In the mid-1940s, Aldous Huxley made the following observation about mid-20th century society:
“The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise, and noise of desire — we hold history’s record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. That most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the ear-drums. It penetrates the mind, filing it with a babel of distractions – news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas. And where, as in most countries, the broadcasting stations support themselves by selling time to advertisers, the noise is carried from the ears, through the realms of phantasy, knowledge and feeling to the ego’s central core of wish and desire. Spoken or printed, broadcast over the ether or on woodpulp, all advertising copy has but one purpose – to prevent the will from ever achieving silence. Desirelessness is the condition of deliverance and illumination. The condition of an expanding and technologically progressive system of mass production is universal craving. Advertising is the organized effort to extend and intensify craving – to extend and intensify, that is to say, the workings of that force, which (as all the saints and teachers of all the higher religions have always taught) is the principal cause of suffering and wrong-doing and the greatest obstacle between the human soul and its divine Ground.”
I cannot imagine more prescient words. This was written when the most advanced item of personal technology was the radio. How much more true are these words now, in the age of smart devices and endless apps, than they were almost 70 years ago?
Substitute three words — twenty-first for twentieth, smartphone (or internet, or television, or Facebook, or Twitter, it hardly matters) for radio, and minds for homes — and you have a perfect description of what is happening to us today, here, now, at this very moment.
The noise, and the craving it engenders, are boundless. We are being colonized by the noise — it is becoming part of us, part of our DNA, part of our souls. The noise breeds within us, so that we can no longer stand to be without it.
We crave the noise, we crave the attention it tells us we deserve, we crave validation from others for our most trivial utterances and banal thoughts. And we crave the things it sells. We wait expectantly to be told what the next “must have” thing might be.
I tried a little experiment recently. I Googled “must have” (yes, I fully grasp the irony), and after “must have,” I added each successive letter of the alphabet: “must have a,” “must have b,” etc. Do you have any idea how many hundreds upon hundreds of items are marketed as “must have” — for any one letter of the alphabet? (My personal favorite was “must have zombie weapons,” but I’ll save that for another rant.)
How would it feel to not crave the latest “must have”? Can you put yourself in that place? How would it feel if the noise and craving suddenly left you? How would it feel if the incessant din of millions upon millions of tweets and posts and blogs and reality shows and apps and yelps and infomercials and emails and “must haves” suddenly just ... vanished, and nothing but silence remained?
Do you think you could stand it?
Lore’ McLaren is a Truckee resident.