeout for reflection and maybe even a little research before we all hit the Post/Send/Publish buttons. The result could well be more signal and -- wahoo! -- less noise.
Remember the news about bloggers who keeled over on their keyboards, so to speak, so wired to be the first to post in their fields of expertise that they ignored a few basics, like sleeping and eating?
You probably don't know anybody that driven, but a lot of us are still over the line of reasonableness. Are there people you've had to Hide on your Facebook feed because they post nothingness a dozen times a day? Have you gotten unchecked rants full of falsehoods, forwarded to you as gospel despite having been debunked by snopes months/years ago? And how about the toxicity levels? Getting a lot of knee-jerk fury?
In 1946, radio gave air time to every kind of talker, including racists and xenophobes, their venom amplified and available on every radio set. Now, anybody with thumbs and a phone can "broadcast" an inanity, a falsehood, a fantasy, and/or any level of rage they're experiencing at the moment.
Yes, I know all the admonitions that to build an audience you must post daily, but very few people can pull that off -- I'd certainly be babbling if I tried it. And I don't want people on my screen who haven't thought their ideas through. Am I really alone in that? Bet I'm not.
Are we "talking" or thinking? Let's hear it for silence, for the pause in which we gather wisdom before we put some signal Out There in all the noise. And thank you, Barbara Kingsolver, for the reminder of how long this has been going on.