DO you recall the sound of silence?
Even if you live in blessed solitude, far from the madding crowd, in a house with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a Zen garden and, beyond it, the sea, you likely have a cell-phone regularly pealing some insipid ring-tone, a computer pinging away whenever you’ve got e-mail, and a microwave screeching the news that your green tea has been reheated. At my place, whenever a member of our family telephones our home line, a robotic voice announces the identity of the caller by mispronouncing our last name through the phone’s speakers in five different rooms.
We citizens of this ultra-connected world are constantly urged to meditate, to seek peace at the heart of our busy days. But good luck finding serenity amidst the clamour of technology and the Muzak that serenades shoppers, dogging us even outdoors at the strip mall. Face it -- those iconic calls of the loon that stir your heart when you hear them at your weekend retreat are probably generated by your neighbour’s outdoor sound system, programmed for “beachside ambience.”
Never fear, though, there’s help out there. We can now choose to log off completely if that’s what we desire -- we no longer have to slap pillows over our heads and hope for the best. Spiky new headphones called OneSense, for instance, allow us to block out both distracting sounds and sights. They wrap across our ears and eyes simultaneously so we can concentrate on our musical selection, or just savour the reassuring sound of our own heartbeats. Ba-dump… ba-dump … ba-dump … yes, we’re still here. Now what?
Does the term “sensory deprivation tank” ring a bell? Careful, you’ll date yourself. First used in the 1950s by American doctor, neuroscientist and psychoanalyst John C. Lilly to probe the effects of cutting off all sensory input, the tanks sprang onto the mainstream landscape via the 1980 film Altered States. It starred William Hurt as an abnormal psychology professor at Harvard who literally devolves whenever he enters the tank’s womb-like environment. I knew a newspaper editor who, inspired by the movie, actually had one of these sensory deprivation tanks installed in his house. I always suspected he used it to pickle the more ornery reporters.
Back then, few of us had much inclination to climb into a closed tankful of warm salt water and lie there in the darkness by ourselves, but at this point we might give the prospect a second look. Given the choice between that and an hour of overhearing the Kardashians’ nasal babbling on TV, I’d opt for the rent-by-the-hour tanks at Portland, Oregon’s Float On, or whatever clones arise in its wake.
At Float On’s walk-in facility, according to the online trend report Cassandra Daily, isolation tanks are seen as such an effective decompression device that cash-strapped locals will work shifts in exchange for free float time. Float On’s website claims that soaking in its tanks in 10’’ deep water lowers cortisol, a key component of stress, and prompts your brain to release higher-than-usual levels of happiness-enhancing dopamine and endorphins. Just getting away from other people’s obnoxious cell phone conversations is enough of an excuse for me.
If you feel an isolation tank’s a tad lonely, you might consider toting around Scottish designer Nick Ross’s recently launched personal privacy booth, called Confession. With an oak tabletop and a sound-absorbent hood, it’s designed so two people can lean into it, face-to-face, and block out exterior sounds. If I were you, though, I’d get used to being described as “unfriendly” at cocktail parties.
Maybe you’re less concerned with sound barriers than with visual blockades. If so, you’ll delight in Cassandra Daily’s boast that Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility is a virtual reality. Cloud Cloak, a “wearable fog machine” that masks you in fog so nobody can tell who you are, and vice versa, is only a prototype at this point. But London’s Ibanez Kim Studio, which made it, will surely find it has multiple applications. Bank robbers and terrorists are sure to be deeply intrigued, along with most North American women during bikini season.
Evidently our eyes, which are trained on screens all day and night, are now as weary as our ears. Hence, the popularity of “Dans Le Noir” restaurants, where dinner is served in blackout conditions by visually impaired waiters. The experience –- available in New York, Paris, London, Barcelona, and St. Petersburg, Russia, and emulated elsewhere -- allows diners to appreciate what blindness is like. It also helps participants focus on elements of the dining-out experience apart from the visual.
I think the aspect of Dans Le Noir that I’d most enjoy would be going out for an elegant dinner braless, in dirty pajamas. The other high point would be that cell phones, smart phones, iPads and even watches are banned there. Diners have no fashion or technological props and are thus forced to survive purely on their wits, a distinct rarity in these days of LOL, OMG and TMZ.
Tune out, turn off, drop in -- that’s the perfect mantra for modern times.