Seeking quiet in an age of information

I have nothing against information, but we simply get too much of it. We’re constantly getting answers to questions we’ve never asked. I don’t lay awake at night wondering which plastic surgery trend is the hottest, but my phone thinks I do. Every minute, I’m being fed neverending spam emails, coverage on Twitter fan wars, ads for the newest weight-loss drug and memes about Kylie Jenner and Timothee Chalamet. The sea of absolute irrelevancy is harmful. I’ve gotten so used to consuming mammoth amounts of shallow information, I can’t even discern what information is important or accurate anymore. And that’s by design.

As soon as the telegraph was invented, information had to be boiled down to its most eye-catching and valuable parts. It birthed a communication system that values efficiency over necessary context. Information became oversimplified in a quest for swiftness of delivery. Think about print newspapers and their fear-mongering political headlines, all information that didn’t make your heart drop lost its value. A plethora of flashy headlines deprived of necessary context became a norm still existing today. Short-form content takes this oversimplification to a new level. The modern exchange of information values quantity, not quality. Information is a commodity, and we are buying it in bulk. 

But that was supposed to be a good thing. The whole point of improved information exchange was to make us more informed. The weird part is that the current constant barrage of information isn’t even working. Being inundated with knowledge should’ve made us smarter, but it didn’t. It only created a system that hinges on promoting the illusion of being informed while actually knowing very little. It’s a sort of “jack of all trades” mindset. Why should we be thoroughly informed on one issue when we could feel like experts on every issue? It’s what allows us to feel informed about the world when we use a buzzword that we learned on TikTok from a serious-seeming guy in front of a 4K camera.  

So, we know a little bit about everything. Beyond oversimplification, why is that bad? I don’t have a concrete answer, but I believe it has something to do with how an excess of information can deprive us of our capacity to act. After I read my 40th article or watch my 70th TikTok about a certain world issue, what am I supposed to do with that? How do I take action while feeling overwhelmed? How can I act when I’m so tired of trying to figure out which person I should listen to? An infinite library of resources can easily paralyze us in a constant state of being afraid to have an opinion and thus never actually fixing any issues.

That’s the more “academic” side of this argument. Let’s talk about the personal.

An overabundance of stimulation can creep into the very fabric of our value system by simply being enjoyable. It’s entertaining to constantly be stimulated. Anything that’s “boring” immediately loses its value. And since we have such easy access to entertainment all the time, we expect it all the time. From the moment we wake up, to the time we close our eyes, we want to be entertained.

So, we settle for no less than 24/7 media consumption. Just look at my typical morning routine.

I watch my funny little videos on my phone while I brush my teeth. I check Instagram while I get ready for the day. I watch Netflix while responding to texts. I read the news too. I read articles about how the world is burning nestled between online ads about Chick-fil-A’s new pimento cheese sandwich. Then I carry on with my day. Because how am I supposed to form any serious critical thoughts about the world when an H&M pop-up ad just informed me that they’re having a 2-for-1 sale this Friday? On the bus, I put on my headphones and blast music so I can ignore those pesky feelings of overstimulation — don’t worry, I see the irony. Then I eat, sleep and repeat.

In that entire routine, I don’t give myself the time to think. To understand how I feel. To understand how I’m going to approach the day. I’m so focused on connecting with the world that the value of understanding myself vanishes in the noise. And it’s so comfortable. Never having to confront any uncomfortable emotions is easy. Being able to log into Netflix any time a negative thought even has the semblance of forming is an emotional crutch. It’s a ruse to keep us functioning at an insane pace. It reminds me of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” lyric that says “Y’all don’t wanna hear me, you just wanna dance.” André 3000 was right. Why be sad when you can watch YouTube? Why hold yourself accountable when you can listen to music? We live in an age of distraction and it’s creating a generation that is losing sight of themselves.

Now, let’s pause the pity party. How do we do better? How do we begin to value the stillness — the quietness — of daily life again?

It’s going to look different for everyone, but for me, it means going outside more without my headphones. It means hearing birds sing and seeing kids play in the quad. It means giving myself more time to just exist with the people I love away from my phone. It means deliberately checking in with myself weekly. It means petting more dogs. It means not letting my hobbies die. It means more mid-afternoon naps.

It means stopping our dependence on distractions to make our lives feel full. Life is going to be boring sometimes. It’s going to be slow and frustrating and painful. And sometimes life is not going to have music blasting in the background. But some things are meant to be savored without distraction.

Susan Chemmanoor is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.

Susan Chemmanoor

Susan is a freshman in Trinity. Her columns run on alternate Fridays.


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