Network Noise

The Silent Noise of Networks

Last week’s article on MySpace fans burnt me out a bit, so it was nice to read this week’s article, in comparison it was a lungful of fresh air. The article by Kate Crawford (2010) titled ‘Noise, Now: Listening to Networks’, happens to be one of the shortest readings of the semester, with only 5 or 6 pages it was quite easy to finish it in one quick go without getting distracted. Another reason to appreciate this week’s reading is it is quite relevant, not just to the reader, but to all people across the world. The article uses the analogy of noise pollution to describe the ‘static of constant network connection’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 68), which has become a cloud of media’s constant presence hanging over societies head. 24/7.

The article begins with a quote which says: ‘In the ruins of ancient Pompeii a graffito was discovered, a plea for silence scrawled across a wall: ‘Enough! Be Quiet!’, considering there are more than 11,000 sprawls of graffiti in Pompeii (wlu 2009), and most of it was dialogue between two or more people, there’s a good chance that this inscription has been taken out of context. The quote also suggests that the quote was ‘discovered’ and therefore was a rare sight with a universal message, but the walls of Pompeii were filled with graffiti ranging from: ‘O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin’ to everyday statements such as ‘I make bread’, ‘I screwed the barmaid’, and ‘Epaphra is not good at ball games’ (Pompeiana 2008).

Of course I am getting off track here, and only knew any of this thanks to the internet which has yet again managed to distract me and throw me on tangents unrelated to what I am supposed to be doing, this media distraction forms the core of this week’s reading. Crawford (2010, p. 65) states that with each new technological innovation comes a claim for noise reduction, while modern technology is relatively quiet, Crawford (2010, p. 68) argues that it produces a different type of noise, the silent noise of too much network coverage and data. This noise ‘is not the street noise that floats into open windows’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 65), instead it stalks us in our day to day lives in the form of text messages, emails, the call of Facebook and many other media distractions that we tune into constantly.

It is clear by reading this article that Crawford is severely affected by this form of media noise, and it sounds like it is going to be the end of her sanity one of these days, considering she follows 100 people on her private Twitter account and 400 on her public account and receives constant updates on her phone and laptop informing her of people all over the world commenting on her tweets. Crawford (2010, p. 65) says she stays up late/early enough to notice the Australian crowd die down and be replaced by the Americans and Europeans just waking up to comment on her tweets. She is either over exaggerating to make a point, or she really needs to stop checking her Twitter so much! Who cares what someone in America thinks about one of your many thoughts 5 minutes from now?

Crawford (2010, p. 66) asks herself in a distressed tone ‘do I really need to check this fifty times a day? Why do I feel swamped by it? When (and how) do I make it all go away?’, she then talks about the ‘Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise’ and how they made an effort to eliminate noise in the streets as though she is eagerly awaiting a new group to emerge from the text of her article and help her turn her phone off. However it is a lot easier said than done, a couple of months ago I was the only person in my circle of friends who had Foxtel without the IQ recording box. I always thought ‘pfft, like I really need that’, but now that I have it you’ll have a very hard time to convince me to go back to regular Foxtel! Internet is also something that is hard to give up, you take away someone’s internet and they will begin to question their life and existence, if they need information they will need to actually pick up a book to find it, and they will have to find new ways to fill in their time, maybe they will pick up and learn an instrument or have a conversation with their mum, things that the internet distracts you from doing.

 Crawford (2010, p. 67) suggests that in modern times moments of silence are rare, and that we have become a society of distracted listeners, never giving our full undivided attention to a person or task. This is most evident if you have ever been in the same space with someone who owns an Iphone, sometimes you have to repeat questions twice as they are staring straight into their phone, checking an email or playing Bejewled. Crawford states that she has spent the past two years investigating mobile phone usage and has found that the majority of people don’t turn their mobile phones off ever, and will only put it on silent ‘for movies or concerts or funerals’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 67), if we can’t even turn our phone off while at a funeral then this really paints a depressing picture of our society’s addiction to being constantly connected to the digital world.

Crawford (2010, p. 67) says that your iPhone contacts, Facebook friends and Twitter followers are probably all sending you a message right now, and taunts the reader to double check their phones ‘Go on, you’d better check.’ Crawford (2010, p. 67) reminisces how she used to pass time waiting for friends before the mobile made its strong presence in her life, ‘Did I read? Stare into space? Think?’ this suggests that these days the checking of the phone has replaced our capacity to actually think and has dissipated ‘a hazy and mythical time where things were simpler’. The writer makes a pretty abstract claim that ‘there are significantly more mobile subscriptions than human beings in Australia’, does she mean that there are more mobile subscriptions in the world than people in Australia? Because that’s not a very surprising fact, or does she mean that there are more mobile subscriptions in Australia than people living in Australia? Because I can’t see how that would actually be possible, unless people were signing up their dogs and fish.

 Crawford (2010, p. 68) describes an experience where she lost her mobile phone which resulted in her waking up in a cold sweat at six am to catalogue all the data that she had lost, and spending the next two days being disconnected from the ‘network’ and attempting to ‘reassemble the data of [her] life’. This goes to show just how dependent on data that we really are, it is as though we are living two separate lives, the offline and the online life, and they are quickly assimilating each other and becoming the same life. I know that if I lost my 2 TB external hard drive I would probably run away to the middle of nowhere and start over as a hermit, as it contains my digital fingerprint, my collection of movies, TV shows, photos, memories, music and good times which I take for granted, but prioritise very highly in my list of material possessions. If a fire were to break out in anyone’s home, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first thing most people grabbed were their laptops, phones, hard drives and USB sticks.

Crawford (2010, jokingly mentions someone’s idea to spawn cafes across the globe which block network signal and make phones, computer and internet stop functioning as long as you were inside the café. Personally I think this is a great idea, however it would never work, because society is so attached to constant network presence these cafes would tamper with the wires of many people’s heads. And the cafes would generate a strange crowd of anti-technology neo hippies and anxious technology addicts trying to stop themselves from blowing up to go outside and check their phone in a dark alley down the street. Or to score some internet connection at the café up the road with a big Wi-Fi sign out the front. Clearly we live in a society where the noise of media has become almost deafening, the article shines the light on a very important and relevant issue, but we need to do something about it ourselves on an individual level rather than wait for someone or some group to stand up and do it for you. Turn your computer off, go outside, leave your phone at home, find silence and joy in the simple activities and moments that the real world offers 24/7, free of charge. Disconnect from the internet and learn to instead connect to people and tap into the presence of life.