Radio 4’s “Today” programme, April 3rd 2014
Vicky is a regular contributor to Thought For The Day. Her broadcast today was themed around silence and its importance in a busy, digital world.
You can listen here.
The script is below.
Charlie Chaplin – the name conjures up an unmistakable image; a man with a bowler hat, comical moustache, black suit and a myriad of facial expressions. Yesterday on this programme biographer Peter Ackroyd spoke of his new book about Chaplin’s life. He described him as “the first global celebrity”. Back in 1915, long before smart-phones, ‘selfies’ & an Internet full of cat videos, Chaplin was arguably the most famous person in the world with three hundred million people watching his work.
Chaplin’s forte was silent film. When technology made synchronised audio possible in the 1920’s Chaplin despaired, as he vastly preferred the medium of silence. He even considered leaving the industry & becoming a MP, such was his dislike of the change. To him the art of film without words preserved something purer and better.
In our recent digital decades, silence has been seen as unfashionable and unnecessary. Just as film developed the ability to have synchronised audio, technology has given us a soundtrack for our every waking moment. Earphones plugged in, we can avoid the quiet with our plethora of music, movies and games.
Silence, for most of us, is scary – terrifying even. Like getting naked. In silence we’re stripped of the hubbub and forced to face our inner world. Theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote on this, saying: “talkativeness wins the day, it jabbers on incessantly. But talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness”.
Most of us are afraid of it, yet silence is gradually beckoning society back to its benefits. Meditation is rising in popularity – “mindfulness classes” are held in schools and workplaces, and ashrams and monasteries are increasingly seen as attractive holiday destinations. Our gadgets and technology enable us to do so many things at once that we’re keen to regain the art of single focus.
Silence can act as medicine for our digital disjointedness. Moments of stillness reconnect us to our deeper self, reminding us who we are and what truly matters. The Bible conveys the importance of this by giving not a suggestion, but a command in Psalm 46 to “Be still”.
Silence helps us withdraw, then re-enter the digital noise with something worth saying. In a world of retweets and re-posts, most of what we hear are simply echoes of the status quo. People are listening and longing, not for echoes but for voices with something fresh and substantial to say. Something that could even be described as prophetic.
I believe if we allow silence to do its work in us, our regrets will be far fewer, our words will be far weightier and our hearts will be more alive.