Noise, A Modern Affliction

Not one day goes by without me reading some article on how some expert has designated something as the disease of the century. Be it a real physical affliction or a quirk in our social norms, there is a label ready for each to make it much more sensational. Therefore, I am jumping on the bandwagon with my own theory and I double dare you to stop me.

From Heart disease to bad posture through smoking all the way to mobile device addiction all these observed issues could be interpreted as a byproduct of noise. But what is noise exactly?

In its most basic and common definition, noise can be explained as any unwanted sound. Mozart (who was a great composer) could be considered noise if you are not into listening to his genius compositions.
This acoustic definition was extended into many disciplines where noise is considered as an unwanted interference any type of signal that a person is trying to pick up on. 

I must confess that the spark behind this idea came when I recently plugged my earphones at a location I was in,  without actually turning on any music or sound. I realized that all I was attempting to do was to dampen the noise that was throwing me off balance.

Perhaps the auditory noise is the one I need to explain the least,  but still,  it is amazing how much of it we accept without questioning. The indistinct sound of a laptop fan, the silent humming of car tires on the asphalt, the distant rumble of a backup power generator, the infinite amount of beeps that electronic devices emit. Each taken separately may not amount to much but when piled up together they can take a toll on one's nerves and focus.

One thing I was struck by when I first visited East Europe over 15 years ago was how uniform (and dull) their soviet era architecture was. It was shocking for me to imagine all these people living in a place that lacks the individualistic character and creativity which perhaps that was a contributing factor in the demise of those regimes. But the opposite case is not any better. In Lebanon we have become accustomed to a complete lack of urban regulation. From the old refined architecture of houses in Ashrafieh to the adjacent skyscrapers (oh those skyscrapers) everything is just flooding you with a million styles in a total lack of harmony. You can delude yourself and call it charming and unique, inject words and expressions like amalgam and melting pot,  but but it's just noise. My colleagues in the ad industry will hate me for this but the amount of billboards and message boards scattered everywhere does not help make things better and is often a major source of visual noise. But it's not just on the scale of the city, it's everywhere: window dressing of shops, graphic designs of brochures, the layout of websites, the menus of restaurants, everybody is shouting louder with visual elements to cover the competition.

Ironically enough, even this blog post is noise. Among the plethora of publications , news sites, technical review sites, bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, instragrammers and duckfacers we are swarmed by a huge amount of information that makes it really hard to establish the single most important thing for a knowledge seeker: Relevancy!
By the time I have identified that a published piece is relevant to what I trying to inform myself on, I have already wasted precious time that I could have used more productively or leisurely. This issue is perhaps the biggest problem facing the internet. A problem that Google aimed at solving through its innovative algorithm since they started their brilliant journey but which still escapes them to greater degrees. Facebook's social graph and attempts at making information sort-able have been equally shy at best.

The omnipresence of handheld devices, multiplied by the advent of wearables, makes it such that we are always responding to a bleep, a buzz or a nudge. Others have also grown to meet such notifications with indignation should you miss out, ignore or delay responding to any of them.
I am not sure if this is a pure Mediterrano-Arab thing, but even our face to face encounters have to be fraught with constant "telling" and nagging and flaunting to a point where sitting quietly enjoying the moment has become a sign of malaise leading up the proverbial "shou bek?" (what's wrong?) 

So, now what? 
Well, if you are basking in the sunshine of you mobile screen,  shaking it to the sound of your mobile notifications on a rooftop, under a well lit billboard of the latest discounted offering of a sportswear brand, listening to a bunch of friends tell you about their exploits, while a 40 something year old adolescent revs his Harley at 2 AM in the street below, then there's nothing to do and you are just fine as you are. Just live it up!

On the other hand, if you feel this is overwhelming then you need to start figuring out what are the essentials that you cannot give up and then gradually tailor your day-to-day life around them, doing away with all that you feel is impeding on your well being. 
Perhaps a week-end out of town is worth much more than those smart gimmicks you've been craving.
Perhaps as a creative you don't need to hammer people with all those messages, colors, tunes, watchamacallits...
Perhaps as an architect you can let your ego take a nap and not try to outdo the building next door by making that purple facade...well..purple..

Cultivating a culture of silence or more accurately a culture of "the absence of noise" is definitely easier said than done. It starts by identifying one's priorities, what we really care about in our essence as opposed to all the gimmicks we have grown accustomed to, and eventually shedding that extra weight we have picked up along the way.
If you can't understand what I have rambled about throughout this article, I invite you to take a trip abroad or just a walk in one of Lebanon's few remaining pristine natural escapes. The symbiotic nature of the great outdoors offer much to learn from and are a screaming contrast (yes, yes I know ) to the noise ridden urban life we have all come to lead.