People assume that because of what I do, music is always playing wherever I go: in the house, at the office, in the car, in my ears when I’m walking the dog. And while it’s true that I listen to a lot of music–it is, after all, my job and how I pay the bills–the truth is that I crave silence.
Quiet helps me recharge. It rests my ears and my brain. That way when the music is turned back on, I can hear things with fresh ears, no longer desensitized to audio barraging my auditory cortex.
Silence, though, is something of a luxury. It’s not just turning off the music and the TV; it’s the noise that comes with everyday life. The neighbourhood where I live is surrounded on three sides by major highways. The closest is at least four kilometres away, but the low-frequency hum of all those tires has no trouble travelling great distances. Even inside my brick house, I know that sub-30 hz tones are penetrating my body. I can’t hear them, but take them away–5am Christmas morning, for example–and I don’t feel them anymore.
If you live in a city and spend any time out in the country, you know what I mean. The silence is so complete that you feel the absence of noise you didn’t know was there.
The Atlantic examines the notion of our silence deficit in this article.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s injunction in his 1922 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to respect the limits of language seems like a self-evident assertion. But silence is much more than the homage we offer ignorance, the abashed confession we sigh out of shame, the prayer we address to the ineffable.
Today silence is also a commodity, one bought and sold at prices rivaling our most sought-after consumer goods. “Let us have the luxury of silence,” Jane Austen writes inMansfield Park. Unfortunately, the cost of that luxury is increasingly beyond the means of most shoppers. And most surcharges for silence now profit those who have produced the noise we seek to escape.
Few industries have moved as aggressively to charge for the alleviation of the din they themselves generate as air transport. But while airlines have grown thuggish in extorting payment for formerly free amenities of travel, complaints about add-on fees seldom extend to the steep price of admission to their airport lounges, among the most successful of boutiques peddling silence.