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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turning Down The Background Noise



My husband, Matt, has had to go on a few business trips lately. When he comes home we always spend quite a bit of time debriefing about the trip. The other night we spent a long time talking about how easily we forget that we live our lives quite differently than others.

The first thing we noticed, was that we no longer surround ourselves with the toxic soup of chemicals that is normal to most people in the developed world. The second, that we have really turned down the gain, or the background noise in our lives.

The last time we had cable television (or an antenna) was 6 years ago. We do have a dvd player with a television, which we use to watch movies occasionally. Americans watch an average of 5 hours of tv per day - five hours! Who has time for that? And how can people stand to watch it for that long?

When we ride in the car, we don't listen to music. We just sort of stopped doing that a few months into our relationship. Instead, we talk. It's really lovely.

At home my 20-year-old stereo died a year ago, and we just didn't replace it. Sure, I miss my old jazz records on occasion. But maybe once in a blue moon, certainly not often. And if I miss them, I can play them on my computer with headphones. For the most part, though, it's nice to hear my own thoughts.

I was trying to explain this to my father the other day. I was driving in the car with my parents, and the baseball game was on the radio while four people were in the car talking. Not only was it difficult to hear everyone, but also I'm not used to the frantic energy of the sportscast. It's unnerving, and meant, I suppose, to keep you on the edge of your seat. And that energy is so different from my daily exposure, that it almost feels toxic.

I know people who never seem to want to be alone with their thoughts, who can't deal with silence, who need background noise. And I also see people I know having a difficult time concentrating, on really listening to what others are saying, or really understanding a problem that needs solving.

Since I began to consciously turn down the gain - to save energy, mostly - my blood pressure feels to have lowered, I'm less stressed overall, and I'm quite good at thinking deeply on a regular basis. Plus without television, I get a whole lot more done in one day!

What types of background noise is in your life? Have you thought about eliminating them?

28 comments:

darkpurplemoon said...

From being someone who always had something on on the background and actually couldnt get to sleep without music or talk radio on I have now become almost the complete opposite. More often than not in the car I am in silence, thinking, I can no longer study with music on - again I always had it playing. And I like to go to sleep in silence.

Strange isnt it how our senses adapt?

Jen

David said...

Now that I'm on the downhill side of life and into retirement, I have discovered that life can be more enjoyable if the pace is much slower. I do like modern technilogical conviences and do watch TV programs, but they are on my schedule. With the availibility of recording devices and Websites, I can watch programs of my choice at times that I want without the toxic pollution of commercials. Silence and contemplation has become the norm instead of the abnorm.

Nebraska Dave

Sharon said...

I listen to music all the time-it feeds my soul, just as my art and my sewing give my life purpose. Both my daughters are fabulous muscians-playing multiple instruments, as well as my husband. I could not imagine not listening to music and silencing my children's and husband's talent and voices. That would cause me great pain emtionally and, in the end, physcally also, for a world without art and music is a world I would not want to live in.

megan said...

I think I've found a good mix of all of these things for myself. During the day, I am mostly outdoors or moving around the house and rarely listen to or watch anything. I like to hear the birds instead. I sometimes play music while I clean, but it gets turned off when anyone else comes home. We make and eat dinner without other distractions, but then settle down and usually watch tv for a bit before bed. Sometimes, when we're feeling lazy we'll watch several hours of a show on dvd or two movies in a row, but it's pretty rare.

I know exactly what you mean about the radio--I can't stand it in the car when I'm trying to hear what others are saying.

swedishcowboy said...

As a musician, a life without music would make me very, very sad.

LizBeth said...

All that background noise, way too much sugar, murderous video games and TV, violence in our societies, and we wonder why kids can't sit still. What is wrong with calmness? I love our peaceful home. Liz

Marie said...

We haven't had a television for 4 years and don't miss the noise and chaos one bit. My husband and I both feel the stress and negative energy swirl when we are visiting family and friends where the TV is central and always on! Even through meals or when guests are there to visit!!!

We do watch DVDs on our computer when we want a movie night, and have found that over time we cannot tolerate many of the types of movies we used to watch regularly. They are too loud, too violent, too crazy! We were just so numb from all of the over-stimulation before that we didn't know what we were being barraged with!

We are both working musicians and do enjoy listening to our favorite public all folk radio station (no commercials, little news) and our extensive collection of music, but are also quite happy to sit in amicable silence while we read or craft.

The messages coming at us through all of the popular media outlets are powerful, subliminally persuasive and ultimately destructive to individual growth and spirit. We limit that toxic exposure as much as possible.

renee @ FIMBY said...

I love limiting the background noise in my life. I'm home all day with my three kiddos (homeschooling) and if I didn't limit noise I'd go nuts. I also can't stand it when you go visit someone and they keep the tv on all the time, how are you supposed to converse or just sit together. I love quiet and peace and time to think.

Jamie @ Woodside Gardens said...

We have been without television for almost 2 years now, although we do have a TV for the occasional rented movie. Once in a while my husband thinks he wants to get cable, or at least an antenna. He always thinks about it for a few days, then decides he doesn't want it after all. We are comfortable enough with each other that we can take an hour long car ride in COMPLETE silence, and enjoy every minute of it. Think of how many little noises... birds singing, wind rustling the leaves etc. that millions of people never hear because they need the man-made noise at all times! Peaceful surroundings make for a more peaceful life.

Joshua said...

Americans watch an average of 5 hours of tv per day - five hours!

This is the answer the next time someone says, "You make your own bread?! How do you ever find time?"

@LizBeth: IMO, the reason kids can't sit still has little to do with TV and video games. Kids are kids! They're not supposed to sit still! The problem, IMO, is that we send them to school where they're expected to sit still for eight hours a day, which is completely contrary to their nature.

Anonymous said...

Love this article; it's something that really resonates with me. I got rid of cable in August of this year and rarely miss it. I still watch rented films from time to time. I study part-time at college and am really struck by the difference in attention between older students and younger students. For eg, for many younger students texting has become the norm and I find it very disconcerting trying to have a conversation with someone whilst they are texting someone else (and this seems quite a common practice - a lot of the younger students are glued to their phones all the time). It's like the very technology that is supposed to foster connection actually gets in the way of people being fully present to the people in front of them! The current culture (to me) seems to foster distraction and discourage presence so that you are with people or available to contact people but you are not fully present to them. At home I listen to the radio but find myself more and more tuning into shows which I find uplifting - so here in Canada I tend to tune into CBC radio's Sunday programs like Michael Enright and the Vinyl Cafe. I'm no longer interested in hearing a background noise of negative news - it's something I've become more attuned to since I got rid of the cable subscription.

Simple in France said...

I'm not sure if I'm just extremely sensitive to noise, but intrusions really irritate me. Even as an adolescent, I used to hide out in my bedroom. My parents often have the TV going and conversations and people coming in and out AND someone will be sitting around reading headlines from a newspaper aloud. Crazy, just crazy. I also hate to eat in those restaurants that play 24 hour news or sports so that you have to struggle to focus on food/conversation/media.

DH and I recently moved to France and we have no TV--and we've just left a lot of stuff behind in our overseas move. If we really both want to watch something, we re-arrange our furniture so that we can both see/hear a laptop and watch a DVD on that. We have an MP3 player which we use occasionally. When DH wants to watch something alone, he does it with ear phones. It's just so nice. The calm!

ladyhawthorne said...

My mom always has the tv on, ALWAYS. Sometimes it is really hard to visit with her as she won't even turn it down.
I gave up tv 6 months ago and don't really miss it. I have found some great talk radio programs if I want to listen to something while doing needlework, but mostly I also enjoy the silence. I wish my boss at work felt the same, the radio blares away every day all day and the same play list really gets annoying, especially since Idon't share his enthusiasm for the particular station he chooses.

LizBeth said...

Joshua, children who aren't over-stimulated by the insanity that engulfs us can be calm and happy children. They don't HAVE to sit still, but they can and do -- of their own accord. They are peaceful and a pleasure to be around. They can entertain themselves. They can think. They can carry on a conversation with children and adults alike. I know this for a fact. No humble opinion about it. Two of them are my own. Our house is a calm refuge from the world. I really like my kids. They are both adults now. They are two of the neatest people I know. I know what I'm talking about.

Joshua said...

@LizBeth: I have experienced the kinds of kids you're talking about, and you're right. I still think it's unnatural to expect kids to sit in class for eight hours a day, which is why I intend to home-school or un-school our kids.

LizBeth said...

Joshua, I "retired" from teaching in public school after three years. I felt sorry for the kids. I think government schools are a disaster and it is a crime against kids to make them sit through the whole game -- for twelve miserable years. I homeschooled both our kids. Emphasis on the "home" part first; big on learning and small on "school." Good luck with yours.

Thomas said...

For me, it's less about the amount of noise and more about the kinds of noices. Having grown up in the city, I wince at the sound of traffic, sirens, contruction and music blasting from cars. Noisy passangers on a 6 am train to work can also be un-nerving. However, I love listening to music, watching PBS, and hearing my 2 year old son scream with laughter.

Attila said...

This is really interesting; I think the musicians who commented probably play music that is soothing, uplifting, inspiring and beautiful, not the sort of "music" that blares out of cars, thumping and grinding and wailing so everyone around feels agressive and on edge. That sort of noise what I hate. I am sitting here with two "noises"; the ticking of the clock and the low hum of the dehumifier in the hallway. It's pleasant. I have ME (also called CFS) and I CANNOT read with talking in the background; I can't concentrate with too much noise and I really need peace and quiet or I can't function or rest.

The Duck Herder said...

I love this post. While I do enjoy good music, I don't need an articifial soundtrack to my life. I crave/enjoy/relish the presence and stillness that comes from getting rid of all the artificial back ground noise - which leaves much more room for the music of nature.

Nanna was right - too much TV rots your brain!

Chookie said...

I've never understood the need to have the TV on in the background, but love listening to my classical music station (ABC Classic FM, for the Aussies). Every weekday morning there is an interview with an interesting person (yesterday it was Sir Neville Marriner; today it was an expert on possums!). Radio doesn't stop you doing anything and traffic jams aren't as annoying if you drive with beautiful music or interesting thoughts -- but I'm usually alone in traffic jams and when doing housework.
We are blessed with plenty of interesting non-commercial TV but find we do not watch the commercial stations often. We don't own a TV; we've used a digital receiver on the Mac since our old TV died. And when we watch, we watch -- it's not in the background, but the foreground.
I think it's drawing a long bow to say that TV causes violence or inattention: before TV we had public hangings, dogfights, floggings and so on to entertain ourselves -- we're a violent species.

Deb G said...

I have never owned a television, although I've lived in houses with them. Mostly they annoy me. I don't like the mixture of talking, television or radio either. It's overwhelming. But I think part of the distinction here is "background noise." I love to listen to music and frequently do. But I'm really listening to it, it's part of my moment. There are wonderful and educational stories told through movies and documentaries and I think my life is richer for having seen some of them. I think it's a matter of being selective....

DarcyLee said...

It's almost like our society is afraid of the silence, isn't it? I hate going to anyone's house and we are all trying to talk with the TV blaring in the background-one of my pet peeves. We do have cable and I find that I watch too much TV when I'm at home alone or waiting up for my husband to come home from work. But, my husband and I rarely turn the radio on while we are in the car. We talk much more that way. I do love to listen to music, though, when I'm doing housework. It keeps me going.

Melinda said...

Really interesting comments, everyone - thank you.

I'm very excited by how many of us don't watch television! (Indeed, Joshua, we can do an awful lot with those 5 hours each day!)

Musicians, I did not mean to disparage music as I do enjoy it very much. I do listen to it less, though, than I used to. And what that has done for me, is let me listen to the music of life.

I walk through the streets of downtown every day. Sometimes I need to listen to my iTunes, just to stay in my own rhythm. But often I don't listen to music, and immediately I become more a part of my surroundings - I say hi to people, I observe more, and my thoughts are more influenced by what is around me.

That is to say, I turn down the background noise, but I don't always turn it off. Sometimes a good movie is good for the soul, and likewise a great piece of music.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love music and couldn't imagine being without it but I prefer to only have it on when I want to listen to it. I rarely choose background music (though I do sometimes listen to music while crafting). I don't watch much tv and its always something I'm really watching, never background...

GooseBreeder said...

The noises in my life are birds, wind blowing,rain falling and occassionally music, maybe an hour of tv if it's a special program, the cats calling for their dinner and the voices of my family and friends, talking,really talking and listening.Can't beat it!

viggiesveggies said...

Excellent post! I've been tv free for 2 years, but like you do have a dvd play for the occasional movie.

Joanne said...

I wish my husband wouldn't insist on having the TV on every night. Even if he isn't interested in anything on it- flicking through the channels. I would much rather have low background music or nothing at all. But his sister tells me that the television was always on in their home growing up. As I refuse to watch a lot of programs, I'll be on the computer or reading in the bedroom.
I love music and would usually have it on while home alone but most days would reach the point where the noise begins to irritate so I'd turn it off for a while. I always turn it down or off when there are other people around. Now that I'm homeschooling, there are very few times when no one else is around, hence very little music.
Music in shops is usually annoying (loud Christmas carols start here in early November- Ugh, let me out of there!) and television in coffee shops is totally off-putting on the rare occasions I go to coffee shops.
One thing I really cannot stand is when we go camping or visiting a natural attraction and someone is there with their car stereo or other music cranked up- its like they have to insulate themselves from nature as much as possible. Crazy.

Clare said...

An excellent article. Silence is good!
For me, hell is being stuck in an airport with nowhere free of the screen. The constant burble of 24hour 'news', the endless repetition of 'stories', the flicker of huge screens - it infringes on my personal space. There seems to be no escape in this country. Stores, restaurants, waiting rooms. Even the office at my last job, local radio was often playing all day. The music was distracting enough, but when the ads came on it made it impossible for me to concentrate on my work. Why can't the default setting be silence, or quiet, instead of noise pollution?

I feel that tv is forced upon us in public places, and not for our personal enrichment. It's awful having to struggle to hold a simple conversation when you have to make yourself heard over a media bombardment, and when the other person's eyes keep flitting over to the the screen. Even restrooms have music piped into them. Are we incapable of even going to the bathroom without musical accompaniment? I don't need to be 'entertained' every minute of my waking hours, thank you very much!

We don't watch tv, just the occasional dvd. I do listen to NPR, not as background noise, but because I am interested in hearing the actual program content. And I like to have some upbeat music to listen to when I'm cleaning.

I also like to go to sleep in silence, and see our home as a refuge from the perpetual noise of the outside world.