thoughtwisps One commit at a time

sunlit silence

I’ve slept neither well nor poorly. Just enough to get up at 7am ( two hours late from my ideal ), not enough to avoid a minor niggling headache that will vanish away with a bit of sugar and caffeine. Although I’ve rarely managed to sustain this habit for longer than a few months (or perhaps a few weeks), I’ve always loved waking up early, ridiculously early perhaps. 6am 5am 4am. More so in the summer than in the depths of winter. In the early hours of the morning, there is more time. It moves slowly, a lazy cat stretching out and yawning on the lawn. Only a few cars, a few sleepy commuters, leaning their tired heads on the double decker’s windows.

In London, there is never enough time and even when you feel like you are keeping up, you’re always swimming in the rapids of millions of other people making the daily pilgrimage to their desks and then back home. By 9am, the whirlpool of suits and skirts and angry sighs and passive aggressive ‘excuse me, please’ (translation: get out of my way, you daft nincompoop, can’t you see I’m very important and very busy ) has already sucked you in.

But before that, the city is yours, mine, no one’s. The litter trucks pick of the remnants of yesterday. The song of the birds is clear and beautiful. In only a few hours, it will drown in the roar of the city.

The late spring light is beautiful too. The sun comes up behind the bend of the Thames, behind the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie and infuses the air with pale yellow, the colour of silence and sipping tea in the quiet. It cascades down and frolicks on the rippling skin of the Thames.

The peak highlight of the early morning social scene in London ( apart from awkwardly avoiding the eyes of your fellow Tube commuters ) is the coffee queue. This is the precarious moment - the one between being fairly upset about that man or woman whose backpack quarreled violently with your face between London Bridge and Bermondsey and the shot of dopamine that hits the brain once the barista delivers a papercup of sugar and caffeine into your hands.

In the coffee queue today, I’m reading Erling Kagge’s Silence in the Age of Noise. It is a thin volume, but consume it too quickly and you might defeat its purpose. This is what I did when I first bought it - sat down and read it all at once. Now I’m going back and reading it slowly. I’ve been working my way through a few pages Kagge writes about our constant need for novelty and news. It speaks to me, because I, like many, am a notification addict. I can spend hours scrolling, clicking and browsing just because there is a nonzero probability that someone somewhere will hit a Like and deliver a little shot of dopamine into my brain.

Days can pass in this notification induced frenzy and at the end of such days nothing much of importance has been achieved, except for perhaps feeding data into a machine learning model that will eventually tell a business analyst somewhere how likely I am to buy a product and what kinds of advertisements they should target at me. And yet, and yet I find it hard, or nearly impossible not to engage in this. ‘The more we are inundated, the more we wish to be distracted’, Kagge writes. The more time I’ve spent scrolling my timeline, the more I want to keep scrolling it. In the end, I’ve achieved nothing meaningful, perhaps a few laughs and a spike of outrage when someone outside of my echo bubble is retweeted onto my timeline.

This idea of constantly being connected, of constantly being entertained and sad and happy and angry and outraged at little tidbits and memes and hot takes is exhausting. Constantly being connected to a stream of communication masquerades as work - but does it really have value?

“When you’ve invested a lot of time in being accessible and keeping up with what’s happening, it’s easy to conclude that it all has a certain value, even if what you have done might not be that important,” writes Kagge. “In a way, silence is the opposite of all of this,” he continues.

Once I get to my desk, log in, open up the email client, the sunlit silence of the morning is over. I wish it had lasted longer.