I SAT in a room with other graduate students being briefed about an exam we will be taking next month in a computer laboratory.
Frequently, the unasked is often more important than the initial salvo of questions fired. As it turned out, the most interesting question was asked before the meeting wrapped up.
It wasn’t even a question. A young man across me made a request: Can lab technicians be requested not to wash up while the exam was ongoing?
The graduate studies head replied he would make a note of it. My seatmate murmured that she blanked out when everyone’s laptop keys started exploding around her while she was still reading the exam instructions.
Having first typed my reports with the family’s humongous Underwood, I find the click-clacking of keys comforting. “Banging away” has a literary, not a sexual, allusion for me.
Used to a newsroom’s incessant sounds—phones ringing, TV blaring news, writers reading to themselves a draft—I find the academe’s preference for silence redolent of its ivory tower repute.
According to the Internet, Frederick Rothwell and Cloudesley Shovell Henry Brereton cautioned in their 1911 book, “H. L. Bergson’s Laughter,” that scholars must take time to listen to the barbarians: “Each member (of society) must be ever attentive to his social surroundings—he must avoid shutting himself up in his own peculiar character as a philosopher in his ivory tower.”
I was working in our college library, crammed but as silent as a place full of students making final term requirements can be, when a young man in the next table started wailing.
Some of us looked up. I thought his laptop crashed; he missed a deadline. The fellow walked out and entered the toilet, where he yelled even louder. He returned to his table, pale but more composed. Later, I learned that his friend broke up with him over the phone.
No way to sidestep disaster when it comes in pairs: dumped while writing a final paper. Silence, however, must still be observed.
White noise “can lull us to sleep by drowning out any background noise,” Meghan Neal wrote in a Feb. 16, 2016 article “The Atlantic” published about “The many colors of sound”.
Audio engineers, who decode the soundscape, say that when we hear all the frequencies audible to humans, the “sonic stew” is strangely soothing.
What we prize in academe—silence—also has a color. Representing a “spectral density of roughly zero power at every frequency,” silence is the opposite of “all frequencies at once” or white noise.
Writes Neal: “black is the color of silence.”
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 20, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”