Silence used to be golden

I ride the GO Train into work every day. I am constantly amazed at the number of people fidgeting with iPods, MP3 players, Blackberries and other electronic devices. I often wonder if the world has gotten so addicted to technology that we can’t survive even the short GO Train ride without being plugged in or if we all suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and we can’t just enjoy the scenery and silence and just be one with ourselves and the universe. What happened to using that quiet time to plan our day, reflect on pass actions, and connect with whatever spirit we believe in? 

On a recent trip to work, I decided to take along my laptop so that I could get caught up on an assignment. Working on the assignment meant having to read a lengthy article online then respond to a variety of questions. The section that I sat in had two other people both of whom were also engaged in some form of study. I thought this would be good as it seemed unlikely that there would be noisy interruptions from cell phones ringing or sounds seeping from headphones. A rather rotund woman sat down beside me. Once she got comfortable, she fished around in her bag and pulled out an iPod and headphones. I said a silent prayer that she wouldn’t be one of those music lovers who had to play their music so loudly that the entire train could hear the music beyond the headphones. I don’t think I prayed hard enough! Not only was her music loud, it was heavy metal which meant lots of screeching and yelling. The other two people in our section both looked at her and at me. I tried to ignore her but after 10 minutes of this cacophony going on in my head I finally tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to turn it down. She looked at me, blinked and removed her earbud. “What?” she said. I calmly repeated my request for her to turn it down. She said, “If I turn it down any further I won’t be able to hear it.” She stuck the earbud back into her ear, leaned back and closed her eyes.

If the train hadn’t been standing room only, I would have changed seats and gone on with my studying but as there were people standing in the aisle and I really neeed to get my studying done, I tapped her on the shoulder, waited for her to remove the earbud and said, “The idea of headphones is to contain the music so that it doesn’t disturb others. Your music is disturbing me and anyone within earshot. I am attempting to study and would really appreciate you turning your music down.” She looked at me said “no” and started to replace the earbud when the young man in our section spoke up. He being of the Y Generation was not as polite as I was trying to be. He used a string of profanity to get his point across which seemed to inspire the other Yers to speak up as well. Then a few others spoke up and I thought for a second that the mob mentality was going to take over and this woman would be beaten to within an inch of her life. The evil twin in me wanted her beaten for disturbing my studying but the good twin realized that that would not be a good outcome for anyone.

After a barrage of comments from the folks on the train the woman removed her headphones, turned off her iPod and in the snarkiest voice she could muster asked me if I was satisfied. I wanted to explain that all of this could have been avoided if she had been more respectful of those around her but I just smiled and said, “Yes, I am.” I mouthed a thanks to those who had supported me and continued with my studying though I was disturbed by the whole situation.

I thought, what is it about having rights that makes people behave so badly? Why do people not see that with those rights come responsibilities? And why do they not make as big a fuss about their responsibilities as they do about their rights? I thought that the advent of technology was to make our lives better—expose us to other cultures and ideas—but all I can see is how it removes us from each other and lessens our humanity. The quiet times we used to have for reflection is now filled with music, news, and other informational noise. It means the brain is being deluged and doesn’t have the time to rest and rejuvenate. We don’t take the time to consider our place and how our actions, whether big of small, impact the world in which we live as is evident by the extinction of plants and animals, the holes in the ozone layer, the melting of the icecaps and how little work I got done that morning on the GO Train.

I was unhappy with my thoughts about humanity and what the behaviours of the woman and the others on the train showed me. I wanted to say  “Shhhh! A little silence please!” to the whole world. Then I remembered that Earth Day is coming up and smiled that just for that moment, there will be silence.

Soon silence will have passed into legend.  Man has turned his back on silence.  Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.  His anxiety subsides.  His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.  – Jean Arp

These are interesting times.

C. Carol Brown

One thought on “Silence used to be golden

  1. That woman may be right about not hearing her music. I think the earbuds and other types of “headphones” increase the likelihood of deafness.

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