digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Silence is golden

June 09, 2009 _ 11:01 / Digital Nation Team / comments (0)

A short while ago, Lane Wallace wrote in praise of silence at The Atlantic. He notes what we've all noticed in some way or another: the unrelenting connectedness provided by Twitter, smart phones and even 24-hour news channels creates a desire within us to fill the few moments of silence we find with some sort of tech distraction. I've noticed this myself on a long car ride this past weekend, as rather than stare out the window like I might have in the past, I instinctively reached for my iPhone to see if I had missed any news from the online world. Wallace provides an interesting insight:

Twitter, Facebook and cell phones didn't create this desire or problem. I've known people all my life who turned the television on as soon as they woke up in the morning and left it on until they went to bed at night, just to insure there was never complete silence in the house. All that the new connectivity, on-line virtual game options, and instant messaging do is make it easier to avoid the awful specter of silent, alone time. And yet ... just try to imagine Henry David Thoreau writing his masterpiece about Walden Pond while twittering, texting, and watching CNN.

Thoreau went to Walden in part to escape the Industrial Revolution, and I imagine prior to that he experienced temptations of distraction similar to those we face today. The mechanisms were different, but the temptations the same. Those who hold Blackberries or Facebook responsible for their chronic distraction misplace the blame. These technologies are enablers of our own innate desires that have existed far longer than transistors:

We also have an ingrained habit of constant connection that makes disconnecting more difficult. And potentially more painful. Where there's a will there's a way, of course. Which is what makes me suspect that at least part of the constant connectivity movement and technology stems from an inherent desire, within many of us, to have all that distraction. We are not, as a species, hard-wired for solitude. We're social animals, made to exist in tribes and packs.




Behind the Scenes

Digital Natives


Living with Technology




Virtual Worlds

rss RSS



posted February 2, 2010

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation

Series funding by: Macarthur Foundation
Park Foundation
and Viewers Like You.

Digital Nation is brought to you by the Verizon Foundation

Verizon Foundation