Scared of Silence

“When there is no noise in my room it scares me”, emails one of my undergraduate students. “It seems I can’t stand silence”, writes another.

These are the opening quotations from Bruce Fell’s article in The Conversation, “Bring the noise: has technology made us scared of silence?

Drawing on six years (2007-12) of observations from 580 undergraduate students, it can be reasonably argued that their need for noise and their struggle with silence is a learnt behaviour.

This view is supported by other Australian authors, suggests George Hoffman writing on the PsychCentral site, about Our Fear of Silence.

This study [referring to Bruce Fell, above], along with research by Drs. Michael Bittman of the University of New England and Mark Sipthorp of the Australian Institute of Family Studies argues that “their need for noise and their struggle with silence is a learnt behavior.”

Piero Ferrucci, writing on the Psychology Today website, in an article entitled “Who’s Afraid of Silence” speculated:

Yet I have a suspicion. Perhaps we, society as a whole, are afraid of silence. We may have the terror of silence, because silence reminds us of solitude and death. So we protect ourselves from it with many and varied sounds. But, as any decent therapist who is not just fooling around would suggest, how about facing the fear? We might find out that, instead of fearing silence, we enjoy it.

Hoffman argues logically,

If the fear of silence is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned.

An interesting diversion, but relevant nonetheless is Schafer’s reference to Claude Lévi-Strauss anthropological work, the bane of many an undergraduate sociology student …

Throughout the several hundred pages of his Mythologiques II the anthropologist Lévi-Strauss has developed an argument for placing noise in parallel with the sacred and silence in the same relationship with the profane.  The Lévi-Strauss argument, regarded from the vantage point of the modern noise-riddled world, may appear obscure; but soundscape studies help to clarify it. The profane world was, if not silent, quiet. And if we think of “noise” in its less pejorative sense as any big sound, the coupling of noise and sacred is easier to interpret.

And just when you thought it was all in the mind:

sedatephobia … is the fear of silence

From the Latin sedatus, meaning composed, moderate, quiet, tranquil …

Perhaps it’s time for you to read, In space no one can hear you scream