I awoke to the sound of gunfire. I lurched out of bed, grabbed my aching knees, threw on my robe and ran to the window. Would I see a police squad storming my neighbor's house or a psychopath aiming a rifle into the sky? Neither. There, in the driveway, a car backfired as the driver threw our newspaper onto the honeysuckle. I stumbled out the door, hoping no one would see my sleepy face and pale, skinny legs. Then I squinted down at the headlines: economic problems, terrorism, political wrangling, and a sex scandal. Quickly, I moved to the sports page.
By the time I got back inside, the upstairs thumped to the beat of my daughters' music. Perhaps the car had awakened them as well. After a shower, a shave, and breakfast, l completed ten minutes of "devotions," including 20 seconds of high-quality prayer. Then I checked my e-mail, called a business and got put on hold (while being assured that my call was valuable), played computer solitaire to bide my time, checked e-mail again, heard the microwave ding, took out my reheated coffee, checked e-mail again, gave up on the phone call, kissed my wife goodbye, hopped in the car, and drove to a store.
As I raced through curves, radio announcers told me to buy a lottery ticket, get tires at a discount, and call in to win a free pass to the latest movie. At the grocery store, I grabbed a "homemade" lunch package, waited impatiently in the long line, heard the "beeps" of the cashier's scanner, read outrageous headlines on the tabloids, listened to music coming out of the earbuds of the guy in front of me… and so on and so on.
Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise.
On any given day, many of us would say that Dr. Seuss's Grinch was right. Every Who down in Whoville sings for our attention and money, and we get fed up. We scream from our caves that we are going to unplug once and for all… then we turn up the volume of our favorite rock songs, and the world is put right again.
Our Daily Cacophony
Noise could be understood as everything that clamors for our attention. Of course, there is physical noise, such as the hum of the freeway or the incessant meowing of my elderly cat. But we hear other sounds as well: noises about how to live, what is important and who we need to be.
Noise is not evil. Some noises we can control; some we cannot. Some we ignore; others drive us crazy. And some sounds get into our heads and motivate our actions.
Physical noise. We don't need to be convinced that the world is noisy to our ears. We hear cars, trains and planes. Washers, vacuums, fans. Screaming kids. At a recent college football game I attended, the sound system blasted deafeningly whenever the game stopped: advertisements, announcements, pounding music that made conversation impossible. Silence was not to be tolerated.
There are also physical noises that don't come at the ear, but at the eye. We live in an image-saturated world, a world that shouts at us visually. From TV, the Internet, movies, and magazines, this blitz of images flashes by at a rate too speedy to process rationally, and it often moves us to overstate the photographic values of beauty, artistic composition, flashiness, violence, and newness. We flit around, treating life like a series of snapshots. Sometimes we are amazed by images, sometimes dulled. We may close our eyes for relief, but usually not for long.
Cultural noise. Contemporary America sends us thousands of messages a day, from "Get the body you always wanted" to "Don't miss this movie's exciting bloodbath." Our glamour-conscious society tells us to do what it takes to be and stay beautiful, rich, young, and famous. All of this requires more: more sexiness, more consumer goods, more twentysomethingness, more popularity. Conveniently, all of these are available for purchase.