Symposium

A Discussion about (Mostly) Books as They Relate to a Theme of Contemporary Interest

by Diane Cook

THE SILENCE OF THE DUCKS

I didn’t get too far into Matthew B. Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction before the following passage captured my imagination:

There are some resources that we hold in common, such as the air we breathe and the water we drink. We take them for granted, but their widespread availability makes everything else we do possible. I think the absence of noise is a resource of just this sort. More precisely, the valuable thing that we take for granted is the condition of not being addressed. Just as clean air makes respiration possible, silence, in this broader sense, is what makes it possible to think.

Silence isn’t just quiet, he’s saying: it’s absence. It’s the absence of noise, the absence of stimuli. It is a thing, both aural and visual, that allows us to keep our attention where we want. And so noise isn’t just sound; it’s anything grabbing at our attention that we don’t accept or invite.

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Diane Cook is the author of Man V. Nature and a former producer for the radio show This American Life.

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