Monday, July 14, 2008

Thanatoaerophobia: Fear of Dead Air

Derived from the Greek words for dead, air, and fear, thanatoaerophobia is, of course, the fear of dead air. Described as a loss of an audio signal on radio or of a video signal on television, dead air is undesirable when it comes to these mediums. It means a loss of entertainment, a loss of revenue, indicates technical problems, and is something to be corrected as soon as possible.

But American culture also suffers from fear of dead air. To paraphrase Pascal, we don't know how to stay quiet in our rooms, or anywhere else for that matter. Consequently, wherever we go dead air is avoided at all costs. We don't want dead air. We want air full of noise or diversion of some kind.

So restaurants mount televisions all over the place, businesses to play music (indoors and out), people crave access to the Internet and e-mail wherever they are, and portable forms of entertainment are carried around, serving as safety nets from the specter of dead air. We even begin to pile diversion upon diversion such as at sporting events, where dead air must not exist even, for instance, between innings in a baseball game. Is the last bastion of silence the academic library? But they aren't always quiet, either.

The dead air must be filled, lest we have silence. But what is wrong with silence? Does it make people uncomfortable because in silence we are left to ourselves and our thoughts? Because we must communicate meaningfully with others?

Thanatoaerophobia is a sickness. We must cure it. But how? Create silence. Make room for silence. Open the doors to thoughtful contemplation. Turn off the enemies of silence. "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

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