On the nature of silence in the network

Since June 2nd* I’ve been attempting to not speak. Not a word.

The purpose of this vow of silence, though a long and interesting history those vows may have, is actually far simpler than you might think: to listen, to focus, and to test.

On listening: I have the ability to talk to anyone about anything – and I think this a gift – but it has also trained in me something like an auto-immune response, automatically speaking without necessarily thinking. I had forgotten that many things need no answer and that immediately having a position/disposition/emotional response on a subject can hinder growth and understanding. I intend to silence these dispositions in me in order that I may hear and see them better in others.

On focus: this is, perhaps, the most deceptive of all – ostensibly, focusing on writing should be easier when you’re not wasting energy on speaking but as a writer, to find and use voices is an essential tool. To know the tembre and tempo of your own reading voice – and, in turn, how to adapt that for characters – can be lost. If my listening is to lose my dispositions, I must ensure I don’t lose my voice. I do hope, however, that by not speaking, I’m focusing my workload and my mind.

On testing: we live in a networked world – some would say we always have but the net is simply the most obvious, evolutionary, physical and conceptual representation – but much of it is mainly chatter, noise. This post, blogging, is a kind of media. I use Twitter and it is an echo chamber of conversations; fortunately, occasionally, something important bubbles up from within it and it can be used a a news source but it is tantamount to always speaking. Always having/needing to have an opinion. Some writers say that visibility is key to survival. Perhaps they’re right; I’m not going to stop using Twitter, making #3WordPoems, or writing in June – I’m solely going to stop speaking but that doesn’t free me from the networks of family, friends, and work. I’d like to test and see what limits the network puts on us to ask, is it even possible to be silent for a month [in the UK, in the fields I work in, as a privileged human] anymore?

Sometimes, we should all just shut the fuck up.
Not everyone who can type, including me, knows what the fuck they’re talking about.
Thus, I’d like to try shutting the fuck up for a while.

I am not a Cistercian, Trappist, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, or any traditionally religious denomination. I am a Pantheist but that’s a post for a different time, long down the line. I enjoy Stoic philosophy, yes, but I cannot hold to being a Stoic nor am I a follower of Pythagoras.

If a religious association were to exist to my silence it would be only to get closer to God – closer to the true nature of things.

*[it would have been June 1st but that’s someone’s birthday, you can’t be silent & celebrate.]


Here, I present my findings from the the first week.

Family, oh my family: even if you explain what you’re going to do for two weeks before you do it, your family may not understand it, may mock it, and demand that you speak. Especially if you’re a white, working-class family like mine who rely on each other. If you’re reading this and considering attempting a silence too, be prepared – I had a notebook written out with common questions and phrases but some of my family say, ‘I can’t understand your writing! Just speak!’ In which case, you may have to use a smartphone to speak for you.

Automatically  or reflexively speaking: it is incredibly hard not to automatically speak – when something hits a nerve, when someone shouts at you, when anything surprises you, when you’re tired, when someone wakes you up in the middle of the night, when someone is confused and needs absolute clarity – in all of these moments we’re trained to speak. So far, I’ve achieved two full days of not a single word coming out of my mouth two out of seven is terrible. It’s my first week, this is a test. I’m hoping that as I get into the full swing, people will phrase their approach and questions better.

On communication: I’m not trying to communicate less – though I accept it will be a quantitative by-product – but, rather, I’m trying to communicate better. I want to understand the needs of a situation without speaking. I want to observe better. I want to give room to people to understand what it is to be confronted with, essentially, a mute. I’ve always loved the differing qualities of communication, the textures and tembres, but I’ve noticed that my silent interactions are softer than any spoken as they rely on touch. I’m yet to notice a definitive difference in my approach to them but other people quickly get annoyed when they can’t

Humming and singing: I’m naturally one of those people that makes up a song or hums when they’re happy. Being controlled, this has found a strange and wonderful outlet in creating abstract melodies in my inner ear. Though I’ve worked with many, I know I’m not a composer.


Those are the notes from the silent field for now. I’m hoping to write up my progress every Sunday through June.

If I don’t, I’ll write up at the end of the month.

Happy silences your way.


4 thoughts on “On the nature of silence in the network

  1. When you’ve finished, you must read the play ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate’ by Anthony Minghella.

    “When you stop speaking, it’s like stopping eating. The first day, there’s something thrilling and new, before the pain begins. The pain where you want to give up, where you can think of nothing else.

    Then the second day, you feel wretched, the third delirious, and then suddenly there’s no appetite, it shrinks, it shrinks, until the prospect of speaking, the thought of words retching from the mouth, how ugly and gross it seems.

    Look, already it’s happening here, the weight of words, the torrent, all the words being said seep into each other, the rage, the protest all clotting together, sit and listen to the wireless, and run the wheel of the tuner, spin the dial, hear them all at it, in all languages, pouring out. This is, after all, our first punishment – Babel – saying so much to say nothing. Doing so much to do nothing. Because the power to arrest, to stop us short in our tracks, what does that?”

  2. That, my friend, is perfect: ‘How ugly and gross it seems.’
    The application of that phrase is comparable to ‘It is astonishing. They speak solely by flapping the fat flesh in their mouths and blowing air through the flesh in their throats.’ [adapted from this]

    I will read it, asap.

    I’ve started to think about the embodied voice vs. the disembodied. We have ample opportunities to create disembodied voice and, with the internet, more than ever. The embodied should be meaningful and all else can be done with gesture.

    There is so little that is asked of us that cannot be answered with a gesture – at the worst, a written note.

    All was dissident.
    All is becoming…

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