A Look At Life: The Sound Of Silence

18th November 2011

Oh, For The Sound Of Silence…

Heather Harris

Pillows with inbuilt speakers!

That’s the latest gadget to appear on my teenage daughter’s Christmas list – complete with Argos catalogue page number, spoiling the festive magic somewhat.

Okay, so when she was tiny we did have the obligatory wind-up, musical mobile playing lullabies as she (and we) dozed off, but then for over a decade her bed was the one place where silence reigned… until now.
Slowly, as she and her two brothers have grown, the noise level has hit a crescendo. Not out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, as it were, but from the technology that is permanently attached. I-Pods… phones… radios… someone even bought my son a bobble hat with hidden speakers. Thinking it was merely a fashion statement, I went all liberal and even let him wear it at the dinner table until I realised he was lip syncing to Kylie over the roast beef.

Suddenly, everywhere is a disco. Singing in the shower now comes with a backing track courtesy of our latest acquisition, a waterproof radio. The Sat Nav has to compete with the blast of the in-car stereo and even the dog has a musical lead!

And for once we parents aren’t to blame. The whole of society has now turned up the volume. Walk into any shop, from supermarket to department store, and you’ll hear the ‘musak’, currently a jaunty compilation of seasonal tunes. Half the time we don’t even notice it until we find ourselves humming Silent Night as we select our satsumas.

In pulsating High Street boutiques, bleeding ears are a distinct possibility if too long is spent squeezing into jeans while trying not too fall through the flimsy cubicle curtain. It’s the people working there all day – and in music stores, too, of course – whom I feel sorry for. Surely they must be wearing protective ear plugs? (This could also explain why the majority look at you blankly if you ask them a question, before they shrug and walk off….)

At least the rail companies have made an effort to shut us all up. Their quiet carriages were initially a huge success with commuters clambering for a seat with in-built silence guaranteed. And on short journeys it is truly wonderful not to have to hear the most intimate details of a fellow traveller’s love life/business dealings/meal preferences etc bellowed down a mobile phone along with those immortal words, “Can’t talk, I’m on the train”, followed by a seven minute description of when and where they want picking up.

On longer journeys, however, silence itself can become rather irritating as the sound of crisp packets being opened and their contents eaten or pages being turned suddenly becomes magnified ten fold.

And the tweeting of birds and the hum of the M25, is no longer a suitable backing track for an energising jog in the countryside. Today’s runners would rather risk being hit by a horn-blaring, out-of-control juggernaut than ditch ‘Take That’ at full volume on their i-Pods. Some official race organisers did try and ban them, but the uproar could not have been more ferocious had they outlawed the wearing of trainers.

Perhaps it’s just that we’re all so used to life with a soundtrack that without it something is lacking. I went to a dinner party recently and the poor hostess was extremely distressed, not by the state of her meringues but her broken stereo. With no faint hum of Adele to create a suitable ambiance, every slight lull in the conversation was deafening.

That’s why every would-be Romeo always chooses a noisy restaurant for a first date. Quiet and romantic is for way down the line, when the need for witty sparkling repartee has relaxed into the mutual comfort of shared silence. Or better still they take their Juliet to the cinema. With all-round-Dolby-stereo-multi-sound from arrival to the final credits, the only chat-up lines required are ‘sweet or salty’ (just why is it that cinemas sell the noisiest food invented?).

So what hope for the future? The need to bring more quiet into our lives is deafening. But even libraries, those symbols of silence, are threatened with closure. They’ll only be churches left and what d’you bet that this Christmas the young worshipers are all wearing bobble hats?

The word of God may be powerful, but sadly even that would struggle to compete with in-built speakers playing the X Factor winner on repeat…

Find Your Local