The Value of Silence in Human Digital Activity
“Most of our thoughts these days are reactions to, and shaped by other people, organisations and social media. But when, out of your own silence, you create your own thought, you come closer to your own originality. And then universe is changed forever.” Paul Levy
The nature of subliminal influence is we don’t notice that influence on us. Digital influence is a bit like waves washing against a cliff. That erosion is so gradual that you can’t feel it happening. And the process seems so slow that it is easy to not notice it happening at all.
The hours you spend online is shaping who and what you are.
If you look at the erosion of a rock by sea waves in real time, you cannot see that erosion taking place just by looking. You have to imagine it. It is only over the long term that we can see the effect of erosion. Over a year we could film the rock, speed the film up on playback and then we can behold the change. The rock has change shape, might be diminishing or moving.
In our daily lives we don’t notice the impact of the digital world on our thoughts, feelings and actions. Yet, as with the waves against a cliff, that erosion is taking place and, over the longer run, the change can be very significant.
If we are like that rock, we are being changed, reshaped by forces outsides of ourselves. But, unlike the rock, we aren’t as closed as a system. We can choose where we place ourselves, for how long, and we can even step away from the influence altogether.
The digital realm influences us. Unlike the waves of the sea, that influence is intentional. Advertising is intentional – it wants to affect us, change and shape our behaviour. Constant bad news can erode our sense of optimism. The quickly flashing computer or TV screen, flashing so fast it cheats our senses, can make us feel tired or spaced out. Constant alerts and notifications on our smartphones and tablets can make us nervous, or turn us into text or social media addicts.
The more time we spend digitally connected, the more we are affected and changed by it. Shaped by it.
And behind that “it” are corporations – public and private, more or less open or secret, each with an agenda, each with goals and intentions, each with a technical, digital wave, designed to wash against our will power, our feelings and our attitudes. Some want us to buy stuff. Others want us to be addicted so they can sell not advertising. Yet others want to influence who we vote for, what we like to dislike, even how we relate to our friends and family. Even how we see the world.
These organisations are shaping and influencing our children, but also our grandparents, our work colleagues and our friends.
This was, of course, happening before digital technology came along, but it has multiplied, expanded and “exploded” in quantum leaps. Processing power and the sheer spread of the digital is touching almost every moment of our lives.
And it is no longer just about what we look at and read on a screen. Now that influence seeks to impact on our other senses, even our sleeping life.
Some of that influence is benevolent, well intentioned and kind. It can wake us up to suffering in the world, or inspire us to make someone’s dream come true with a small donation. It can inspire and aid our creativity. It can make us better informed or better networked. But so much of that benevolence is laced with often hidden influence – to make us desire something, feel guilty, and want to keep on connecting.
I am eroding away at you right now using the very technology I’m am talking about!
What I have noticed in this constant digital influence – this erosion of our current ways of being – is that many of my friends and even loved ones, little by little, are becoming colder as people, cleverer in an intellectual way. They are becoming more scheming and less tolerant, more strategic and playing conversation like a game. They polarise more – simplifying life into this or that, yes or no, in or out and everything is “keel!”.
They hide behind texting and text more than they talk. They play power politics with smileys and the giving and withholding of “X”s. But most of all, they react often immediately, regularly distracted by new texts and alerts, lightning fast, from thought to fingertips with no time for the slower feelings of the heart.
They text on the toilet and sleep with their devices as surrogate alarm clocks by their beds. They become more critical of others pointing out conversational behaviours and habits in others that irritate them; “You’ve already told me that!”
They are drawn back again and again to their devices and online conversations.
And they aren’t aware of the influence all of this is having on them, minute by minute, in tiny ways that build up over time and change them, in ways that might dismay them. More confident, yes, better more fluent communicators, yes, but also colder, cleverer, crueler and more strategic.
Holding back these waves of influence on you can slow the less benevolent erosion down to almost zero.
Our natural resilience and ability to heal as organisms needs only space, time to heal, and to pause for recovery. That arises when we consciously create silence.
We can do that by switching off, stepping or gazing away from digital connection. We go for a walk. we look out of the window. We stop staring at the screen. We turn off alerts and notifications. We place our digital activity with better time management. We connect just a few times a day where we really focus and then we stop. We have a day without digital connection. We go on a digital detox for a week.
We reflect on our digital activity. Perhaps we meditate or just pause in silence.
In silence we recover. And that silence involves looking away from the screen. It involves not typing, not checking in, not constantly responding. We step away and the waves cease to wash against us.
In that silence you might hear the insistent echo of your recent digital activity, you might feel the habitual pull to go back in. The silence may initially reveal just how much the digital world is eroding away at your will power. That might be a shock.
In the silence you might feel the first symptoms of painful withdrawal. Survive that and you may just notice just how the digital realm has been, and is, shaping your thoughts, feelings and behaviour in ways that you do not want. It is only in that silence that you might become the master, the designer, the leader of your own life once again.
Before the whole cliff crumbles into the sea to be swallowed up by the vast ocean. And then you are gone forever.