Keep calm and read on

The world needs more quiet spaces in which to think

“ Ssshh!” I looked up. Under a humming fluorescent light at her old oak desk, the librarian was frowning at me with her finger on her lips. “Ssshh,” she said again.

I was only eight, and I had excitedly expressed my enthusiasm while showing my best friend the latest Hardy Boys novel. My friend looked at the librarian, and then at me, expectantly. We both shushed.

I loved the library, a source of rich and valuable entertainments. I didn’t quite understand the reiterated need for quiet within its precincts, but shushing seemed a fair enough exchange for access to all the goodies it offered.

Then, noise seemed human, inevitable, an accepted part of the tongue tumble and traffic rumble of everyday life. Now even humming fluorescents sometimes bother me.

In theory, communication transmits a message or information via some kind of code through a medium to a decoder that ultimately allows the reproduction and interpretation of the message. Along the way, however, one almost always finds noise, a destructive element that degrades information, preventing its accurate reception.

In human conversation, thought gets coded into language which is transmitted through speech or writing. In electronic media, physical sound waves are digitized and electronically transmitted to a receiver that decodes the message and reconstitutes it into sound or print.

Noise can interfere in either system. Though speech or writing may be technically accurate, jargon such as legalese or medical terminology might prevent comprehension. The messenger might have a speech defect or a poor vocabulary. A bystander might interrupt. Perhaps there is too much ambient sound.

No wonder the communications joke runs, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell observed that English “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Everyday speech shrinks into clichés, and political speech becomes various forms of coded propaganda.

Our electronic media add to the problem: advertisers hector and seduce, social media mine personal data to comfort us with preferred interests, and e-mail jumbles our inboxes with essential and unwanted babble.

The physical world reflects this dynamic paradigm. Romantic artists and traditional knowledge of First Nations argue that nature speaks to us if we will only listen. But are we prepared for the effort that takes, even if we can create the opportunity?

We go camping with our iPhones and rumble down highways pulling our fifth wheels. Bird song and the gurgle of flowing water are drowned out by quad engines and boat motors. Droning lawn mowers and shrieking chain saws contaminate quiet Sundays.

Medscape.com reports that nearly one child in eight has hearing impairment in one or both ears, often due to extended exposure to personal music players. Children exposed to chronic noise develop elevated blood pressure and higher levels of stress hormones. Research shows that cognitive and language development in children from noisy homes is diminished.

Although uninterrupted sleep is a prerequisite for good physical and mental health, we are often wakened in the night by cars with boom boxes, the growling and crashing of railroad trains, and the wailing of sirens. What good is the right to privacy without the right to quiet?

In major cities such as Manhattan, undifferentiated white noise never stops. It exists as an ongoing hum, punctuated by the sharpness of local car horns or music.

A standard method of torture is to deprive the detainee of sleep and subject him to a barrage of discontinuous, ugly, loud noise. But we live in a tortured world.

I’m now much fonder of my strict old librarian. We need to save quiet spaces, to think, and to listen to what is truly meaningful. Ssshh.

Al Lehmann is a retired Terrace, B.C. English teacher.

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

(Submitted Photo)
Skeena Voices| Dance, discipline and determination

When Braya Kluss is not dancing, she is a regular 16-year-old teenager… Continue reading

Karl Meyer was an active member of the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department. (Terrace Professional Firefighters/ Facebook)
VIDEO: First responders parade through town in honour of fallen Thornhill firefighter

Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department’s Karl Meyer was found deceased during June 3 flooding

Suspected methamphetamine and scale seized by police. (Terrace RCMP photo)
Terrace RCMP seize guns, ammo, suspected narcotics

Man released after court appearance

Caledonia Secondary School is the recipient of a $50,000 grant to replace its aging science equipment. (File photo)
Cal snags major grant to modernize science equipment

The $50,000 comes from a pharmaceutical company

Unemployment rate drops in northwestern B.C.

Large improvement since Spring 2020

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read