Motion Sickness

Have you ever thought about how much is going on around us all the time — filling our eyes and ears? There is constant motion and noise. It’s so much a part of our world we scarcely notice it, though in our cities it never stops: the air planes taking off and landing, the police and ambulance sirens, the cars and trucks on the Interstates, and the hub-bub of constant people noise. It never stops. Even in rural areas there are the barking dogs, the trains and motorcycles, loud pickups and kids’ cars with their modified mufflers, and the occasional crop duster roaring in the distance. Noise.

And if you watch TV for a while without paying attention to what is on you will notice that it now consists of thousands of quick shots from various angles — a frantic download of pictures in constant agitation. It jars the nerves and rattles the brain. It can’t be good, though I am not aware of any studies to help us understand what this constant noise and movement does to our nervous system.

I am not talking about the actual events portrayed on the television or reported in our papers and on the radio. That is enough to chill the bones — especially these days with “false news” and lie after lie trying to scare the bejesus out of us. But I speak about the constant agitation. As I say, it can’t be good.

Lionel Trilling wrote an essay in 1976 about a class he was putting together at Columbia University on the novels of Jane Austen. He wanted the class to be small, about 20 students, but over a hundred signed up! He culled the group and managed to reduce the number to 40, but he was astonished that so many students would want to read an author who wrote novels so long ago. He thought about it and concluded it was because in Austen’s day “there were more trees than people.” This was a cute way to get across the point that those young people were tired of all the noise and agitation (even in 1976!) and wanted to retreat to a calmer and quieter world, the world of Jane Austen. Austen lived between 1775 and 1817. She wrote most of her novels in the early part of the nineteenth century.

A generation later George Eliot (who was born two years after Austen’s death and was the wisest of women) could already express her exasperation over the noise and agitation that was growing around her. Between Austen and Elliot the Industrial Revolution had burst forth in all its glory, noise, and pollution — visual, nasal, and aural! One of my favorite passages in Eliot’s novels is the following in which she expresses her own feelings about the coming of the “machine in the garden,” as it has been called. She pined for a time when

“reforming intellect takes a nap, while imagination does a little Toryism by the sly, reveling in regret that dear, old, brown, crumbling, picturesque inefficiency is everywhere giving place to spick-and-span new-painted, new-varnished efficiency, which will yield endless diagrams, plans, elevations, and sections, but alas! no picture.”

There is no way we can turn back the clock. And as I have noted in previous posts, I would not want to do so (for the most part). But there was a time when people took things slowly and had time to reflect and enjoy the world around them. Things took time; that was just a fact of life. As things stand at present we are always in a hurry and are surrounded by noise pollution and constant visual agitation, as noted. Ours is a hectic world and one in which we cannot find time to simply relax and enjoy the beauty of the world around us. For the most part, the world won’t let us: it obtrudes. But even when it does let us escape, when we retreat to a quiet nook away from the noise and agitation, we take our electronic toys with us in order to listen to our tunes and to make sure we don’t miss out on anything important — like the latest photo on our phones of our friend’s evening meal or the cute trick by her pet poodle. Important stuff.

Eliot was right. Things happen too fast and furiously and it is not good for the soul. We need to “take a nap” every now and again, get away from it all — and I mean ALL — and think about the many good and beautiful things that surround us. And forget the noise and agitation and especially forget the folks that seem to be running the show these days who simply add to the noise and agitation without making our world even a little bit better.


11 thoughts on “Motion Sickness

  1. I totally agree, and as my little “gravitar” or whatever indicates, I’m an advocate of natural healing. I just completed a book (“Evergreen Dreaming”) about my hiking experiences and allude (in my clumsy way) to how society is being swallowed by noise and artificiality, and many of us are so acclimated to it, we don’t realize there’s an alternative. Folks, they’re called trees.

  2. Hugh, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. I think too many are uncomfortable with silence. My favorite time is in the morning is with a cup of coffee and the paper.

    I get uncomfortable around TV news shows that have to busy of a screen. I also do not care for movies that overplay action when it is not always necessary. A pacing is needed to let dialogue and storyline to breath. It is not dissimilar from the comment to Jill about “Ode to Billy Joe.” Like “Polk Salad Annie,” there music is not in a hurry allowing the words and story to be heard.

    Maybe I am just old school. But, that is more than fine. Keith

  3. ““Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Long before the speed and noise-making of modern industrialization, Shakespeare recognized the symptom in little man’s short meaningless life. It doesn’t have to be that way of course, but generally speaking, that is man’s choice.

  4. Well, Hugh, now I see that the morning amble we shared online yesterday was pefectly timed! I agree. I have spent 5 days without watching or listening to the news on tv or radio or reading a newspaper – well, once I did buy one but it sits unloved somewhere, scarcely opened. And now, yes, I have my laptop and android phone to keep in touch but – guess what – no signal! Only wi-fi. So I hear the birds, see the reflections in the pond outside, hear the rustle of the stream after recent rain and the same sound as the wind ruffles the trees… ahhh! Yes, no turning back the clock (and I have been at an Emily Bronte weekend so venture to say that the quiet life was not always a calm one, often very turbulent and sad, but still, I know…) The world of magic is still there, we just have to make room for it, and resepect it once we’ve found it.
    Look forward to another e-walk with you soon! M

  5. Then there is someone like me who spends the bulk of time in blissful ‘natural silence’ — so even a trip to the cyber shop is a bit too loud for my senses! Someone is always playing either a video or latin music or both — and after a while my senses all but shut down… I continue to state that a connection to nature is a huge ‘must’ – or at least a disconnect – even sitting in a library for a few hours helps everything to stop spinning so one can hear the internal dialogue. ‘Throw the breaker!” – that’s what is needed – if only for a week, can you image what the world would be like if the phones did not ring or the internet did not work?

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