In a cogent piece for The New York Times, David Kreider writes about the battles taking place in Amtrak's silent cars, usually situated right behind business class on the train, as devotees of silence stand-up for "this last bastion of civility and calm, in a society drenched in noise pollution." As David Foster Wallace put it: "It seems significant that we don't want things to be quiet, ever, anymore." Think about the constant play of music in stores and restaurants or television news reports emanating from the screens of cabs, airports, and doctors' waiting rooms. Even libraries are no longer refuges of silence; there are now designated areas for "quiet study."
It's only natural that silence is becoming an endangered species in a society that views shouting as the most common form of civil discourse. In any shared space, you can expect to hear someone talking on a cell phone or singing along to songs playing on their iPods. So when we take the train, we want something different.
Once we enter the heavenly Amtrak silent car, the bliss of peace and quiet is rigorously enforced against those who dare to talk to their companions, use their cellphones, or make noise in any other ways. We're with Kreider when he sums up its significance: "The Quiet Car has become the battlefield where we quiet ones, our backs forced to the wall, finally hold our ground." We stand in solidarity with other readers, thinkers, writers, and daydreamers who cherish silence as a sanctuary for reverie, attention, meditation and prayer.