The office is empty this morning. I just closed iTunes, and I am enjoying listening to my own thoughts. No music, no talking, no background, just quiet. Sitting in silence is a luxury these days, and one that should not be taken for granted.
When I was a kid I loved to find these quiet hidden spots. They were usually by water, but sometimes they would be a small clearing in the woods, or a smooth rock off of a gravel road that climbed above the forest. To find a favorite of mine, you would visit the local riverside park in our small town. From there you would walk along the shore to the edge of the park, climb under the brush and push your way through small trees that created a natural barrier concealing a small strip of land that jutted out into the river. To look at it from the outside you just saw the canopy of the trees and bushes that grew there naturally, but once inside you could climb back to the river where there was a small clearing. A place just big enough for a boy to sit, and a handy accompaniment of small rocks to toss in the river.
I don’t know how much time I spent there, or how many times I would find myself looking for the shelter of peace and quiet, but there were enough times for me to mark it as being significant in my youth. A recent article in the opinion section of the New York Times titled The Quiet Ones (found through a link from the excellent site enough, by Patrick Rhone) reminded me of these times, and how important it is to be able to turn it all off.
I was trying to explain to my kids last night how different the world for them is now than it was for us. We had no Internet, no cell phones, no computers. These things existed at the time, but in our small mountain town, none of the people I knew had them. If you were lucky you might have a Walkman, if you were really lucky you might have a game boy, but the batteries would die, and you were left with nothing to entertain you. If your parents had money, they might have bought you a Nintendo, but even then we had nothing like the constant, always on, on-demand stream of entertainment and connectedness that we have today. If you wanted to talk to one of your friends, you picked up the phone attached to the wall and dialed their number on the rotary dial. Or, more likely, you just walked over to their house and knocked on the door.
Even the walk over to a friends house was quiet time. Time to let your imagination flow wherever it pleased. These times were important, it is in these little in-between times where we are defining ourselves. If we are constantly seeking out the feedback and approval of others, we are not giving ourselves time enough to decide who we are on our own.
As a parent, I want to make sure my kids have the educational and competitive edge they need to be successful when they enter the workforce. I also want to give them the things they want, just because I love them. But there are times when I worry about what the ubiquity of “free” entertainment is doing to them. We didn’t have the Internet when we were kids, so we don’t know what the long term effect will be fore them. Are they getting enough quiet time? Am I? It is this worry that prompts me to send them outside to play instead of watching a movie, and to restrict their Internet access, and to prompt them, again and again, to read, create or use their imagination.
I am not a Luddite, I’m not against technology. I make my living off of it, and I understand the internal workings of it quite well. Perhaps it is this familiarity that has begun to breed a certain type of contempt. We are lucky enough to have access to whatever we want to watch, listen to, or play, whenever we want it, but with this freedom comes the responsibility to ourselves to know when to turn it all off.
Turn it off, and spend some time alone, in a quiet place.