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Life in the age of noise (powells.com)
169 points by fern12 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments



Probably not a popular figure on HN, but legendary filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky had a good message on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeUvB-KXQZk

"I think I’d like to say only that they [young people] should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to be spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view."

This is from decades ago. It's easy to suspect we live in the age of noise, but I feel it's likely the perception is exaggerated much like the notion our times are particularly turbulent - in reality the past was plenty turbulent too.


I pretty much dismiss all 'the youth today' statements. People have always been people, so why would the youth today be so much different from, say, young people a hundred years ago (in what they think, feel and want that is).

However, to add to the point about noise: Often I just want to go have a few drinks with my friends, but there's virtually no place where you can do that, without getting bombarded by way-too-loud music. The only places I could think of where that would not be the case are working-class watering holes where people my age apparently don't like to go anymore. I'd love for us (I'm living in Austria) to have more of a pub-culture like in England, where it seems to me, it's more accepted, also among young people, to just sit in a bar, have a drink and be able to talk to another.


Also living in Austria (Vienna), I do not experience the situation being as bad as you do. There are cafés where you can talk for hours (also in the evening), there are pubs (some of them do play loud music tough), and plenty other bars where you an go to and have a nice chat, with background music but not disturbingly loud. I'm sensitive to noise but there are usually plenty of choices if I want to hang out in tranquil places. The situation is different on the countryside where you don't have that much choice.


This is also my experience in Vienna. Having been there very often and also a few times in London I would say that there are both noisey and quiet bars/café's/pubs in both cities. And indeed in most cities in europe.


I pretty much dismiss all 'the youth today' statements.

I once read an article (it was a paper, so long time ago) about late Roman Empire customs. Young people used to fill the circus for massive, noisy concerts. No electric instruments, so the noise was achieved using lots of percussion. Also long hair and ripped trousers. Nihil novum...


I have difficulty finding bars where you can sit and talk; many of them have obnoxious top 40 playing loudly on the speakers. Had this problem yesterday when attending a tech meetup and the jukebox in the main room was overpowering the speakers.


I'd add Siegfried Kracauer to the discussion, a German journalist, sociologist and film theorist who wrote most of his essays during the Weimar Republic (many of them included in the "The Mass Ornament" (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674551633) volume). Unfortunately I couldn't quickly find that many English-written articles about his work, the best that I could do was this blog-post about one of his essays called "Boredom" (https://itwascuriosity.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/on-being-bor...) and especially his "Travel and Dance" essay (https://books.google.ro/books?id=yIWJASvV9uwC&pg=PA65&lpg=PA...), which talks critically about the mass-tourism phenomenon that was just about to start and about the dance and jazz music of his era.


Possibly off-topic, but I would have guessed Tarkovsky would be as popular here as any filmmaker, at least because of Solaris and Stalker. Are the nerds of today no longer into such stuff?


I think so: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=Stalker%20tarkovsky&sort=byPop...

Do you also recommend Nostalghia? Found out about it because it is inside Jon Blow's latest game.


Oh yeah I LOVE Nostalghia, if you haven't seen it do so ASAP!

But now we're in film-nerd territory, not nerd-film... :-)


> When I look at my children, I see that they hardly pause anymore. They are always accessible, and almost always busy. The three of them tend to sit in front of a screen — usually alone. I do it sometimes too. Become engulfed in my smartphone, enslaved to my tablet — as a consumer and at times as a producer. I am constantly interrupted on my tablet, interruptions engendered by other interruptions. It is stupid.

Sadly, I've noticed this with myself and friends.

We'll be playing a game together on PS4 and instead of just naturally carrying a conversation during a loading screen, a friend will pick up their phone and check their messages. A break in between plays, and yes, they'll check their messages. Check the score. Check a webpage. Sometimes my friends will literally be distracted from playing the game by checking his phone.

It's not until we're sitting at a table eating food for which all distractions are off the table.

Even when I'm tackling a tough problem like a programming challenge or trying to type a detailed reply, instead of sitting with the problem in my head I find myself trying to quickly distract myself. Instead of giving myself 10 minutes to struggle and think, I'll open a new tab and take a quick break to YouTube or HN.

I have noticed that I'm in that very distracted state, one thing I find helpful is to meditate for 10-20 minutes. Just accept the fact that I'm being 'inefficient' for that time and slow down. Reset. Breathe and let my mind kind of settle. I find that if I keep doing that over a course of a day, I'll find that I'm more productive and able to think about things instead of constantly demand to be distracted.


Lately I've realised I'm exhausted from consumption of * media and entertainment (I don't watch TV, more YouTube etc).

Last night I was awake at 2am just thinking I would like to just purge all phones and computers from my house, permanently.

I'm not entirely blaming the devices; However, this behaviour is unsustainable.

I've also noticed a worrying trend, my parents are getting more and more addicted, I feel they have less change of realising it and getting help.


I've recently started running regularly. At first I got a phone strap thing and some Bluetooth earbuds. Used them while running for a while. Music or podcasts.

Then my friend, who is a much better runner than me, told me he likes to keep it simple. None of that stuff, just a Garmin watch for pacing/tracking reasons.

So I've started running "quietly" as well. It's great. Not only am I exercising my body, I'm cleaning my mind.


I used to listen to podcasts while running or walking, but eventually found that they were replacing the 'quiet time' that my brain would otherwise be using to mull over work or home challenges I was facing.

As a programmer, I've discovered that I almost always do better work, faster, if I've been taking my walks and exercise without audio entertainment. Don't know whether that happens for other people as well, but it's been pretty consistent for me.

(I do still wear cheap earbuds during exercise, though; you get far fewer interruptions when people assume you won't be able to hear them!)


Regarding podcasts, my new strategy has been to buy a fucking awesome armchair. And listen to them only on that armchair. My other ritual is to evaluate every five minutes whether the current podcast is pointless or not. And skip it before the end. That is surprisingly efficient.


This! While I had been preparing for the marathon, I never ran with earbuds. Running, in essence, is a deeply philosophical activity.


This is a chicken and egg question.

A device will interfere between your inner self and your surroundings. Ideal when your surroundings are shitty. On the contrary, the lack of device will "force" you to search and find a nicer surroundings.

Introspection vs connection, choose your side.


That's a very interesting observation. I run without buds and the only time when I'd want them is really boring straight stretches, e.g. along highway.

I'd say novelty is important too. Whenever I do smth in new location or listen to new music, there's next to zero introspection. The usual location or known music seem helps introspection. In addition to that, if the location is unpleasant, it's hard to get into introspection mode.

TL;DR known-but-nice locations are best for introspection runs :)


Anecdata: The two best[1] marathon runners I know mostly run with earbuds.

[1] One did 240+ in 2017; the other 120+. Both broke the relevant records.


I often run with my Bluetooth headphones on, but playing nothing. This is because of the fear I’ll be 5k from home and suddenly ‘bored’ whilst running. It’s rediculous.


Why are you afraid of being bored?

You brain knows how to fill the time. You may be afraid because you know what you brain will fill it with. But it may be worth to listen to what you brain has to say and try to get to terms with yourself :)


Mate if I could tell you :)


Go for a run, leave your buds at home, report when you're back :)

I think I know how you feel. I love long solo runs/rides/hikes. I'd lie if I said I was never afraid of random thoughts popping into my head.

I look at it as sort of meditation. There're plenty of articles regarding fear of meditation. Check them out. You're not alone afraid of being alone.


I'm not afraid of random thoughts, nor being alone - I have a sense of unease about being a decent distance from home and not being entertained on the way back.

Let's not over diagnose this :)


I was talking specifically about the unease of not being entertained, thus forced to be with yourself.

Just sharing my experience. Unease usually doesn't come from nowhere. Everybody is different though.


I used to go to work via the train and always had my earbuds in; part was from boredom, but I think a more important factor was blocking out the noise and whatnot. When I forgot my earbuds, I got restless on the one hand, and while waiting at a train station, remembered why I had them in. Loud train noises and such.

Of course, no earbuds will block out the smell. (trains here dump their toilets onto the train tracks; it's officially not allowed to use toilets at stations, but it's not enforced).


Great advice


Interesting, I have a similar sentiment. I am aware and dismayed by my abuse of online media on my phone and computer. And so I think I have an addiction to some extent, as I tend to partake in it despite not wanting to.

I have taken some preventative measures. I have not gotten a new phone yet, and do not plan to until totally necessary (using an iPhone 6s currently), since most new smart phones are appealing only in the ways that matter if I increase engagement with my phone, which is the opposite of what I'd like to do.

It's this awareness of addiction, or at the very least, being multiple company's sucker at once via their products, that is most disheartening. We are able to function right now going on and off the devices/apps/games/feeds, but when will be the point at which weaning off of these things creates real withdrawals, and will we be able to identify that transition if it ever occurs?

I'm gonna go sit on my couch now...


I often enjoy the silence in the car alone, Especially on a rainy day. No more cell phone, no more TV, and no more noise, It's comfortable.I can hear some true voice from my heart and ponder some problems from work, personal development or anything else. Enjoy the silence at the proper time is necessary, it can create the unexpected value. Moreover, it can free up the heart, and make me better and better.


Pulling into the parking lot at work, or the driveway at home and turning of the car (and radio), opening the door, and just sit there for a few minutes is oddly relaxing to me. It's just a few minutes of nothing, and it's so comfortable.


My iPad broke unexpectedly a few weeks ago. I had to switch back to a desktop computer. My media consumption changed A LOT after that. The screen size makes things more impactful, you are sitting in front of the screen so you are engaged to that activity, and the keyboard makes you want to type things (post comments, write Markdown texts about what you think is important, code). Having no sound device on that desktop was also a good way to avoid Youtube addiction.

You may want to test that.


I am going to walk the Camino de Santiago without any phone/tech later this year for exactly this reason


I envy those that can quiet their minds in 10-20 minutes. I need to take about an hour to let the dust settle in my head.


Attentive breathing helps me


> Even when I'm tackling a tough problem like a programming challenge or trying to type a detailed reply, instead of sitting with the problem in my head I find myself trying to quickly distract myself. Instead of giving myself 10 minutes to struggle and think, I'll open a new tab and take a quick break to YouTube or HN.

Damn it. That's exactly what I'm doing right now. Back to the task at hand...


> It is difficult only to sit there.

The above quote reminds me of this quote by the mystic poet, Rumi: "Deafened by the noise of wanting and desire you are unaware the beloved lives in the core of your heart. Allow the noise to silence and you will hear her voice."

I have this quote written in the first page of my Moleskine planner, where it states "In case of loss, please return to:". I think what this quote means is that we often experience the world through our perceived identity. But it’s not a definite perception, it’s more of a changing figment. Its sometimes difficult to just sit back and relax, we have all these wants and desires. But beyond this noise, there lies in the core of our heart what some refer to as our natural state, unmodified and unbound by the mind. We all have moments when we forget about ourselves like when we sense something of beauty: when we cry for ten minutes in the dark of our room and the neck of our shirt becomes soaked with tears and then we go to our backyard and look at the night sky, or when we see an authentic interaction, true forgiveness, natural compassion, warm understanding. A state where we feel at an effortless ease. This state is the ‘open secret’, readily and always available to us, unfortunately, all too often we are "deafened by the noise".


It took a gradual disconnect to get me back on track. As best a developer can disconnect anyway. I leave my phone behind as often as I can, and it opens me up to so many small interactions with people that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

I started taking my book to the city's gardens on weekends. I found the first time I went there, I plonked down on a bench, and the months of constant engagement finally caught up to me. I sat doing nothing for at least an hour, and didn't even bother with the book.

I haven't felt that level of mental exhaustion since I cut out what engagement I can. That day was such a contrast against how I normally felt that the decision to go lower tech was easy.

Every now and then it creeps back insidiously, and I find myself mindlessly flicking around the web or my phone if I have it with me. I can always tell when I am slipping when I get out to the gardens again, and I feel the exhaustion. It serves as a kind of barometer for my mental state, because it can be really hard to tell when you are burning yourself out.


This topic is gaining momentum rapidly! The following discussion (of a more recent article specifically focused on how immediately available overwhelming choice has impacted music listening habits) was on the front page today:

Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment in Dedicated Listening | https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16158888

The diluvial [flood] nature of modern media leaves us little time to pause. The challenge, then, is to cultivate the patience and the discipline necessary to engage more deeply than the modern world allows. Just because we are flooded doesn't mean we have to drown.

HN user kenning summarized it this way (talking about Facebook specifically, but I believe the comment applies):

I think cigarettes are a great comparison. I heard it a few years back.

When popular, a huge amount of the population used cigarettes despite growing research showing that it had a slight but consistent harmful effect. A hooked individual is unlikely to stop using even when given this evidence, as the product is addictive and gets stronger with network effects. Younger generations understood the harm better and had to avoid regular temptation to engage.

source: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15784708


Ironically, as someone who smokes I think smoking has saved me from the noise. Before it was a way to socialize but now it has a social stigma and I generally smoke alone. Instead of getting distracted and opening a new tab on hacker news I'll go outside and smoke and think about the problem I'm working on. Smoking gives measured distractions, as opposed to random phone surfing and messaging. I don't do that. I'm fine sitting two hours at the auto mechanic waiting for my car with no phone, but halfway through I'm going to go outside and smoke.


I quit a couple months ago, because lately I find that the toll of the vice outweighs the pleasure of it. But I haven't quit taking smoke breaks, because they're far too useful to give up for precisely the reasons you describe.


Modern society requires us to endure the daily grind and push our deepest thoughts and urges away. We are taught to fear our inner demons more than anything.

We need accomplishment, entertainment and distraction because we're supposed to live like we have no choice. But we have, and nobody can save us from ourselves.

Changing jobs, leaving your family, moving to another city.. we all have some deep urges we keep suppressing, ranging from trivial to life-changing, and to keep them away, we cover them with fears that unearth when the distraction pauses and make us seek more distraction before we notice our real issues.


> According to a much-referenced study, we humans are worse at concentrating than a goldfish.

So, I decided to fact-check that nonsense.

Found an article from the Telegraph [1] which links to an older article [2] which supposedly supports that claim. But it isn't mentioned there. It only says that Golfish “can remember where they found food up to 12 days previously.”. The university itself explains the “media feeding frenzy” around the research [3] but does not actually dispute it. Also, the Microsoft study seems to have been reported without context [4]. The article says that, “it turns out that there is no evidence that goldfish - or fish in general - have particularly short attention spans or memories, despite what popular culture suggests.” Finally, I found another article which did some in-depth research into proving these misleading claims false [5].

[1]: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-sh...

[2]: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/1093788...

[3]: https://www.macewan.ca/wcm/MacEwanNews/RESEARCH_INTO_FISH_ME...

[4]: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790

[5]: https://www.ceros.com/blog/no-dont-attention-span-goldfish/


It will be interesting to see how VR/AR plays out.

On the one hand, if say Tibetan prayer gongs, or trees swaying in the wind, are your Pavlovian triggers for relaxed centering, with VR, zing, you're there. And with eye tracking and other biometric and task monitoring, you might even autotrigger them upon need.

On the other hand, checking you're phone? How last decade. With AR, you can immerse yourself in your phone 24x7. Your friends are all around you - the open office^H life plan. And Bubblegum Troll is playing with your cat.


> if say Tibetan prayer gongs, or trees swaying in the wind, are your Pavlovian triggers for relaxed centering

They may be, but only after you have trained them. You can get a quick dopamine hit from say browsing reddit and feel relaxed but it’s not deep. The point of meditation is to train the mind to do that thing - sit still, focus on the mantra, whatever it is you’re doing. The byproduct is that over many repetitions this state becomes more natural and after many more repetitions even accessible at will. The AR monastery will be nothing more than another shallow fix without training it to be so. The goal state is fairly independent of external stimuli. I see AR/VR as being nothing more than another potential distraction.


Here's the rub: if VR gets you to your peaceful place, that's great, but what happens when you don't have access to your VR? Suddenly you are not equipped to deal with a situation, or even center yourself because you don't have that particular crutch.


I performed poorly at my last two jobs and eventually got laid off. I think the main reason is my constant net surfing from one news site to another. It started like this. I would issue the build and it would take few minutes. I used to go to a news site during that time. More builds and more surfing followed. Now I find it hard to focus. I need help. Can someone please suggest me some remedies. I don't have the resources to go to net addiction camps.


My suggestion is a difficult one: go on a silent retreat. No internet, cell phone, electronics. At least 3 days is my recommendation. 5 days is ideal. I don't know about other religions, but any Trappist or Benedictine monastery will let you into their guest house-- and feed you-- for free regardless of your religious affiliations. (You generally have to book ahead of time, and they do appreciate donations at the end of your stay.)

While there, spend time in meditation. Maybe start with 5 minutes at a time, and try to increase it over the course of the retreat. Go on long walks. Read some books and do some journaling, but limit your reading/journaling time.

I think 3 days is the bare minimum, because I find that it takes me 2 days to get my head out of my day-to-day life.

The downside (?) is that when you return to the real world, you will realize just how noisy and stressful it is. Just turning my cell phone back on activated a stress response in me the last time i retreated.

Once you return to the real world, continue to spend time in daily solitude (alone, silent, and still).

I've found this practice makes a big difference in my level of self control.

Other things that have helped me: creating a daily task list for myself, each task being short and clear and relatively easy to do. Break big tasks down into smaller, bite-sized ones. Try to do the most important ones first. If there are particularly egregious tasks, assign a reward to each and do them early. (The reward might be, "If I finish this task, I'll go out for a walk / get a nice porter at the pub / read Hacker News.")


Christophilus, thank you so much for taking the time for writing such a thoughtful response. I will try some of the things you mentioned. About a month back I deleted my Whatsapp account because I realized I was compulsively checking it. It has brought me some relief. The silent retreat you suggested indeed sounds right even though I find it scary because I have never once attempted to remain silent for a decent length of time. It may be needed to break my compulsive use of smartphone, surfing web.


> It started like this. I would issue the build and it would take few minutes. I used to go to a news site during that time.

Just sit there and wait for the build to finish. Look out the window if you have one close.


Yes, I should have done that as looking out the window at a tree would have been organic and unlike the sensationalist news. I did not realize how much harm my constant checking of websites have done to my attention. Now I don't have a job and for reason I need to find the cobra insurance did not work yesterday. My daughter has asthma and I paid $450 to buy Albuterol and Flovent. I think I will eventually get it reimbursed from the insurance carrier but the guilt I felt for ruining my jobs and the shame I felt. oh God.


Well, we need to do something constantly, we human beings cannot be bored, but what you can do to avoid boredom is not only to check your phone, but also do something meaningful, what could make you happy/healthy, like learning/hiking/traveling. The point is, just concentrate on something useful. Life is not just a phone, and for most of the time, checking your phone can bring you nothing but the slight comfort for a second.


Well, we need to do something constantly, we human beings cannot be bored, but what you can do to avoid boredom

Ten years ago or so, I did a meditation retreat. The first two days of silence and having my eyes closed were hell, I craved for music, TV, chatting with people, etc. Somehow the small daily distractions seemed fundamental to surviving.

I was ready to pack up and leave and told the instructor so during the next daily talk. He smiled and said 'ok, we'll make sure that you get refunded'. Somehow, his light and humorful reaction made me realize that my brain had built a monster out of my cravings and that I let it dominate my will completely. After our chat I could more easily see the craving for what it was. During the remainder of the retreat it would sometimes rear its ugly head again, but I could just observe it as 'oh, that's craving again'. It comes and it goes away.

The nice thing was that after those initial two days, I got a lot calmer and my brain clearly started processing things from the past.


> users in rich countries touch their phones 2,600 times a day — once every 33rd second.

I touch my computer 400 times a minute, it doesn't mean I'm addicted, just means I'm typing.

Seems like a strange factoid that's just there to shock/scare us.

This whole article seems to be a strange mix of not knowing what point it's trying to make and random quotes.

>To shut out the world — to sometimes experience silence — is, as I write in my book, not about turning your back on your surroundings, but rather the opposite: it is about searching for your own South Pole, seeing the world a bit more clearly, and trying to love your life.

What does that even mean? I guess it would make sense if he had covered any of those points already but he didn't really.


That's why of the reasons why I've implemented "quiet time" for my kids.. Every day after they do homework, they can play for as long as they want with legos or other toys.. But at 6pm they have one hour of quiet time where they have to be in their room, by themselves with all electronic devices off. Only after that they can play on a computer for one hour. Of course I would rather have them play on a computer first and have quiet hour right before the bed, but for various reasons that's harder to implement.. For now this will have to do.


I do agree that boredom can be seen as a lack of purpose. When you're fullfilling a role or you're passionately sunk into an activity, or train of thought, not much can take you away from it; and most people would describe you as being in the zone, or in the clouds.

With a growing family, I find it's about getting some 'me' time. I've found it tricky to even just shut the door.


People are scared of their own minds. Scared if they shut off everything that they'll find out that their mind is full of terror, depression, loneliness, fear, or just plain junk. Scared that if they had to think their way out of a problem they couldn't do it. Being alone, being quiet, being without distraction is a test. Will I go insane?

Well, by people I mean me. YMMV.


Insane, probably not. Bored? Sure. And why be bored when there's always something to do?


silence is golden, except for people with tinnitus.

I had a lovely ride in a glider, but its hardly silent up in the sky either: air is noisy moving over your flight surfaces.

I think silence is a manufactured state: noise is a subjective qualitative thing. As I lay in an MRI recently I found myself counting time-beats as the head rotated, groups of four, groups of eight (its very noisy btw)


Internet makes use of one part of our brain. When I stop I can feel the blood rush somewhere else. When I solder something, or play music, I feel very differently. Interaction with the physical world isn't to be abandoned.


So good, thank you for sharing.


I think the author could benefit from the Zen Buddhism meditation practice called zazen.


One of my favorite T-shirts reads "enjoy the silence..."


Probably a Depeche Mode reference rather than mental control related? Good song though...


Well it's a Depeche Mode song quote, but the slogan is printed along with the shape of an island where I don't take a computer with me when I go there and turn on the phone only every other day or so or simply forget it. Being there is a completely different mind set and relaxing and for me that is the mental control to actively decide that no business or computer problem can bother me and ruin my day. Peace of mind.


This sounds like "I walked to the north pole - and nobody noticed."




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