|I first drafted this piece in January 2003. It was stimulated by my reaction to public noise and my subsequent thoughts flying home for New Years. The worked expanded to include noise of another kind: as it is defined in information theory. I added some material in 2004 and 2005 and there it sat until April 2008 when I expanded and finished it - as finished as anything gets in this an Autobiographical Notebook. This 5 year process lead to an expansion of the original impulse and thought. Perhaps too broad a scope for a coherent paper with an appropriately sharp focus. However, there are important relationships among the diverse subjects which are covered here. These are the kinds of connections which tend to be missed by more formal, “correct” presentations. Too much correctness and efficiency deters original thinking. Weak signals [future link] and remote connections, which are not obvious, lead to new possibilities more often than the well known, correct thinking which has its place in the engineering phase of the creative process [future link]. It is better to think of this piece as an exploration not as something to read in the conventional way. Therefore, as always with this web site, it is important to follow the links. These pages document my “thinking out loud” process - this is why I publish them in their raw form. This has great utility for me and more limited value to you the reader unless it encourages your active exploration of the subjects I address. As I have said before [future link], it is the thinking you do, because of your reading experience, which creates the value - not what I say. I am reporting my experience of reality - yours is different yet, by reading this, mine becomes part of yours. The THEME of this writing is NOISE. Noise turns up in many ways and many forms. The critical aspect of noise is not volume - it is distraction. It is when noise buries information that we should become concerned. My basic point is that the “noise to signal ratio,” of our society, is such that useful discourse is becoming impossible at the historical moment when we need it most. This is to the determent of the vast majority of Humanity. It may be to the short term “advantage” of a powerful minority who use it to advance their own hidden agenda. To the extent which this is true it illustrates a masterful yet unethical employment of the requisite variety principle [future link]. I recommend that, in a “knowledge economy,” it is important to follow the noise and the money in order to understand what forces are at work in our time and what may be the outcome if they prevail.
December, 2002, I was flying back from Nashville
to spend the New years at Elsewhere. I flew from
at 6:30 am to Memphis where I had an 8:30 am flight
to San Francisco. Sitting in the waiting area I focused
on the busy flow of people and the general ambiance
of the place.
was struck by the noise and the intrusiveness of
media and announcements. Where I was sitting, I could
hear two different television stations, both loud,
and the announcements from several gates; added were
several conversations of nearby waiting passengers
(shouting over the media). This was not an exciting,
rich public space; it was
intrusive, full of discord, filled with loud competing
messages.This was no place that anyone sensitive
to the requirements of their own body-mind would
want to be in. Yet, it was accepted; either it did
not disturb or it was accepted as normal and necessary
- or, the ubiquity of this kind of experience had
buried awareness far from consciousness. No matter,
results are the same.
Stress is stress and it is well documented in terms
of cause and consequenses.
back to Nashville, after the new year, I returned
through a larger connecting city. An advertisement
I found interesting was one announcing, proudly,
how many million “impressions” where
made in the airport
concourse daily [future link]. Impressions is an accurate
description. It is, after all, a public place. Interesting
concept, public place. It is argued that
if I am offended by all this that I have choices.
I can not fly, stay out of public places, generally,
or maybe just stay home. I can exercise my free choice
in a free society. I can even drive across the country
if I do not mind bill boards.The concept of choice is not as simple as it first seems. If you walk into a super market and look at packaged goods you will see a great “variety” of each kind of product. Seems like a lot of choice. However, it is choice of a kind and when you realize that in many cases the cost of the product is packaging, advertising and distribution [future link] you realize the “choice” is often only with whom you will waste your money. The average person uses only a few thousand works in a life time [future link]. The average super market has at least an order of magnitude more products on the shelves than the shoppers have words [future link]. I have pondered this apparent paradox for years. Is this visual pollution? Do people actually see and recognize these tens of thousands of brands/labels/packages [future link]? Does this assertive positioning of images, plus the verbal/visual intensity of radio and television, crowd out language [future link]? Does this have any relationship to what seems to be the declining art of dialog [future link]? Or, do people just tune out most of their physical reality and if so what is the consequence of doing this [future link]?
we thought about what effect all of these “impressions”
are having other than encouraging us to do our duty [future link] and become
more of a consumer society [future link]?
a society, we have forgotten the virtue of rest,
quite, silence, contemplation - of self assessment
and independent thinking [link].
We live in a hyper-world of shouting, demanding,
crisis making; a self-feeding positive
feedback loop [link] that
is driving an increasing returns of noise upon noise
- an architecture
programming messages. Our collective public behavior,
in an individual, would be considered a mental problem
worthy of attention. It would be legal to lock someone
up, for their protection and ours, if they acted
in the way that we as a society are behaving. We are not paying attention to ourselves and our
future - as
a society and as a species we are acting as if were are insane. For all our self-centeredness
and species-centric focus, we are blind and deft
to the world we are making [future link].
Most of us, at one time or another, will complain about the conditions I mention here, most often as if they came from outer space disconnected from our own actions and ability to change them. We do not seem to recognize that we are making
these conditions [future link]. There will become a time - at least I hope there will become a time - when we look back
upon this era
will not believe this self-abuse and drive to self-destruction.
is commonly accepted that:
look at the environment we have created for ourselves.
I want you to think, given the total experience of
to one city from another, just what are we doing to
ourselves? What messages are we entraining? What impact
does this experience have on an individual’s
sense of self, identity, responsibility and personal
to the extent that everything
in the environment is a “command,” (Lilly [future link])
what are you being told to believe, to do, to become?
I am not arguing against “free will” -
I am saying that the total body mind processes orders
more information than what we are aware of and can
respond to consciously [future link]. The rational response to this
is be aware of the impact the environment has on
feelings and behavior and act accordingly to shape
the environment to be benign (at least) and that delivers
the “messages” most appropriate for that
which we have chosen to become [future link].
above certain decibels causes hearing
damage and perhaps neurological damage [future link].
loud, intrusive, random noises trigger
the “fight or flight” mechanism
which, if left unresolved, is a major
of negative stress [future link].
we navigate by sound almost as much as
we do by sight [future link].
a message up to six or seven times reinforces
it and then further repetition actually starts
to degrade attention to and memory of it [future link].
we are “programmable” thus the repetition, intensity, meaning
and esthetic sense of
our social experiences has a profound
effect on our psychology [future link].
have started to create non-smoking zones, I wonder
if we will learn to establish non-noise zones. Too
expensive some would argue. Well, we - as yet - do
not price the cost of war into our cost of gas nor
we price the cost of pollution into health care.
It is interesting to note that war and health care
costs seem to be significantly on the rise. And so
is noise. All, I suspect, a notable consequence of
when fixing something as obvious as this is named as “too
expensive” it means
the costs are being deferred to another part of the
system so that the “profits” - which
are not really profits at all - can be reaped from
the part of the
system in question. Have you ever noticed that those
things most often called too expensive are those
that take thought and effort, build the general good,
require a long term effort and returns? I wonder
what the numbers would be if we compared the total
cost, in the US, of legally recreational drugs [future link] to
the school budget [future link]. We often hear that we cannot “afford”
to pay teachers well and equip our schools as we
believe we should (even though we say our children
are our future). I have never heard of a looming
beer, wine, cigarette and excess food consumption
crises. I wonder if we will have enough in 2006
affordable? I do, by the way, consider food in great
excess of physical requirements and legitimate celebration
to be a drug. Why do we have an obesity problem in
the “advanced” societies? Do that many people really
want to be overweight? If it is genetic,
how did it come about on this scale in my life time?
Why is it showing up in societies that are becoming
affluent? Why is this considered to be a medical
problem except for the few percent of the population
with whom it actually is?
back to public places. I do not deny the fun,
beauty, energy-building and
life-supporting aspects of large public gatherings
such as concerts, sporting events, shopping malls,
parks and properly-executed cityscapes. No, these
can be as wonderful as a contemplative walk in an
ancient, silent forest can be. Events (and some public
places/experiences) are often designed and can be
designed well. Forests are natural
intrinsic - “given”). The compromised
middle, between the intentional and
is becoming the bulk of human experience: noisy,
non-fulfilling, meaningless, non-intentional, distracting,
unhealthy and unavoidable because of the ubiquity
of circumstances. In these accidental environments,
neither evolved through eons nor competently designed,
majority of people exist (I could not say live)
while they are feel assaulted, threatened, out of
up into micro moments of constantly shifting highly
“stimulating” and stressful situations.
In fact, if one wanted to
do damage to the human system,
s/he would be hard-pressed to out do a typical airport,
hospital, classroom, public transportation vehicle,
public highway, or average cityscape to name just
a few (not to mention TV). As a consequence of this “assault” senses
become dulled [future link];
the immune system exhausted [future link];
metal focus scattered and distracted [future link] one’s
sense of life distorted [future link]. More of each precious life
to recuperating from this self-imposed insanity.
Spend an evening surfing television channels and
What world view [link] Do
you see? What are you being told? What would have
been the same at home
5, 10, 20,
40 years ago - is this hyper-mania accelerating?
Viewed as a work of art - which it is - what is the touch, feel, meaning and sound of
may think I exaggerate. Well, look up the annual
sales of antidepressant drugs. There have been, and
are, societies that
do not require these. It is interesting that the
wealthiest civilization in known history scores
so low (specifically the US) in all known measures
of health. That we are “living longer” does
not explain the health of our children, who are now
“diseases” once only associated with
old age, nor does it explain the ubiquity of drugs we give
then to “control” their
behavior [future link] - a necessity I do not recall when I was growing up at the end of a depression and he execution of a World War. Ever notice that the catalog of mental and physical diseases are growing together in lock step with the number of pharmaceutical cures? I guess that this can be taken as evidence that we are keeping up with things or it could indicate something far less flattering. Of course, to know would require authentic information, rigorous process, unbiased judgment, leisure time, accurate reporting, peace of mind, honest reporting, a spirit of reconciliation and a government which could not be bought. In other words, the opposite of noise in the system. Does this sound to you like a fair description of our present physical, social and governance reality? Spend a weekend of quite contemplation removed from the influence of social noise and think about this.
the time that I am writing this part of this article
(Spring of 05), there is an ad running on television
the present ubiquity of “impressions.” It
shows a very sad fellow pining away looking in the
This one, it can been seen, specials in pizzas. Our
hero is clearly not able to participate in this culinary
delight because of heartburn. Inside, in the light and warmth, are many happy shown enjoying food and comradely intercourse of which he is exiled in the bleak exterior. This is presented as
a tragedy His life is compromised - apparently hardly
worth living (that word again). He is not happy.
Then (trumpets, please), a heart burn medicine, presented by a “doctor” in a white coat and equipped with stethoscope, comes to his
he returns once again bonding with his friends (who cheerlfully great him back into the fold) and
enjoying the food he loves. Sounds like a success
story all around - that is, of course, if you don’t
listen to the messages about possible side effects
(stated rapidly in a much lower volumn and different tone). Our hero in
this saga is not the healthiest looking individual,
one could imagine him obese in a few
years. This is unlikely an accidental selection.
Clearly there is a target audience here. Interesting
term, target. A good nutritionist who understood,
blood and metabolism types, food combining, regional
and seasonal implications of food consumption might
suggest that the heart burn was feedback and all
is “shooting the messenger.” I am certain
that there are some who have a genetic propensity
to heart burn
and I bet that this is a low number as real obesity
and diabetics is. These people, no doubt, require
both life style regulation and treatment. For most,
is more a matter of self awareness and paying attention
to what different foods, in different combinations,
at different times (season and time of day) and in
different amounts in different circumstances does
to them. The message of this advertisement is clear:
not your fault (or responsibility).You deserve what your unexamined
habits have programmed you to
can have what you want and there is a pill to deal
with the consequences. Very effective programming.
The ad is well done. An excellent piece of propaganda. One cannot but relate
to our hero and be happy with his ultimate triumph.
The cost of his success will fall - as most such things do in
our society - to the future and to the social commons. This ad is noise in two ways. First, as all of them (I am told it is not true) it plays louder than the program I am watching does. Second, it is noise in terms of information theory: the information in this ad is deliberately distorted. The health facts related to this scenario are well know and not seriously debated. This ad is a skillful process of systematically making victims. At first, by misinformation (one feels a victim) and ultimately by action (becomes one by trusting the “information” and continuing what his body is saying is wrong for him). As a rare and isolated case in an educated society this would be humorous and do little harm. This example is not rare and there is no way that the hero in our case - and the target audience he represents - can be considered educated.
am not against pizza, nor advertising. I do wonder
why the ads are always louder than the program -
I am amused by the recent assertion of a network
that muting ads is “stealing.” I
do believe that people should understand
far better how the brain actually works and what
the true impact of advertising (on the scale and
it today) has on them - the people running the ads
clearly understand the science involved (this being a great example of “knowledge is power”). And, I believe we should
think deeply about this “noise,” (along
with the many other sources of noise in various the forms we encounter it)
that now dominates our
spaces (and private spaces when we allow it in). I do not think this can be or should be “fixed” by regulation although out and out fraud perhaps should be considered. Was the man in the white coat really a doctor? Does the pill really cure the condition or does it merely mask the symptoms? Why are not the “risks” as dramatically illustrated as the “benefits?” Will rejoining the pizza party really bring companionship and happiness? Did our friend - and those watching the ad - take a course in logic and propaganda and demonstrate competency before being issued a high school diploma? Would you cut off the whiskers of a cat and then make it run down a narrow trap ridden maze? It seems there is something inhumane and fraudulent here somewhere. Or, is it merely “let the buyer beware?”
|Look at the faces and body language of people in
public spaces. Listen to the “tone” of
the surrounding sound. If this were a movie would
you have any doubt
about the “message” that is being delivered?
I referred to the prolific, ubiquitous public ads
as one major contributor of hidden pollution - as
“noise.” If the ideal is a sane, tranquil yet stimulating society of free agents able to judge, conceive, design and act, then much of this is noise. If the goal is the opposite then these are not noise - they are signals. They
make up a great part of the message we as a society
are sending to
ourselves. Theye messages, in many environments and venues
now overwhelm other messages that are necessary to
our balance and well being. If you look at these
messages as “instructions” - which
they are more
than that - you will see the point that I am getting
at. These, and what passes for “news” today, are
delivering a focused drum beat of threat with salvation
through unconscious consumption. We are becoming
a society of propaganda and “spin.” These messages,
while not bad in themselves in balance with others,
become our social space. One has to be very
aware and actively
work to build a
healthy mental environment in defense of this assault.
Recent research suggests that we
humans are built to focus on change, newness and
stimulation [future link].
This was, no doubt, a great survival mechanism in
prior ages. In our modern society it may be be a
factor leading to our premature demise [future link].
I know that few believe that we can fail as a society.
Arrogance comes in all forms. Study the civilizations
of the past. Many were quite advanced and sophisticated.
All of these prior experiments failed - why do we
assume we have it all figured out? Do we really think
that we can have three plus billion cars (in their
present form) running on this planet within 15 years? [future link]. Do we really believe that we are health now and paying attention to those opportunities and threats that we have created for ourselves? [future link]. There are many different views of what may make a better future. This is as it should be. Yet, let me ask these two questions: How many do you know think that things are just fine? How do you judge the quality of our social discourse in regards understanding where we are and our demonstrated ability in coming to common terms and forging right action? In other words, are we doing the work necessary to secure a viable future for Humanity? [link: a future by design not default].
reason that authentic [link] architecture
is so popular, on that rare occasion when it is created,
it delivers, on an environmental scale, a complex
(a design) of messages that are life facilitating.
When most people get into such an environment, they
get it. Not knowing what “it” is, and how
it is created, when they leave they forget and succumb
to the environment that is being manufactured for
them and aimed at them - an environment
that does not take their self interest and long term
The reason that I consider domestic architecture
to be the most important form of architecture is
that it is the opportunity for each individual and
(traditional and extended[future link])
to shape their own environment [future link] according
to their own values [future link].
This important branch of architecture has also succumbed
with most homes being a potpourri of selections from
catalogs. Predigested taste.
believe that one reason that we are seeing a return
to religious fundamentalism all over the world is
a reaction to the failure of secular society to be
aware of the kind of world we are choosing to create
given our social, political and economic freedoms.
The humanists have let the values debate default
to the religious right. This is not healthy for either
secular society nor religion and philosophy. I am
opposed to the too close linking of religious, political,
economic and military power. History shows us the
dangers of this. I can understand, however, why so
many feel revulsion and threat from the public spaces
we are building. They simply do not want to participate in these spaces nor do they wish to have their children exposed to them. I resist legal constraints on what are strictly personal values and actions. It does not follow that anything goes in the commons. If it does, if either side of this debate wins totally - there will be no commons. This is a confused issue. I am always
amused when I see ads, run by corporations that are
clearly aligned with the conservative movement, showing
behaviors that I am sure that those who control
these corporations would be distraught if their own
indulged in the ways “glorified” in many of these ads.
But, I guess, it sells beer and cars, cigarettes,
water and “legal” drugs.
that it would open the possibility for an improved
and effective dialog if all campaign contributors
(to all parties) were treated
the same and their corporations subjected to the
same standards, public “jaw-boning” and economic
censure. I realize that only
would suggest such a thing [link].
But there you have it.
suspect that one reason the iPod is so successful
is that it allows one to shape their acoustic space
when in public places. This is certainly the major
way that I use mine. Yet care is necessary here also.
These tools can become just another way to isolate
oneself from the public commons - an acoustic equivalent
of the heartburn medicine. I “protect” myself and
a once viable commons dies by another immeasurable increment.
TANSTAAFL. Every choice and act has
about we individually choice to live - I am too much
a libertarian to tell people how to do this - it
is about being aware of the choices we each
make, their long term, systemic consequences and
how they effect us all. I believe if we can increase awareness of the collective consequences of our individual actions, and if we can learn to employ vigorous dialog and true design collaboration, we can solve the problems we face and create the physical and social space for each of us so as to live the life we wish to make for ourselves.
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A City Where You Can’t Hear Yourself Scream
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: April 14, 2008
Who Are We? Coming of Age on Antidepressants
By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D.
Published: April 15, 2008
How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation
Interview with author Charles Barber
By ONNESHA ROYCHOUDHURI
Published: April 17, 2008
Chinese Student in U.S. Is Caught in Confrontation
By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: April 17, 2008
The Nature of Experience
|GoTo: A Future by Design Not Default
January 3, 2003
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