Perhaps some of you are familiar with Kalle Lasn
, one of the founders of Adbusters
). He published a book called Culture Jam
in 1999. In it is a chapter on The Ecology of Mind
, and the first section in this "survey of the threats to our ecology of mind
" is on NOISE. I quote the entire section, verbatim, begging the author's permission...
Kalle Lasn in Culture Jam (1999) wrote:
In 1996, the World Health Organization declared noise to be a significant health problem, one that causes physiological changes in sleep, blood pressure and digestion. It's now understood that noise doesn't have to be loud to do damage.
For thousands of generations, the ambient noise was rain and wind and people talking. Now the sound track of the world is vastly different. Today's noise is all-spectrum, undecodable. More and more people suffer the perpetual buzz of tinnitus - a ringing in the ears caused by exposure to a loud noise (or in some cases, just by aging). One of the treatments for tinnitus is to fit sufferers with a hearing aid that broadcasts white noise. The brain learns to interpret white noise as a background distraction, like traffic sounds, and filters it out along with the tinnitus. The brain works that way for the rest of us as well. The "whiter" the sound in our environment gets, the more we dismiss it as background and stop hearing it. Ultimately, everything becomes background noise and we hear almost nothing.
Noise is probably the best understood of the mental pollutants. It's really the only one to which the term "mental pollution" has already been applied. From the dull roar of rush-hour traffic to the drone of your fridge to the buzz coming out of your computer, various kinds of noise (blue, white, pink, black) are perpetually seeping into our mental environment. To make matters worse, the volume is constantly being cranked up. Two, perhaps three generations have already become stimulation addicted. Can't work without background music. Can't jog without a Discman. Can't study without the TV on. Our neurons are continuously massaged by Muzak and the hum of monitors. The essence of our postmodern age may be found in that kind of urban score. Trying to make sense of the world above the din of our wired world is like living next to a freeway-you get used to it, but at a much diminished level of mindfulness and wellbeing.
Quiet feels foreign now, but quiet may be just what we need. Quiet may be to a healthy mind what clean air and water and a chemical-free diet are to a healthy body. In a clean mental environment, we may find our mood disorders subsiding. It's no longer easy to manufacture quietude, nor is it always practical to do so. But there are ways to pick up the trash in your mindscape: Switch off the TV set in your dentist's waiting room. Lose that noisy fridge. Turn off the stereo. Put your computer under the table. Poet Marianne Moore contends that the deepest feeling always shows itself in silence. I think she's got it right.
In some ways, those of us who feel addicted
to quiet (at least a quiet computer) are, in fact, not addicted at all; rather we are instinctively (or consciously, in some cases) rejecting the artificial noise of the modern world. Perhaps for some of us, this is our only stand against it.