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Turning down the noise

I don't miss the news. I recently completed a three-week road trip/book tour up and back the Rocky Mountains. When I left Santa Fe with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and a trailer crammed full of camping gear, clothing, food, books and other necessities, I was certain that I'd miss the steady diet of daily news that is fed to me via a variety of ‘information delivery outlets' (collectively the media). But I didn't miss it at all. As a result, upon our return we decided to deliberately starve ourselves out of much of the daily headlines and the virtual world of the Internet as possible. It won't be that difficult - it's not like I'm addicted to Internet blog sites, YouTube, the Wall Street Journal or CNBC anyway. There are only three or four websites, and two local newspapers, that I read on a regular basis. But even that may be too much. That's because so much of what does on in life these days feels and sounds like chatter. You are aware of this noise instantly, for example, when you visit any hotel lobby for breakfast - aware of the inane, chattering sounds emanating from the incessantly lit-up television. Spend any time in its proximity and you are bound to have any salient thought in your head washed completely out within minutes. And all person-to-person conversations inevitably suffer under its influence. It's the same with the Internet. In a hotel breakfast zone one morning, I observed a mother stare for a long time into the depths of her laptop while her two young boys idled soundlessly over their food. Eventually the older boy went and fetched his laptop, which he set up next to his mother's. She kept staring. Watching her, I wondered: what possibly could be so important on the Internet that it was worth ignoring one's children? I haven't a clue. And I don't want to. What I found instead on this trip was power of disconnectivity. Noise reduction meant that our trip was infinitely quieter both in the ‘real' world of trees, rivers, and family activities, as well as inside my head. Less processing meant more connectivity with things that matter. Not that our trip has been quiet - not with nine-year-old twins along. Or the never-ending books-on-tape. Or the conversations with friends, the readings, the power point lectures, the highway sounds, the doggie demands, or returned cell phone calls. But none of this was noise. It was part of life - real life, not a virtual life. I spent very little time in front of a computer screen on the trip and it made all the difference (it's a painful irony that we berate kids today for how much time they spend in front of various screens without giving a second thought about how much time WE spend there). Electronic connectivity is useful, but not essential. What is essential is conversation, face-to-face, and laughter, and feeling the fresh air pour in an open window, laced with wood smoke. Perhaps the challenges and ever increasing anxieties of the present century encourage us to slip into a virtual world of fantasy and bottomless distraction, but ultimately the real world can't be ignored. And it shouldn't. There are marvelous things out there, and most of them are connected the old-fashioned way - by nature. It's time to turn down the noise. ———- Courtney White is co-founder and Executive Director of The Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists, and others. He is the author of Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West. For further ruminations by Courtney, see www.chronicleofconsequences.com.