Saturday, May 30, 2015



Lately when I’m driving I’ve turned off the radio. The hum of the motor and drone of traffic, I find, is a pleasant relief from NPR’s chatter. At what point does entertaining sound bites cross the threshold to become intrusive noise?

The word noise has taken on a new meaning in this technological age. Saul Bellow, prominent 20th Century author, wrote: “By noise I mean not simply the noise of technology, the noise of money or advertising and promotion, the noise of the media, the noise of miseducation, but the terrible excitement and distraction generated by the crises of modern life…the noise of life is the great threat… The sounds of the public sphere, the din of politics, the turbulence and agitation that … have now reached an intolerable volume.” *

We not only pursue this noise, it pursues us. 
Take the computer for example. I use it daily and it’s a great resource, especially Wikipedia. But how many times has my computer usurped my effort to focus on my writing? If you’re like me, you’ll be researching websites when you inevitably get a pop-up promising an unexpected perspective or a twist you haven’t seen before. Or completely off the subject but irresistible. And there you go. One link leads to another. You’re off, you hope, to a discovery. More likely than not, the trail lures you into either a hollow end or one that wants your credit card number. And who do you have to blame for the hour you wasted looking for something you didn’t get?

What are we missing?
Saul Bellow’s observation on noise was written before the iPad, iPod, iPhone, Facebook and other social media became popular. Given the noise of his day, what can we think of today? Critics, pundits, auto emails, news feeds, online clubs, and our virtual friends insist we are going to miss something important if we don’t stay “connected.” And what’s our reaction? Oh no! We can’t miss anything! …"hello" to contrived tension. The question I’d ask is, how much of the information bombarding us is actually “important”? 

* From The New York Review of Books, June 4, 2015/Volume LXII, Number 10 

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