Posted by: kerryl29 | February 21, 2014

The Preservation of Silence

The Law of Unintended Consequences seems to crop up with the introduction of every new bit of technology.  There’s nothing new about this; it was true long before I was born and it will persist well after I’m gone.  But the implications of this truism have more impact in some instances than others–and the degree of impact may certainly vary from individual to individual.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

For me, the “new” technology with the highest unintended consequences quotient (UCQ) is the ubiquitous nature of cellular phones.  Cell phones became commonplace in the Western world roughly two decades ago and have since become considerably more than just telephones, but the added capabilities that have appeared over the past 20-odd years have made relatively little difference in UCQ terms, at least from my perspective.

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

For all the intended–and, in some cases, possibly unintended positive–aspects of the mainstreaming of cellphones, they’ve had at least one very–in my opinion–negative consequence, which stems from an ostensibly positive impact:  the ability to be “in touch” just about everywhere.  And that negative consequence?  Succeeding the ability to be in touch anywhere was the expectation of being reachable anywhere…at any time.  In theory, of course, one’s phone can be turned off, but that’s a violation of what I’ll term the new normal (though it’s not especially new anymore) of common culture:  the assumption that each of us is accessible at almost literally any instance.  And, with few exceptions, when it comes to one’s job, one’s career…if you’re not available 24/7, you’re going to pay a pretty steep price.

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

What’s lost?  What’s the cost of this new normal?  In my view, quite a bit:  a sense of privacy, a sense of being able to separate work and personal time…and pure, unadulterated silence.

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

I’m no Luddite, believe me, but I will readily admit to having fought against the aforementioned “new normal,” and if I’ve paid a price for it (and I undoubtedly have), I think it’s been well worth it.  Simply put, I value the ability to control my own solitude too highly to surrender it.

Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Channel Islands from the Hurricane Ridge Road, Olympic National Park, Washington

Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Channel Islands from the Hurricane Ridge Road, Olympic National Park, Washington

I wasn’t conscious of the fact when I first became interested in the endeavor, but I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons that photographing the landscape appeals so strongly to me is that it coincides with the opportunity to be in a place where I can be alone with my thoughts, devoid of sounds other than, perhaps, the wind, running water and the distant call of wildlife.  When I’m concentrating on what I’m doing I’m not conscious of this bliss, but–invariably–between shots, perhaps–I take a step back, often literally, and allow the palpable presence of quietude to penetrate my awareness.  Whatever the cost of these experiences has been, it’s been worth it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois


  1. I know a lot of people have a difficult time “unplugging,” but I’ve fallen into a good work environment where that’s just not an issue for me. And I guess I’m also lucky enough to live in a place where I could easily be somewhere that cell phones don’t work. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m unreliable with the phone. It’s often not charged, or stuck on silent, or just not with me. Knowing the struggle others face, I’m glad I don’t share that addiction. I value my silent time, and am grateful to have it.

    • Glad for you that you’ve been able to establish a semblance of balance. I, myself, have no problem “unplugging” (my cell is off far more often than it’s on), but my point is that, for many people in many professions, we’ve reached a point where, if you’re unwilling to be “always available,” you can find another source of income. This is a relatively new phenomenon and I think it’s a very unfortunate consequence of technological evolution. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to put myself in a position where I don’t feel the pressure to be continuously reachable.

      • You’re absolutely right. I wish others’ wouldn’t feel the job stress especially of not being so connected. I think that if I were to switch jobs, it would be a serious consideration. Everyone should at least have the chance to value their private time :-/

        • I completely agree. Part of what concerns me is that there’s an entire generation of people who are new to the workforce who have never experienced anything but this “new normal.” I entered the labor market when car phones were the closest thing to a mobile phone that existed and “personal” cellular phones required a backpack-like device to lug them around. Both of these things were sufficiently expensive that, essentially, only people who really needed them had them. That prevented the creeping “anytime, anywhere” culture that’s so prevalent today from becoming predominant. There’s really no impediment now and I can’t help but feel that we’re all the worse for it.

          BTW, you’ve posted some really nice images of the icy Lake Michigan shore on your blog recently!

  2. Wow… Stunning images 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  3. I agree stunning images. One of these days I will unplug…

  4. Beautiful photographs! and your point is well taken.

    If one has ever had the privilege of being in a place that is truly quiet one then knows how “noisy” our lives have become!

    In a similar vein, a sorrow of mine is the loss of the night sky due to light pollution in most of the places we find it necessary to live. Few will ever know first hand how incredibly beautiful it is.

    • Thanks, and very good point about light pollution. It’s always a real eye-opener–literally and figuratively–when I’m out somewhere devoid of heavy light sources and I notice just how easily the spiral arms of the Milky Way are when gazing at the night sky. My most recent such experience was in the Upper Peninsula last October.

  5. I agree with centralohionature on every point! I’m planning at least one overnight trip to the desert this year where I hope to be able to enjoy an unpolluted night sky…and my husband’s undivided attention! Hoping for some decent photographs too, though I highly doubt I’ll even approach these…

    • Thanks, and here’s hoping that your desert evening experience lives up to expectations.

  6. Awesome photos as always!

    I see one advantage to chasing critters rather than landscapes, I can almost always find quiet places to go where I’m off by myself. My old fishing buddy used to get in the faces of loud people while he was hunting or fishing, and almost came to blows on several occasions. One of his favorite sayings was that they were ruining his wilderness experience. My ex-girlfriend was a bit more crude, she would say that loud people were f*%&ing with her serenity.

    • Thanks…and I don’t have much difficulty finding solitude, even in generally crowded national parks such as the Smokies or Yosemite. They all have locations where you can escape the crowds…you just have to find them.

      BTW, love those stories about taking issue with noisy people in ostensibly wilderness settings.

  7. All I can say is what grandeur and finery Nature gives us to love and share….!

  8. Kerry: Well put, and having lived most of my life without the pervasive connectivity as the new norm, I fondly revere what once was. As an aside, your wonderful complementary images mesmerized me as being so relevant to my own story. As part of a chronicle I posted last summer, I included a picture of myself, ‘passionately’ communicating the old fashioned way (writing a letter,) with my then girlfriend from the very spot and time you portrayed: Imperial Point at dawn! (See ). It didn’t stop there! I’ve cherished Zion’s Virgin River Narrows; Hurricane Ridge and the Strait of Juan de Fuca; and even The Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee, near your image – been to them all, and contemplated them in solitude and peace. Thanks for this stirring post! M

    • I should have noted that my time at Imperial Point was 47 years ago, and the letter worked as we now have 5 grandchildren! M

      • I guess the moral of the story is that it pays to write! 🙂 I have little doubt that my wife would agree.

      • My wife and I “met” through letters in 1987. She was in the Philippines and I in Texas (where she is now too).

        • Wow…letters…and 1987. I remember both. Back then it was enough to say simply “mail,” not “snail mail.”

    • Thanks very much, for the kind words and the link! I just finished reading your entry, and it resonated, at a number of levels. Two springs ago I spent the better part of two weeks in southern Utah and Nevada (the first entry of the series can be accessed here), and in the late summer of the same year (2012) I spent about a week in northern Arizona (first entry of that series is here) so I recognized a lot of the spots in your photographs. It was very interesting to see some of the differences 45 years have made to these locations (not to mention the simple pleasure of reading your 1967 travelogue, replete with $3 gas tank fill-ups and $8 motel rooms).

      I really enjoyed reading the linked installment–and many of the other entries as well. Great stuff!

      • Looking forward to reading through your posts. 😊

  9. This is a great post. I agree with you on what you said and I have to say that I also enjoy at time leaving the house only with my camera and leaving my mobile phone at home. I don’t turn it off, true. I just leave it back home and in case someone tried to reach me, I’ll call them back 🙂
    But enjoying a moment of solitude once is a while is priceless 😀

    • Thanks, and I completely agree with your sentiments. Solitude is a major part of the attraction to the kind of photography I enjoy.

  10. So well put. I agree wholeheartedly. And what gorgeous photographs to accompany your musings!

    • Thanks very much!

  11. it was funny working with young pre-teens at a camp where no transister radios were allowed (ya, I am dating myself)-they panicked at first but then got used to it.And when someone pulls out the cell phone in the bush, I move away quickly.

    • Yeah, I guess it was transistor radios, then Sony Walkman devices, then cell phones…

  12. Ah yes. I definitely resonate! I feel weird in today’s world, but every day I go for a run or a bike ride and leave my phone at home. Glorious freedom in the world and in my head.

    • Good for you. The key, I think, is somehow getting yourself in a position where, substantively and psychologically, you’re comfortable being unreachable. I’ve been able to do that for some time, but most of the people I know can’t, for one reason or another.

  13. Beautiful images, wise and profound views. I, too, treasure the solitude and stillness that comes with shooting landscapes, plants, nature herself. There is nothing like it and for me, some of the only times I feel at peace and completely in the moment. I bring my phone, though, and use it for the occasional shot. I control it, however–not the other way around. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thanks very much. Sounds as though you have things very well-ordered.

  14. Stunning photographs. And words for thought.

  15. Beautiful photographs of some excellent ‘solitary’ places.

    I guess that I am lucky, in that now I am retired, few people want to contact me, even though I am normally carrying a phone. I also encourage use of my home landline phone unless contact is urgent.

    • Thanks. Though not retired, I’m not in heavy demand either, and that definitely does have some side benefits.

  16. More than happy to find myself out of range of cell towers when out in the country, preferably with a camera or fishing rod in hand. I feel no need to be forever ‘available’.

    • Sounds to me as though you’ve got your priorities lined up very well.

  17. Beautiful, beautiful images. My cell phone or as we call it in Australia mobile phone (mobile for short) is for my convenience only and I have to admit is left at home more often than not. How can we know ourselves if we do not spend time with ourselves alone?

    • Thanks, and very, very well put!

  18. Beautiful photos. I wouldn’t like to be in the midst in such majestic scenery and be on the phone. But, I’ve seen that too.

    In my family, it’s only my wife that uses her Blackberry the most. Being an MD, she needs to be able to stay in touch more often. But, there are many times when she simply turns it off. My daughters and I use our Blackberry devices when needed, but most of the time they’re turned off.

    More amusing was that a friend, about 12 years ago, decided to ditch her landline phone and rely completely on her cell. While she told her family and friends to call her cell number, after a week she was wondering why no one called her. It dawned on her, at work, her cell was turned off. She had a slew of voicemail messages, with many saying “call me back.”

    • Thanks, David.

      Yeah, there’s no question that there have always been a few occupations where the need to be always reachable has been the norm (and understandably so). I’m old enough to remember when beepers/pagers were the means of contact for these folks. The problem, as I see it, is that this has leeched into areas where constant contact isn’t really necessary. It seems that the sense now is that, because you can be reached at virtually any time that you should be reachable…and you should expect this as a matter of course. Perhaps I’m making too much out of this, but I have this nagging feeling that something precious is being lost as we seem to move inexorably to the point communication with anyone is not only possible but de rigueur.

      BTW–and not incidentally–love the cat images on your blog!

      • Glad you like the cat images. I follow them enough with the camera. Have a good week ahead.

  19. Especially enjoyed this one Kerry. Photography is lovely and agree wholeheartedly with your comments.

    • Thanks very much, Tina.

  20. I would be hard pressed to disagree with your thoughts. We so rarely think of our unintended consequences. Great shots across the board!!

    • Thanks very much!

  21. Being of an older generation, I confess it weirds me out when I pass a solitary person on the street or in a store who appears to be talking to himself or herself, until I notice the earpiece. It also annoys me when a passenger in the back seat of my car suddenly starts talking, but in a way that has nothing to do with me, the person having placed a cell phone call without my being aware of it. I’m tempted to announce from now on that my car is a no-phone zone.

    On a positive note, your landscapes are, as always, gorgeous.

    • I know what you mean. I will date myself a bit by conceding that I was a few years out of graduate school by the time cell phones were ubiquitous.

      And, thanks for the kind words.

  22. Incredible photos.

  23. Wonderful!

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