I believe that the world is too noisy. I believe this with the force of a religious conviction, although I realize I am probably in the minority. Most people embrace sound. They love the racket of roaring engines, the clamor of barking dogs, the thump-thump of a souped-up bass reverberating out a car window. The more noise, the better, seems to be our prevailing philosophy today. You can’t look for a loaf of bread in a supermarket without being barraged by piped-in music.
I would be more tolerant of such sounds if it were easy to escape them when I want to. Unfortunately, it’s nigh unto impossible. It’s like the game of rock-paper-scissors. Just as rock always crushes scissors, noise always, always defeats quiet. Silence cannot be preserved or protected in the way that open space or an endangered species can be. The most you can do is create your own noise to do battle with the other racket. You can buy machines that emit the sounds of rushing waterfalls or ocean waves. What you end up with, though, is not silence, but different layers of din.
As a writer, someone who is nourished and inspired by quiet, I have learned that even inside your own home there is no guarantee of silence. There are few walls that will shut out the 120-decibel revving of a Harley Davidson or the piercing yaps of a neighbor’s Pomeranian. I stuff earplugs in my ears and work with the windows closed on the hottest summer days.
Even in remote places today it is increasingly difficult to elude the press of sound. Sometimes in the winter I snowshoe on the national forest near my home in Colorado. It’s a rare day when I don’t hear the snarl of snowmobiles. The noise penetrates for miles, ripping the stillness into tatters. Snowmobilers say, we have the right to be in the forest. And they are correct. But is there no right to experience quiet? Apparently not. When people enter the wilderness, they bring their noise with them. They yodel into canyons, fire guns at targets, even play boom boxes. They seem to regard silence as a void that must be filled at all costs.
I view silence as a friend. I believe a quieter world would be a better one. We’d be well-rested and more relaxed. We could enjoy the sounds of the natural world, with its bird songs and breezes. And we would gain the ability to concentrate, to sustain a complicated thought without interruption and distraction.
But the motors and machines of the modern world have me outvoted. My last remaining refuge is the public library. I just hope they never decide to start piping in music.
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