The Sound Of Silence – A Creative Piece
‘In restless dreams I walked alone/ Narrow streets of cobblestone,/ ‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,/ I turned my collar to the cold and damp/ When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light/ That split the night/ And touched the sound of silence.’
‘When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light/ That split the night’
There are volumes of literature on Simon and Garfunkel’s gentle but captivating masterpiece The Sound of Silence. I evoke it however, not in the interest of authoring a critique (for there are many whom are better suited at this formidable musical task). My intentions are more bizarre. I refer to the lyrics in order to accompany a story I wish to tell about events I witnessed one early morning.
As I wandered home, a flash of light split the night. It was not wholly unwelcome but created a rather jarring vision. The artificial light of the Young Man’s smartphone invaded my exhaustion-induced abstractions. I should not have thought twice of the Young Man’s doings for the act of glancing at a smartphone is now a common and monotonous occurrence. The reason for which I found this scene novel was that the Young Man completed this act while riding atop his bicycle.
This practice appeared to me at once risky and dangerous. However, the Young Man’s decision to cycle without a helmet inspired in me such a sense of confidence that my preoccupation was temporarily relieved. It was at that moment that I turned my attention towards a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. It traveled at considerable speed for a residential neighborhood. The Operator’s act of temerity did not puzzle me nearly as much as the Young Man’s habit. Bathed in the halo of the narrow ghostly cast of a streetlamp, I blinked.
‘And in the naked light I saw/ Ten thousand people, maybe more./ People talking without speaking,/ People hearing without listening,/ People writing songs that voices never share/ And no one dared/ Disturb the sound of silence.’
The fact that English roads, especially in residential neighborhoods, are not particularly well lit produces unnerving effects. The absence of light plunges all in an ominous sepia-like darkness. And as so many attempts to limit certain characteristics or behavior invariably achieve only the opposite, undesired effect, from that total darkness, objects or events leap forth. One notices a lifeless house burst with vitality as a solitary lamp in an upper window is lit. One notices inebriated, young lovers passionately embrace in a doorway. One notices a joyous terrier affectionately greet its owner in a gravely driveway.
With the smartphone’s ephemeral glow, I witnessed the physical manifestation of an incomprehensible vastness of digital possibility. Millions of lives were at that moment accessible in an incredible confirmation of human ingenuity, creativity and toil. Knowledge previously unimaginable was simply awaiting discovery by inquisitive minds. The minute circuit boards and processors and the elegant mechanical code unlocked the possibility of the Young Man to connect with a myriad of personalities, almost indistinguishably human or fictitious. Instead of vocal cords, tongues and lips producing language, satellites beamed data through space and time to generate notifications, both audible and tactile, and to dictate the materialization of characters on a distant screen. Vocal communication, an essential component of humanity, mindlessly exchanged for the convenience of artifice. The collective beauty of all these observations disguised in a nauseatingly mundane act. All of which was, of course, completely necessary to allow our inadequately developed brains from drowning in the implications of such observations and mercifully allowing us to pursue our daily activities.
With all of these opportunities, there is bound to be collateral damage. The constant presence of technology has augmented our naturally underlying narcissistic tendencies. We fret over likes, retweets, and comments. Instead of enriching our lives, we demonstrate our frail nature, our total desire to be judged as popular, intelligent, and/or physically appealing by an indefinite, omnipresent and omniscient arbiter composed of public opinion and embodied in the illusive ‘them’.
Perhaps most damaging of all, we constantly talk while failing to be considerate listeners. While the shallowness of aesthetic or popular concerns aggravate us, this latter tendency truly reveals our insincerity. We actively accumulate amazing quantities of data but truly fail to appreciate or analyze the knowledge gleaned from such studies. This is not necessarily due to a lack of interest or courtesy. It could be the result of excessive malice or rudeness. In the end, our valueless and inconclusive learning is most certainly forthcoming from our inability to process, memorize and respond to the infinity of information at our disposition. Yet we somehow miraculously are still able to connect, engage in new and more meaningful relationships than before and freely express our thoughts, whims or sentiments. Technology has facilitated the waging of war, fomented the feverous zeal of revolution and inspired artistic masterpieces. My contention is that regardless of the benefits or damage produced by technological progress, human beings will forever be required to actively consider the implications of their actions and bear the responsibility of their actions. Human intellect, the marvelous apparat that drives technological progress and innovation must be the basis for all future action, it must never be dislodged from its position by sham or lesser, impossible replicas. We must scrutinize our actions and be judged accordingly, whether simply posting a lowly Facebook status or authorizing the ignition of a missile’s engine.
This desire to relinquish responsibility is the cheap byproduct of a regrettably childish, naïve cell of human consciousness. The brain seeks to address and solve challenges with inadequate inventions. This attitude can result so often from an irresponsible desire to maximize self-profit in exchange for sustainable and equitable solutions. Humans think that they can mindlessly dedicate their lives to machines or objects to circumnavigate unresolved issues or maximize convenience with great costs.
I witnessed the tragic consequences such irresponsible choices can generate. All we have to do is press peddles or cycle wheels. The rest is an effortless, comfortable and even luxurious experience. We indulge ourselves in a false sense of security and into an unbridled belief that technological advancements can save our lives while minimizing toil. In essence, we ride a bicycle and instead of paying attention to the road and other vehicles, use our gadgets. We quite literally race into the unknown future with reckless abandon for our safety, which at the time seems ridiculously assured. Only with hindsight do those graced with survival see the error in their ways. Regrettably, it is too late.
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know –/ Silence like a cancer grows./ Hear my words that I might teach you./ Take my arms that I might reach you.”/ But my words like silent raindrops fell/ And echoed in the wells of silence
Silence, early in the morning, descends and mutes all. Silence, much as Fog, inexorably creeps over cobblestone, snakes through alleyways and slyly disregards locked doors and latched windows. It overpowers all else and even the loudest of footsteps mute into insignificance. Silence is at once awesome and awful. While I was wandering home, the Young Man bothered the silence.
And the people bowed and prayed/ To the neon god they made./
I, along with millions of others, greedily and anxiously await the press conferences and articles that promise innovation, brilliance and the latest technology. From E3 to Apple, Microsoft and Google events, the giant companies surpass our expectations of how technology will modify our behavior. Consumers are relentlessly introduced to new services that vastly improve the quality of life. We prostrate our bodies in adoration. We offer our benediction and gratitude to those gods of technology. In exchange, all they require are the most intimate, personal details to our lives. We comply for we cannot afford to do otherwise (regardless of whether we act out of sincere adoration or not).
The promise of convenience that shaves a few seconds off signing into our favorite apps or programs or delivers us from submitting our credit card details is our ecstatic reward. We still struggle to determine how this unprecedented wealth of information should be stored, analyzed, distributed and viewed. We still struggle to earnestly and openly debate about these facts. We are paralyzed to such an extent that we cannot conclude the morality of our actions. Nor do we understand how to harness the power of this data for good. At least we are thinking and reasoning about our future and we may reach an answer soon enough. In the meantime, it is undeniable that for many of us, not having to enter our social media passwords is blissful.
And the sign flashed out its warning/ In the words that it was forming.
The Young Man illuminated a speed sign. The sign dictated that the automobile’s Operator not surpass a speed of thirty miles an hour and the Operator obeyed. The Operator was driving in the correct lane, had respected the previous stoplight and was following usual procedure while barreling down the cobblestone street. The Operator was therefore driving within the legal limitations. I am unable to recall whether this particular Operator was engaged with a personal electronic mobile device. For the purposes of this account, we shall give them the benefit of the doubt. It will in no way alter what happened.
The young man was respectively obeying all the cycling regulations, except for one. As I mentioned earlier, he had neglected to don head protection. I wonder whether the opposite decision would have made any real difference in the outcome of the situation. That is one of the tortuous consequences of hindsight, the ‘what-if’. Rationally one is certain there is no manner of knowing. Nevertheless, the slightest sliver of doubt haunts one’s memory and gnaws at one’s heart. This malicious, insidious doubt has proven the demise of many good men and women. It will certainly continue to do so in the future. It is the curse of the survivor and the witness.
A strange relationship connects those two archetypes. The former believes that he or she has been graced with the gift of life. The latter will almost certainly curse the fateful gift of life. I am more certainly the latter. The vision still troubles and haunts me, as is normal I presume.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/ And tenement halls/ And whispered in the sound of silence.
As a witness, I have been imbued with resounding questions upon which I brood occasionally.
On the question of the tragic nature of the situation. As the Young Man cycled, he was most probably intently gazing at his Twitter feed or checking his Facebook stories or chatting via Whatsapp or Snapchatting or messaging. That is to say, he was engaged in an extremely social act. He was conversing with others and creating meaningful connections with friends, new acquaintances or family members. It was exactly in such a connected setting that he suffered the ultimate solitary experience. It is an experience of the greatest finality. It is not interested in the past, in established relationships. It is not interested in ongoing projects. It certainly does not care for achievements. It disregards the past and deletes all connections, memories and thoughts that a human being may have forged.
The Young Man suffered this singular event surrounded by a virtual circle of onlookers all of whom could do nothing to save him. The modern epitome of ‘so close but so far’. Even the Operator could and did use a smartphone to enlist assistance. I did so as well. The technology that has saved and empowered so many lives, demonstrated to us humans that we were powerless. The great irony is that His immaterial and digital social media accounts survive him. That for me is the first tragic reflection.
On the question of blame and the importance of justice. The second thought follows directly from the first. I will preface this reflection with a clarification for I do not wish to be misunderstood and cause grief to the readers. I blame neither the young man nor the woman for what happened. We supremely value the ability to judge actors in such situations. We long and search in the concept of ‘justice’ for some redeeming sensation that will satisfy and cure us of the grief, sadness and extreme anger. These feelings are natural, acceptable and relatable. I am not implying that we should disregard justice when one human has wronged another. I am saying that I was not, nor currently am, in a position to pass blame. As I said, I am merely a witness. Those are not the moral comments I have not, nor wish to, discussed throughout this essay. Readers may interpret my account as they wish. I simply wish to state that I do believe in the idea of attempting to achieve justice. I think that those who commit wrongs or crimes should be sentenced accordingly.
I think I simply witnessed a tragic event that occurred as I was wandering home. This is what I will say about the situation in hindsight. I think that as humans we cannot relinquish or diminish our responsibility to enact proper choices with the technological devices we create and operate. I understand it can be extremely appealing, simplistic and easy to convince ourselves that we do not need to be responsible. I am culpable of doing so myself. That does not mean that I am making the correct choice. Self-trickery and relinquishing responsibility are ethically dubious and can lead to extremely unpleasant, tragic or terrible situations. Therefore, I think that the Young Man’s decision to operate his vehicle without adequate protection and to divert his attention from the road was dangerous. He was an adult and his judgment was sound so he could choose. I think that He did not properly consider the consequences of his choice. He simply made a poor decision and quite regrettably suffered some of the consequences.
On the question of the validity of testimony and the reliability of memory. I consider my written testimony as a witness to be faulty, as is all testimony to a certain extent. For all testimony relies on memory and memory is notoriously and demonstrably unreliable. There are limits to all presentable evidence in such cases. I completely acknowledge that I was not paying clear attention to the two vehicles during their collision. As much as I wish, I can only recall what my brain thinks it witnessed. For this subsequent reason, I am able to excuse myself from passing judgement on culpability. I find some solace in this fact.
In the end, I was wandering home early one morning and a modern, artificial light attracted my attention. The glow emitted by a small, technological device illuminated the Young Man’s face and a warning sign. The sign indicated a speed of thirty miles per hour. Perhaps the Young Man disregarded the sign as he was peddling a bicycle and thus incapable of achieving such velocity. A second light flashed through the darkness, once again illuminating the sign. The Operator acknowledged the sign and obeyed. As I turned to watch them, in the blink of an eye, the automobile’s breaks whispered into the night.
In restless dreams, I walk alone.
Featured Image: a manipulated BEEPLE graphic