In a recent article in The New York Times, George Prochnik wrote about philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's crusade against noise as the archenemy of any serious thinker. He was convinced nobody could have great ideas unless they focused their attention on a subject. But loud sounds distracted him from the work before him. Of course, this advocate of mono-tasking was years ahead of our times where it is nearly impossible to find the silence to think or to read in a world of jets, jackhammers, traffic, cellphones, horns, sirens, and television monitors broadcasting the latest news. Even inside our homes, the motors of our appliances and equipment create a constant stream of noise.
If he were alive today, Schopenhauer would be considered a cranky old man and a killjoy. Those of us who are troubled by the din of noise are told to chill out and relax.
Relax is what Galen Guengerich would like to be able to do. In "Getting Your Minimum Daily Requirement of Silence" in Psychology Today, he describes how life in New York City is an unending cacophony of noise with impatient motorists honking their horns behind us, helicopters in the sky above us, and everywhere we turn the loud voices of men and women on cellphones. It's distracting and exhausting, and it also affects our memories and productivity. The solution, it appears, since we are never going to get rid of smartphones and machines is to balance their use by consuming more silence.