It's no secret we live in a noisy world. Many pixels have been spilled on just how interrupted our lives have become. Advertisers are competing in an ever more crowded space, seeking to be noticed. Since there's an old maxim that a customer must see one's ad seven times for it to be optimally effective, each tries harder and more frequently to rise above the din and be noticed. Of course, that means invasive advertising escalates until everyone is shouting.
However, it isn't only advertisers that have added to the noise in our world. As with many of the problems arising from modernity, we are not only victims but we suffer from self-inflicted wounds. We carry screens with us at every step. Not only does this provide the channel for those vying for our attention to shout at us, it creates its own distractions. We add our own noise by seeking to be entertained, distracted, or otherwise engaged throughout our day.
Again, none of this is new. What is interesting, though, is it isn't only the "old curmudgeons" that are lamenting the loss of self-reflection. My fifteen-year-old son played me a song from the band twenty one pilots which made the same point. Their 2013 hit "Car Radio" casts a young man lamenting the fact that his radio has been stolen, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Here's a portion of the lyrics:
I hate this car that I'm drivingThe song paints a picture of a young person who isn't complaining about the noise, but pining for it. The silence has forced the driver into self-reflection and he really doesn't like what he's discovering about himself: a person who's prideful, perhaps selfish and definitely shallow. Instead of knowing how to process and perhaps work on his deficiencies, he'd rather have the noise to cover them up and divert his attention once more. Reality, like the quiet, can be brutally honest and I think that many people in our society—both young and old—have sought to dodge self-reflection through business and noise.
There's no hiding for me
I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts
So often I ought
To replace that slot
With what I once bought
'Cause somebody stole
My car radio
And now I just sit in silence
Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It's on my sleeve
My skin will scream
Reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream1
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. But I don't think we know how to do quiet contemplation well any more. Ask yourself, how long can you sit in a room with nothing but your own thoughts? Researchers recently reported more people were willing to administer electric shocks to themselves than sitting in a chair unstimulated for ten or fifteen minutes.2
Like anything else, quiet reflection and thoughtfulness is a skill that must be practiced. I outline some of the basic principles on just how to do that here. Christians especially are commanded to be contemplative, meditating on God's word and their own place. We may feel discomfort about our own shortcomings, but the answer isn't to turn up the volume. It's to think even more deliberately and more carefully, seeking to minimize them while honoring our God. As the song says:
There's faith and there's sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive.2
2. Pomeroy, Ross. "Some People Prefer Electric Shocks to Thinking Quietly by Themselves" RealClearScience. RealClearScience, 13 July 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2014. http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/07/some_people_prefer_electric_shocks_to_thinking_quietly_by_themselves.html
3. Joseph and Dun, 2013.