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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

The Sounds of Silence" or
"Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

Consider the following apparently unrelated tidbits:

My car needed service the other day, so I called my friendly neighborhood car repair place. No, I'm not being sarcastic - it really is.

Friendly and neighborhood, that is. The owner fixes some of the cars himself; I call him by his first name; it's a block from my house. I called to see how my car was doing (with friendly neighborhood car repair places, you can do that). And when they put me on "hold" to get the information, I was treated to recorded commercials on the phone for the very place I was calling.

I was less surprised by the advertising on the phone than I was by the fact that there was ANY kind of recorded message on the line while I was waiting. I was frankly a little disappointed to discover that my friendly neighborhood car repair place had joined the twentieth century.

I went to the neighborhood hardware store to get a few things. And because I was thinking about such issues, I listened very carefully to see if there was recorded Muzak on the store's PA system. Sure enough, there was.

In a hardware store. I left with joint compound in my hand and "Mandy" in my head.

Every once in a while in the dead of night, I head off to the Concord Bridge. You know the one - the battle monument place, the "rude bridge that arched the flood," the place where there was "the shot heard 'round the world" and all of that. There's a stream running underneath it, the sounds of nature all around, and a very real sense of both solitude and history there. There is also the sound of traffic on nearby streets and a glow in the sky that comes not from the moon, but from the local shopping center that keeps its lights on all night.

We live, I fear, in a world which is becoming busier and noisier and even more brightly-lit than it once was. And most of the time, that's OK.

Or even nice.

But sometimes it's not.

Researchers are discovering that in addition to air pollution, were also creating "noise pollution" and even "light pollution."

Sometimes it's hard to find silence. Hard to find darkness. Hard to find another pace.

A major national magazine last week ran an article on "Data Delirium," wherein it was revealed that the average American receives some 3,000 advertising messages a day - six times more ads than just 25 years ago.

Assuming we sleep for 8 hours a day, that's an average of 3 messages PER MINUTE of our waking hours.

A major Boston Sunday newspaper ran a big story last week on where people can go to find silence in the area. I guess this is "news you can use" in its truest sense, worth three whole pages in the Sunday paper.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a hermit, nor a misanthrope, nor a technophobe. I do not wish to live mushroom-like, in a dark, quiet place.

And I don't. There's been a spotlight in my driveway ever since thieves stole my car from there a few years ago. I'm writing these words on a machine which is humming away softly and emitting its own eerie, flickering, computer-monitor light. As a resident of 1997 in Billerica, Massachusetts, I am as much a noise and light "polluter" as I am a victim.

We all are.

It's just the way of life these days.

Faster. Louder. Brighter. Media-driven.

But once in a while, I yearn for simpler, quieter, darker times.

Sometimes I even hope for a power outage that sends most people scurrying for candles and transistor radios. I confess that I sit and enjoy the silence when that happens. I go outside and listen to the quiet, watch the darkness.

A few years ago, working on a project for some folks, I went out to Walden to videotape the sunrise over that historic pond. You know the shots - sunlight through the trees, steam rising from the peaceful and quiet waters, dew on the grass. But I also got the gleam of automobile headlights reflecting off the pond, the noise of traffic and horns and car doors and even a Park Ranger who wanted to know just what I was doing there at 5 AM.

I think I even heard the sound of Henry David Thoreau turning over in his grave.


Yeah, I know. You can't go home again - not as an individual and not as a society. We cannot return to a quieter or simpler time. We have traded - all of us, myself included - silence and darkness for technology and a better lifestyle. For media. For convenience.

And the world turns faster. And brighter. And busier and noisier.

And sometimes that's a good thing.

Sometimes, though, it's not.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.