In Praise of Dead Air

People are uncomfortable with silence.  On the radio, over the telephone, in person.  It’s a curious thing.

We are obsessed with filling up the air space.  That sounds very male – the need to occupy territory (take a look at how men sit, their legs crossed open and their arms resting on the backs of the adjacent chairs, compared to how women sit, legs crossed closed and their hands in their laps).  But women too consider dead air problematic.

Is it that we’re afraid to say ‘I’ll have to think about that’?  Because thinking about it is for philosophers, contemplatives, monks?  Ordinary people who think are so odd, they’re commented upon – ‘a penny for your thoughts’.  (And so poor at thinking, their thoughts are worth only a penny.)

Or is it that we’re afraid to say ‘I don’t know’.  Men especially seem unable to get those words out.  (I assume this is related to their inability to stop and ask for directions.)  Better a poor response than no response at all.  More often than not, better a lie.

So we don’t say these things.  We chatter instead.  We fill the air with small talk.  Is it that noise suggests activity?  If you’re a child, I guess you think so.  But even so, activity is not necessarily good.  (Am I back to the male thing?  They’re the ones obsessed with action: they start with action figures, then go on to action movies, and big team action sports, and finally it all gets sublimated into the task-oriented Type A personality – vp meets coronary.)  But it’s women too.  Rule #4 of ‘How to be a Good Date’ is all about the art of conversation, i.e. how to keep it going.  Dead air is embarrassing.  Dead air is rude.

I suggest not.  I suggest that the absence of dead air is what’s rude.  Nonstop patter allows no time to think; in fact, it discourages thought.  When you aim for a continuous conversation, you get a superficial conversation.  You can’t ask good questions if you’re is trying to get instant responses.  And if, by mistake, a good question is asked, you can’t take time to consider it if you’re afraid of dead air – so you don’t really consider it.  And isn’t that rude?  Not taking the other person’s comments and questions seriously?

Perhaps those who call it dead air are themselves dead – unable, or worse, unwilling, to think.  Dead air can be alive,  bustling with the work of understanding what was just said, and then of judging it – right? wrong? important? trivial?  Can I add to it? change it? use it?  Only those unaccustomed to mental activity would mistake silence for inactivity.


1 comment

    • zedonezero on January 24, 2013 at 2:50 am
    • Reply

    I get the irony and the satire, but where’s the belly laugh? Lisa Wolf, an american academic, gave a lecture called uppity women of the bible. It was pretty funny.

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