Nor by “noise” am I referring to a strictly aural phenomenon. Noise is in front of our faces and in our heads as much as it is in our ears. It is the voice telling you to check your notifications again or open another tab or send that funny tweet. Our noise is the noise of computer screens and debit card chip readers and touchscreen gas-station payment consoles and digital billboards — of the interminable pandemonium of analytics and marketing and optimization, the low static hum of 24/7 commerce clearly audible behind everything we do.
Let me tell you some of the things that I am “doing” right now: reading an essay by Stephen Metcalf in The Guardian, a story about President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in The New York Times, a piece about the implosion of a website called Mic in another publication called The Outline (halfway through), the text of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Divini redemptoris (two-thirds done); checking out the college football section of a new sports website called The Athletic; finding a quote in volume IX of The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman; pulling up the directions to La Grange, Indiana, in Google Maps; trying to learn more about the life of Julian Watts-Russell, a young English convert to Catholicism who died fighting for the Papal States; deciding whether I should re-subscribe to the London Review of Books (“There is still time!”); seeing whether there are any new messages in Slack or in either of my two email accounts, or any notifications on Twitter; filling out health insurance forms; flipping over a Shirelles record; smoking; eating a roast-beef sandwich; drinking tea; thinking about a book review and a fellowship project and a long essay that need finishing; writing this column.