Seven Billion Voices

If everyone in a crowded room were speaking at the same time, who would be the audience? Would each person not merely be speaking to himself? Would each person not therefore be failing to attend to anyone else? In such a condition, would not each voice beyond one’s own be reduced in one’s awareness to the status of background noise, a distraction? In such a room, a person gasping his last strained whisper of distress would be heard by no one. The most sage advice would go unheeded. A quiet voice communicating ultimate understanding — wisdom always arrives quietly, because it is spoken from great distances — would be swallowed up by the ever-crashing waves of hyperbolic platitude with which each person occupied or impressed himself.

If seven billion voices all learned to value their own sound above all others, at all times — if in fact they were encouraged to believe that expressing their own sound was the essence of living as a human — communication would be over. Language, the instrument invented by rational creatures craving contact with others — souls seeking community, understanding, civilization — would at last be nothing but each atom’s means of amusing itself in its permanent isolation.

One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived. [Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting]

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