silence in an age of information overload

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When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds….

 BENEDICT XVI Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization

The 46th World Communications Day message is a timely reflection for our age of information overload.

I confess to being a news junkie. I spend far too many hours in the day surfing web-sites, reading articles, checking out one more link or blog. I try to justify this as ‘research’ for my writing. I’m a big believer that a good writer must be an avid reader. But not all that we read is trustworthy.

And, not all that we read is of value. At the end of the day, my head is filled with too much useless information. (Damn you, Yahoo News!) It answers my curiosity of the moment, but serves no long term purpose. And, since the hard-drive capacity in my brain is limited (more so as the years pass), it gets dumped into the information trash bin. And yet, don’t we need to hear all voices in order to discern for ourselves what to believe? In this sense, the useless information serves its own purpose. (I need to read about the latest red-carpet fashion flop in order to judge, for myself, it`s newsworthiness. ;-))

Much has been said about the seismic change in news broadcasting with the dawning of 24-7 news networks and web-sites. Remember the days when the daily newspaper and nightly news were your only source of current events? You sat and read, or sat and watched, then waited until the next day to get your updates. Now, we are bombarded with news around the clock. And, it takes creativity and tenacity to keep the news coming when information is still scarce. For example, check out the techno magic on CNN to keep viewers glued to yet another Primary debate or election. What more is there to say? What other angle is there to dissect the statistical distribution of votes? How many more views and commentaries do we need?

Perhaps information over-loads us only if we allow it too. As BXVI says, the key is to intentionally seek the silence amid the abundance of voices. Silence is not merely shutting our eyes and closing our ears. Silence is stepping back in order to contemplate and process what we have received. Pondering in the silence helps us to add to our knowledge of the bigger picture; for ourselves and with others.

Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge.

Silence is needed to hear the voice of wisdom deep within each of us; the voice that helps to filter and discern the trustworthy and valuable information from the useless.

4 thoughts on “silence in an age of information overload

  1. I am finding it more and more annoying being with people who are loosing eye contact during a conversation because they are “checking” their IMPORTANT messages on some communication piece in their pocket. Not only do they answer the ring (which is also very distracting as it plays a rap tune, an oldie song, a march, an old fashion telephone ring, etc). It reminds me of “call waiting”…being in a middle of a conversation and the other party says, “can you hold”…HOLD, for a peson who might be a tad more important than me. My teen aged grandson calls or texts his mother from the upstairs of the house!?!?!

    I have been told I am “missing out” because I do not text, take photos and send them out, I don’t Twitter and I do not have Facebook. The only thing I am missing out on is the attention of the person across from me to whom I’ve been talking who reaches again into their pocket…or the nerve of one who places the “mechanical nuisance” on the table so it is in easy reach.
    Are we afraid of the silence, missing out on whatever, wanting to feel more important than believe we are? In the silence I can sense the life-giving rythmn of my heart, the singing of the birds on my property, the rustle of the leaves and the opportunity to hear my God.

    1. Great point, Chris. My husband and I have an issue with businesses and offices that give the phone priority over the customer or client standing in front of them. In our office, if a patient is at the desk and the phone rings, then we let it go to voicemail. It’s funny how many folks are uncomfortable with an unanswered phone; asking us to pick it up. We happily tell them that they have our attention at the moment.

      It is so true that we need intentional silence to give full attention to the other. So, is there a polite way to point out the rudeness of giving phones priority?

  2. In addition to silence there is stillness. In communication there are times when it’s important to pause before replying. This is true in the spoken word as well as the wrtiten and electronic word. Technology makes it so easy to reply to something instantly. It can take discipline to pause, process, then reply. I am so often tempted to react and respond, but I know that when I reply to a message at work my words may be inflluential. I don’t know how many people understand this responsibility. God does not only speak in the storm but in the quiet breeze. Thanks for your post, Isabella.

    1. Beautifully said, Cathy! I’ve learned the hard way to pause before hitting that ‘send’ button. In the pausing, the wee angel and devil on my shoulders often start scrapping…send it!….no, don’t!….Now, if I have any doubt, I press the delete key. It’s often cathartic to write out a quick and angry response. But, it’s usually better kept to yourself….especially if there’s no taking it back.

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