Posts Tagged ‘Newsweek’

This Newsweek article titled “The Devil Loves Cell Phones” – http://www.newsweek.com/id/219010 – by Julia Baird addresses something that’s peeved me for a long time: the constant noise in our society.  This is a beautifully written article, and makes the point in an almost lyrical fashion that when we eliminate silence from our lives, we are the poorer for it – emotionally, physically and intellectually.  We need spaces of silence the same way your eye needs some white space on this page.  We don’t need to be stimulated and entertained every minute of the day.

Baird’s writings remind me of when my dog, Bear, first came to live with me over six years ago.  He was a three-month-old puppy at the time, a gift from my daughter that Mother’s Day, and he’d been a pound puppy.  During those first weeks when I would turn on the evening news, you could tell the TV disturbed him a lot; he would whine and cry each night when the TV came on.  To this day when I have TV on in the evenings he goes into another room or lies on the deck outside until it’s time to shut everything down and go to bed.

Bear’s hearing is acute, and always has been – I’m sure that’s one reason the television makes him so uncomfortable.  But he’s also reacting to something that his physical system was never wired for in the first place: the overlay of noise, and lots of high-frequency noise at that, in his daily life.  It’s the same overlay we get as human beings, when we cannot go grocery shopping without music blaring throughout the store; cannot go to a doctor’s office without “musak” playing in the background; cannot even swim at the health club without music coming from the loudspeakers.  We treat silence as if it were a deadly poison.

We don’t have enough white space, enough silence, in our daily lives: enough space and time for reflective thinking, to gain the perspectives we need; enough space and time to adequately think through the problems that challenge us both personally and professionally; enough space and time to cultivate relationships the way they should be cultivated.

I read another article yesterday from somewhere that the most popular “Tweeters” out there – those with thousands upon thousands of followers – tweet as many as 50 times a day.   There isn’t time for reflective, serious thinking there, either – must less for their followers who read all those tweets.  We cannot absorb hundreds and thousands of messages a day and make sense of it.  We are overloaded.  We need some silence.

I’m lucky – I work out of my home.  I can control the amount of noise in my immediate environment, and of course Bear is delighted when I do.  I’ve wondered lately if this isn’t the way the balance used to be – that we lived quieter lives, and went to social and entertainment events on the weekends in order to break through our own daily lives and enjoy some time with others.  It seems to me, at least given the amount of traffic here in the Portland Metro Area, that most people live their daily lives in cluttered, noisy work environments, and go home on the weekends to get some peace and quiet – if they are so lucky to have that in their own homes. 

Is this not a little backwards?  Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we had silent spaces in our work lives – those wonderfully regenerative spaces where our creative minds could do their best work?  – those still moments where the answer which may have been drowned out with distractions before suddenly becomes apparent?   Wouldn’t it be better and more productive if, when we came home on the weekends, we’d had just the right amount of silence and white space in our lives that there was energy left over for being with people just to be with them?

I’d rather have the base-line of my working life be anchored in a kind of silence that encourages intelligent thinking and discussion, rather than have it be anchored in noise, over-stimulation, distractions and constant rush.  I’d like to enter public spaces – stores, medical offices, health clubs, malls and elevators – without being bombarded with constant noise disguised as music.   I know that’s asking a lot, and most people will never have that luxury.  But I think we’re far the poorer for it.

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I know changed comes to everyone and to everything, but I’m having trouble this time around.  It started with Newsweek, the venerable weekly news magazine I’ve subscribed to for years beyond my remembering.  I don’t know who they let loose in the graphics department – a whopping bright-but-not-very-experienced batch of 20-somethings, I suspect – but the articles now look like ads, the type must be something like 8- or 10-pt. (very hard on my middle-aged eyes) and there’s a lot of reverse print where it’s unnecessary (also very hard on the eyes). Then someone got into the editorial suite as well, because suddenly there was a whole issue edited by Stephen Colbert – a stunt if I ever saw one –  and now they seem to have gone with a theme for each issue.  They’ve “fixed” something that wasn’t broken; and now I won’t be renewing my subscription.  I’m pretty sure people in my Baby Boomer age group must have been a staple audience for Newsweek all these years, but now I feel abandoned in favorof gimmicks and flash which make the magazine far more difficult to read; and in favor of the “flavor of the week” approach, rather than a simple recap of the week’s news with insightful analysis.  I like Fareed Zakaria a lot; but I’ll just read him online or catch him on CNN.

Somthing similar has happened over at Reader’s Digest.  Suddenly it’s the folksy version of “News McNuggets,” and again, the graphics have changed and are more difficult to wade through.  This latest edition, however, pretty well sealed it for me in terms of leaving; there’s a mountain of advice, and fewer of the kinds of stories that have always made Reader’s Digest an enjoyable, comforting and inspirational read.  Then I saw an article somewhere that said Reader’s Digest was going to tilt toward a more religious bent.  For that, I figure, there’s Guideposts and a lot of other magazines.  From Reader’s Digest, I wanted the jokes, the quotes, the stories of people who made it thorugh difficult times and triumphed; a small book selection – the content that was presented without a lot of flash; the small bits of advice that weren’t patronizing.

Everybody does flash now, and everybody thinks flash is substance.  Well, I beg to differ – it’s not.  Granted we have lots of bells and whistles at our fingertips online, and we can stay entertained for endless periods if we like.  But I like to read, and I look to read news of substance and stories that enlighten me in some way, that tell me something about myself in reflection, and about the world I live in.  I like to read.  Is there anybody out there anymore who also likes to read?    Good thing books are still being published.

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