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Diana, Noise, & the Lonely Society
Some time within the recent past I read about a
survey which found that about 55% of Americans
say they don't trust their neighbors. This had
grown from about 35% answering yes to the same
question asked in the 1960s.
Everywhere, there are signs of the growing
tendency of humans in our society not to
relate well to one another at the face-to-face
level. The noise pollution problem is in some
ways buried within this larger unfortunate
circumstance. People are communicating
more with devices and less with other people.
TVs and loud stereos are among the devices.
The pubs and drinking spots in my town are not
good places for finding intelligent and friendly
conversation. The atmospheres are mostly
dominated by devices producing audio and
The sidewalks of my community used to be social
forums. In earlier times, I could take a walk and within
the span of 30 minutes be greeted by numerous friendly
people including strangers smiling and saying hello.
Now I dodge roller-bladers creating wide swaths as
they weave back and forth. Like the joggers, they
are often wearing stereo earphones.
The wealthiest people in our society are isolating
themselves in gated communities requiring an
electronic card and code before one can even
enter the streets.
The growing popularity of online services and yes --
even e-mail discussion lists -- also indicate the
degree to which device-to-human is replacing face-
to-face human communication.
In an AOL new summary today (Sept 7), I found
this statement in a story about the profound
emotional experience the death of Diana has been
for Britons and many others:
''My father died eight years ago,'' a taxi driver
out picking up fares said quietly. ''And I didn't
feel about that the way I feel now.''
For the overwhelming majority of her mourners, Diana
was never anything but a media symbol -- an image
on a tabloid or video screen. People who would not
attend the funeral of their next-door neighbor have
participated in a tremendous outpouring of grief for
someone with whom they never had a personal conver-
What does this mean? It means that we are evolving
toward a point where real personal contact with other
humans will account for a very small share of our
experience. To compensate for this, people are
investing more of their emotional capital in celebrities
and even soap operas.
Diana's estrangement from her own husband and in-laws
was a strong factor in driving her to seek a perverse form
of intimacy by becoming a high-profile media figure. Now
many blame the media for her death.
Hopefully, the lesson for all of us will be that the influence
of media and audio/video devices in our lives should be
reduced as we concentrate on re-establishing the practice
of personal conversation.
-- Michael Wright
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