What Happens When No One Is Listening

Buzz. Hue and Cry. Snark. Hate. Sell. Scam. Spam. Sex. Sing. Love. Self Love. Cats. Dogs. Kids. Money. Haute Couture. Desserts. Memes. Purses. Policy. God.

72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute of every hour of every day. It was a paltry 48 hours a year ago.

A post on social media instantly broadcasts your world view to an average potential audience of 40,000 people.

TV hosts yell, scream, confront and battle with guests. Everybody talks at the same time.

Everybody has something to say. Our stories are so breathtaking. Our gym photos are so alluring.

Look at me. Look at me.

The art of conversation has been replaced by personal broadcasting.

“Hey hey, ho ho, (person or policy) has got to go!”

On the other side of the street, we hear,

“What do we want? (Policy!) When do we want it? NOW!”

“I’m a Medicare recipient, and I demand the government get out of my health care!”

Oh yeah?


Oh Yeah?


We pose. We pout. We sing. We scream. We dance. We prance. We pontificate.

Values. Beliefs. Agendas. Intentions. Narcissism. Extremism. Dogma.

You can’t have a big dinner party anymore. Vegans, pork-choppers, raw foodies, pro-beef gonzos, anti-glutenites, macrobioticians and sugar nazis have made the communal meal almost impossible.

Our eyes dart from app to app, tweet to tweet. We skim. We abandon most detail in favor of the bullet point.

So much noise, so little to remember.

Julian Treasure is the chairman of The Sound Agency, a consultancy that helps people a firm that advises businesses on how to use sound.

Treasure says we are losing our listening.

I can’t confirm the science of his assertion that we retain only about 25% of what we hear, but it feels correct.

Some of this shedding of listening is our natural filter. There is a certain amount of filing and prioritizing going on. Some information is not needed. We let it slide by.

In a world of immensely powerful personal broadcasting and publishing, billions of us now have a way to say something.

When everyone is talking, who is listening?

We are losing our curiosity. We don’t want to hear contrarian views on much of anything. We don’t  seem to be willing to evolve.

Planned Parenthood requires 100% devotion by politicians, or they abandon them. No wiggle room. No gray area. No dialog. Planned Parenthood only wants to talk, and they do not want to listen. Their enemies on the other side of the aisle are equally immovable. They both look like a bunch of petulant children.

Poor CNN. Unforgivable  journalistic blunders aside, these folks have tried to stay in the muddy moderate middle. Ask a Fox News watcher their opinion of this network. Brace yourself for a tsunami of venom. Ask an MSNBC viewer their thoughts on CNN. Stand back and get ready to catch a truckload of  mockery. CNN is apparently simultaneously a communist organ and an apologist for mega-corporations. It sucks to be them.

Here’s the good news – the earth continues to rotate. There are a trillion exceptions to every rule.

And you understand the following powerful communication tool:  the ability to walk a mile in another’s shoes by listening to them.

The art of truly listening requires the abandonment of self-importance. It demands one forsake their need to be heard, and it requires the embrace of new and possibly unfamiliar information.

I tell my students about the power of silence, and how “loud” silence is, how it is sometimes weirdly more profound than words. The beauty of silence is that it allows our brains to really soak something up. It gives us a nanosecond of rest to actually be contemplative.

I teach them when they conduct interviews they should  choose silence and listening over mentally fidgeting over what they are going to say next. The fidgeting removes the ability to hear. Intense preparation for their conversation gives them  vast opportunities to create organic conversation brilliance. The ad lib is not possible without the prep.

Julian Treasure recommends every day we try to find three minutes of absolute silence, or at the very least three minutes of relative quiet. He posits this allows our brains to rest and recalibrate, to recommit to hearing the sounds of our life more precisely. The brain might recommit to once again noticing the sweet song of a bird,  the velvety tone of a guitar, and perhaps sonorous tidbits of knowledge from a person who can tell us something we don’t know.

Put another way; sometimes you and I should just shut the hell up.

The ridiculous irony of the words below is not lost on me, by the way…

John Scott is a media instructor and the national online learning coordinator at the School of Multimedia Communications at Academy of Art University, San Francisco.

He also counsels individuals and groups in the art of reinvention.

His debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be published soon.

Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.

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