Joining the Quiet Revolution

By Shavawn M. Berry

In my classes on Tuesday this week, I discussed an article that had appeared in the New York Times Sunday January 15, 2012.

   The Op Ed piece, written by Susan Cain, outlined the virtues and values of introverts – who need solitude and silence – in order to think, create, and innovate.

I asked my students what they thought about it, knowing that a few would relate to the message (likely also introverts) and a majority of them would find it perplexing since most extroverts view introverts as “quiet weirdos who inhabit some planet other than earth.”  We had a long discussion about the “noise” of our current way of living and how that can be detrimental to our ability to come up with new ideas and solutions to the problems we face.  Cain’s piece suggested that a committee is not an effective way to generate creative ideas or to discover new ways of doing things.  It tends to fall into “group think” and therefore limit the scope of what it might consider if members were allowed to sit quietly and think about what might work.  And still, business persists in using a collaborative work model almost exclusively.

The discussion with my students left me feeling depressed because so many of them roiled against the idea of embracing silence. “I could never shut off my phone!  What if someone called?”  I told them that was why God invented voice mail.  The consensus was that something important might happen and they might miss it.  God forbid! I explained that I spent my childhood riding in a car where no one talked on the phone, and I (apparently) survived it.  Some of them laughed, but mostly a general feeling of unease permeated the air.  They didn’t want to experience silence.  In fact, they looked terrified.

On Wednesday, I decided I would take my idea of embracing silence for a test drive. I would try a day without any technology for at least 8 hours.  I got up and checked my email at 8 AM, wrote a short message on Facebook at the same time saying I’d be off line for the day and signed off the computer.  I left everything off – including my phone – for the whole day.

And you know what? No one called me.  My life did not burn to the ground.  In fact, I wrote and read. I did laundry and some clean up around the house.  One article I encountered in the new issue of “O” Magazine was on a new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

The author?  Susan Cain.  I felt like spirit was sending me a clear message.  Slow down.  Shut up.  Take time to listen to your life.

And I appreciated the reprieve from the constant cacophony of voices and postings and messages and missives.

I meditated and later I watched a movie.  I made shrimp Pad Thai and cleaned up the kitchen.  I took a nap after lunch, surrounded by three deliriously happy cats and one blissful doglet.  In other words, I had a really good day.  Nine hours later, I plugged in my phone and started up my computer.  The first message I got was one that informed that the servers had been hacked at work, and they were being shut down to protect our personal information.  So, twenty minutes after I got online, all my work technology stopped functioning.  Part of me giggled at the irony of “taking a day off from technology” the day before everyone (including my reluctant students) would be “taking a day off from technology.”

I got up on Thursday knowing that I could not use any of the technology I rely on to teach.  I made some editing hand-outs for my classes, and when I got to work, I ran the first batch of photo copies of something that I’ve made in over two years.  I taught two of my three classes as usual.  The third course I had to cancel due to the fact that the planned activity was a grammar quiz online.  I sent them home to do it.  Luckily, they could access it since it is not on the school’s teaching platform.

On Friday, the problem had been corrected, but the servers were jammed and crashing repeatedly because as many as 300,000 people were trying to access them.  I didn’t even try.  Colleagues were beside themselves because they couldn’t get to their email.  I thought: Really?  Do you really think your students can get to your email either?  I spent the day doing other things.  Again, I did laundry, read, meditated, and worked on other aspects of my To Do list.  Around 3:30 PM, I tried and got on the site on the first try.  An hour later a colleague helped me get my email synced up.  I had three emails from students.  That’s it.  I posted announcements assuring all my students that we would adjust the schedule to make up for the lost time if we needed to, and I signed off.

This past week I learned how compulsively we are addicted to the stuff we use every day to communicate.  I also learned that it would be good for me to declare every Wednesday as a technology free day.  As an extreme introvert, I need the silence.  I need the perspective that only solitude can give someone like me.  The experience of listening to life – the sound of the leaves moving gently in the trees, a dog barking in the distance, the whir of the furnace, the sound of my shoes on the tile floor – none of this can capture my attention in the bang and clang of our 21st century lives. Susan Cain discovered while researching her book that introverts are the change agents and problem solvers and creative geniuses of the world. We need silence.  We need time away.

I realized that for me, I need to ferociously guard my quiet time.  My life depends on it.  If you are an introvert, yours does to.

© 2012  Shavawn M. Berry  All rights reserved

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