-Essay-

BOGOTÁ ⁠ — The distinguished Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa spoke in a recent interview about the problem of what he calls "message pollution" in today's world. "Reflection is needed," he said. "For my part, I propose silence. Because I have never wanted to shout more than the one already shouting."

We are indeed seeing a change in the way people communicate, and the result is a change in the collective psyche. No time has been further from silence than ours. Shouting, or the noise of the crowd, is what dominates today. We wade into the internet making sure to shout louder than the next user, all to attract the collective gaze, earn the yearned-for "like," even draw an insult — anything to confirm our existence. Never did the common man — the rank-and-file — demand so much attention, confirmation and recognition.

Noise is essentially ephemeral.

In her recent book La intimidad pública (Public Intimacy), the Argentine writer Beatriz Sarlo defined her idea of a "common celebrity" as someone who, in the grip of a moment's narcissistic compulsion, will do anything to be noticed. "The hue and cry is one of the current forms of notoriety," she ways. And those who seek it, she adds, "require neither quality nor achievements, only that they become sufficiently well-known as a 'somebody'."

"Even the wittiest, most pointed comments online will fade away" – Muhammad Raufan Yusup/Unsplash

How exactly can they become known? By various means. They can strip naked on Instagram or join the verbiage of various online discussions, freely scattering their insults and preferably using eschatological terms.

The troll, a creature of our time that seeks prominence through harassment, is king in this realm. New York Times journalist David Brooks cites studies showing online trolls as displaying more marked psychopathic, sadistic and narcissistic tendencies. There is probably even a paramount troll today: the tweeting president who called Britain's ambassador in Washington a "pompous fool" and chided its prime minister for "the mess" she made of Brexit. With leaders like this, can one expect ordinary folk to be quiet?

But noise is essentially ephemeral. Even the wittiest, most pointed comments online will fade away. This will cause anxiety to the "common celebrities," who must swiftly find another reason to disturb their audience. And the audience avidly, gapingly, awaits its daily ration: It's a two-way drug each side feeds the other, to create a collective uproar.

Can you escape this audiovisual noise without cutting yourself off from the world? I think so. There are other ways of connecting, all of them more gratifying, productive and profound, like conversation, reading or reflection. And there is looking at art of course — though I only mean those works that have overcome art's own temptation to shout.

Jaume Plensa sums it up beautifully: "There is too much noise. Much confusion. Which is why I try to sculpt silences."


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