Choosing silence on a journey one evening last week looks set to cost me £800-£900.
When my car was last serviced, the mechanic warned that there was a slight noise in the gearbox, which would become worse and would eventually need to be addressed. Not playing music while driving meant hearing that the slight noise had become a distinctive whirr. Phoning the garage, I learned that the gearbox would need to be removed and taken elsewhere for the work to be done. Perhaps I should have avoided silence for longer.
Choosing silence seems to puts me into a small minority. The popular consensus seems to be that every moment of every day should be filled with noise. People seem simply unable to function without being surrounded by noise in every place. For most young people, the ubiquitous smartphone with its earphones seems to have become a necessity for survival. Even going for a walk in the country cannot be undertaken without the companionship of hundreds of songs on a player. Cars are fitted with sound systems that would have been beyond the imagination of even enthusiasts in times past. Houses will frequently have numerous sources of noise, all of them switched on and playing all at once.
It is not just individuals. Companies seem to think that people cannot function without wall to wall sound. Supermarkets play music by artists with which their target audience will identify (the Co-op play hits from the 1970s), presumably this makes people feel better and prompts them to spend more money. Companies will have background music in the foyers of their office buildings. Even airlines have decided that passengers cannot cope without constant noise, filling the cabin with music before take-off and after landing and, sometimes, in moments when there is turbulence.
Why have we got into such habits? It is a recent thing. Before the plethora of technologies that allowed the playing of the radio and of songs in every conceivable location, many people were content with silence. I remember buying a new Austin Metro car in 1986 and it coming with no radio fitted as standard. Journeys were a time of quietness and reflection.
Why is there a need for noise? Is there a fear of the thoughts that might arise if one simply turned off the sound and took time to think?
And what happens to thought processes when everyone inhabits a world where noise is pervasive? How can we think if we are not prepared to be quiet? How can we hear noisy gearboxes?