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.

silence and word

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested…

(MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS, POPE BENEDICT XVI, FOR THE 46th WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY:  Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization)

A couple of weeks ago, the hard-drive on my lap-top crashed. The repaired computer has returned home. My data was saved and restored, but I’m still in the process of down-loading all the necessary software. My mind is filled with usernames, account keys, and passwords. Meanwhile, I’m overwhelmed with tasks that were lost in cyber-space, and projects that are now even further behind schedule.

So, I needed a writing break. Writing helps me to center mind and heart. But, what should I write about? What do I need to hear to help me in the midst of a chaotic week?

During my daily web-surf of catholic and world news, I came across this amazing piece. Pope Benedict’s message for World Communications Day calls us all to seek silence. For those who delight in social communications, it seems a paradoxical message. Letting our voices be heard is the whole purpose of blogging, Face-booking, Twittering, and online discussing. Isn’t it? But what is the value of speaking if no one is listening? What is the use of listening if we don’t have the opportunity to enrich the discussion?

Respectful silence is at the heart of dialogue. This does not mean merely “biting our tongue”. It means listening deeply to the other. It means trying our best to understand without formulating instant responses and judgments.

I think that BXVI has a real winner with this message on Silence and Word. It’s a message I needed to hear. I hope to explore it further in the next few blog posts…