Silence and Solitude: Escaping Information Overload
Ever linger over an image of a quiet landscape, or long for a moment of solitary contemplation? You’re not alone. In a chaotic digital age, silence is in short supply. And artists and brands are responding with escapes into Silence and Solitude — our first visual trend for 2018.
We’re seeing a growing demand for images that convey comfort and regeneration. Images that take us back to nature, that show that less is more. Viewers are responding to imagery that offers respite — these images operate like a breath of fresh air to the viewer. They present a break from a demanding and confusing time.
As Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the New York Times put it, if smell was the “unspoken plague of cities” in the Middle Ages, our plague today is noise. According to the World Health Organization, huge numbers of us experience unhealthy levels of noise each day, and it impacts everything from our sleep to our cardiovascular health and our work and school performance.
But it’s not just literal noise that plagues us, it’s also 24-hour news cycles, politics, and the relentless pull of digital distractions. Recent studies show that we spend five hours a day on mobile devices, and more than 10 hours per day taking in information through our screens — that’s significantly more time than we spend sleeping! This always-on lifestyle has us dreaming of turning off and tuning out. Creative people are taking note and offering solutions.
Creating silence and solitude
As noise amplifies, so does our need for a space to take a breath, refresh, and approach our digital lives more mindfully. In the office, we’re seeing a proliferation of everything from noise cancelling headphones, to architecture and office furniture designed to muffle noises. And it’s no wonder — a recent study found that a typical office worker has only 11 minutes between interruptions. Combine this with the fact that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to your original task after an interruption, and you can see how an oasis of quiet could mean everything for productivity.
Navy, a design agency in Melbourne, Australia, has taken the quest for solitude even further — they’ve instituted a daily hour of quiet time when employees are silent both online and offline. The company claims that their teams are 23 percent more productive and significantly less stressed since they launched the program, and they even take off Friday afternoons because of the boost in productivity.
Beyond the office, quiet is becoming more than a lack of noise, it’s evolving into a luxury good. For example, VisitScotland has begun attracting tourists by touting quiet, and Paris’ high-end décor show, Maison et Objet, recently celebrated décor — from vases to furniture — designed to create quiet spaces.
For consumers struggling to approach the digital noise more mindfully, there’s even startup, Watermelon Sugar, whose app lets you visualize yourself as a digital being, growing hairy and misshapen if you gorge on too much digital information.
Finding silence and solitude in the visual world
This longing for more space to think and breathe is having a deep impact on the visual world, too. Consider Doug Wheeler’s recent exhibit at the Guggenheim, where viewers were immersed in both literal silence as well as a visual impression of endless, unoccupied space.
In the stock world, the trend ranges from stunning landscapes, to moments of solitude, to images with very little visual noise.
Nature photographer Sander van der Werf’s images offer viewers a temporary reprieve from the human-constructed world. During his trip to the Swedish Lapland, Sander endured harsh conditions, camping in temperatures well below zero, “but also,” he adds, “wonderful, light, beautiful landscapes, and awesome opportunities for night photography.”
The conditions themselves required a kind of simplicity, which may be part of what we’re absorbing as viewers of Sander’s work. “Especially during long hikes, I have to keep the weight of my backpack somewhat acceptable. That means I have to choose what photo gear to pack, and what to leave at home. I have to be a minimalist.”
Photographer Julia Nimke is spending the year of her Adobe Creative Residency traveling to remote locations, meeting people who live in the settings of the traditional European folk tales. “I’ve always been interested in remoteness and being completely alone in a place,” she explains. As she travels beyond the reach of high-tech noise, her pace changes, too. “Finding people to interview and photograph without the aid of the internet helps me maintain a slower workflow — it forces me to spend time in an area in order to get to know people face-to-face.” The resulting images allow us to pause, think about our digital diets, and contemplate whether we really want to gobble all of that information so quickly.
We asked Julia for her advice to other artists who want to embrace solitude. “It’s hard sometimes and you can get lonely, but after that feeling comes a whole new feeling of inner peace. I feel like it is more important than ever to get out of the universe of over-consumption and to surround yourself with a minimal amount of things, but maximum nature, or whatever it is you’re longing for.”