The Screaming of the Modern World

The modern world has become an unbearably noisy place.

Saturday night provided a typical example of this unhappy phenomenon. We ventured out to join a friend’s bi-monthly karaoke party at a certain working class tavern, not in order to sing — no one wants to hear that — but because the event usually attracts at least a few people worth chatting with. On this occasion, however, there was a highly amplified band of middle-aged musicians on the patio blasting out songs from Grand Funk Railroad and other rock ‘n’ roll acts from the early days of their ongoing adolescence, so the karaoke singers retaliated by cranking up the volume of their warbling, the patrons began shouting their drink orders and chit-chat in order to be heard, all joining together to create a cacophony that made conversation impossible.

Seeing no point in shouting out our flirtations, and starting to suffer a severe headache, we motored to a nearby coffeehouse to sit outside and talk foreign policy and old movies with a savvy older hipster who hangs out there. The blaring bad band that usually holds forth from the bar across the street was luckily absent, and the alt-rock satellite station playing on the tinny speakers was held to a reasonable volume, but our conversation was routinely interrupted by an intermittent parade of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and neon-lit muscle cars that had all been tuned to an attention-grabbing roar. Eventually we abandoned our futile quest for conversation and retreated to the quiet of home, but at every stoplight along the way we were serenaded by the thudding rap and heavy metal of the cars that pulled up alongside.

Nobody else seemed to notice, much less find all the noise objectionable, but we suspect that is only because it has become so very omnipresent and unremarkable. The soundtracks on the movies at the local bijou, the shock jocks and the ranters on the radio, the advertisements on television, the patrons at the next table in the restaurant, the guy with the complaint about the donuts at the convenience store, all are loud and getting ever louder just to be heard over the din. Even in such a sedate neighborhood as ours the quiet at night is often violated by the thunderous sound systems of passing automobiles or the oldies concerts at a nearby park.

Some people seem to thrive on it, we’ve noticed, and even grow anxious in solitude or quiet. Perhaps they’ve grown addicted to the relentless sensory stimulus provided by our quick-cut popular culture, or maybe they simply fear the loneliness of being left alone with their thoughts. It’s possible, on the other hand, that they’ve never had the opportunity to learn the serenity that can be found in silence.

We offer no solutions to this modern annoyance, only a softly stated lament and a hope that if more people notice all the noise there might be some sort of cultural revolution against it. Let the silent majority prevail.

— Bud Norman