It’s noisy out there, you don’t need me to tell you that. Depending on your media diet you might open dozens of sites, apps, emails, podcasts and videos every day.
It’s kind of like one of those audio patch bays that you find in recording studios or radio stations: a spaghetti of inputs from different places all feeding simultaneously into one channel: our minds.
One of those cables is plugged into Instagram. Another one is pouring noise from Twitter into our heads. That big red one is labelled simply “the news”.
Imagine trying to listen to a dozen radio stations all at once. I feel like I’ve been going through life for years with this cacophony of overlapping words and sounds blaring in my ears.
Somewhere, lost among that sonic maelstrom, buried beneath that mass of cables, is an input that’s been there longer than any of the others: the sound of my voice.
And I can’t hear it anymore.
“Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.”
I remember first being struck by this exactly ten years ago this month. Newly arrived in Paris, I read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, a powerful little fable about a boy searching for treasure.
One page hit me like a steam train, as the hero realises he can’t hear his own voice any more.
“In earlier times, his heart had always been ready to tell its story, but lately that wasn’t true…He asked [his heart], please never stop speaking to him. He asked that, when he wandered far from his dreams, his heart press him and sound the alarm. The boy swore that, every time he heard the alarm, he would heed its message.”
I made a similar promise to my heart that day.
But my heart did not start speaking to me, so instead I kept listening to outside sources. And around 2013 a very powerful new input emerged — the influencer.
Influencers are very clear about what they’re trying to do — it’s in the name!
Don’t believe the disarming friendliness as they show you around their home or take you travelling with them. Influencers don’t just want to show you their life, they want to sell it to you: they want you to want what they have.
Most of them have impressive lives, don’t get me wrong. But those lives are their lives, not yours, not mine.
Every time I felt like I had certainty about my direction in life, I would open Instagram or YouTube and an influencer would appear in my feed, telling me how great their life is, and suddenly I lost my grounding.
The path I felt so certain of moments before, now seemed muddy and undesirable.
I’ve lost a lot of time this way, stumbling along paths that are not my own.
(Life is a bit like a wedding in that respect: everyone has an opinion about how you should be doing yours — and before you know it you’re spending hundreds of dollars on white lilies when you don’t even like flowers and your betrothed has an allergy. Eventually you have to tell Aunty Audrey to shut up and try and remember what you want your wedding to look like.)
So, for the first time since 2004, I am not on social media at all. I deleted my Twitter account completely, I deleted Instagram from my phone. I said goodbye to Facebook years ago. I pared my newsletter subscriptions right down to just a few people who I always look forward to. I still spend a bit too much time on YouTube, I’ll admit (I am a video maker after all); but I’m bypassing TikTok entirely.
One by one, I’ve been pulling out those audio cables.
And what’s happening? Quiet.
A lot of artists would understandably question this approach. After all, is our work not a remix of all our influences? Don’t we need to “feed the cow” with new ideas, formats, styles and stories? If we want a chance of building an audience don’t we need to tune into the zeitgeist and find relevance?
No doubt there are times when my well is dry and I need to open the gates to new material. I still read every day, listen to music and watch movies.
Unplugging means you will miss out on the latest trends, new buzzwords, and perhaps even opportunities; but I would say this in response:
Your unique voice, whatever it has to say, is more important than anything you might read on Twitter or see on Instagram.
And it only comes out when it’s quiet.
I hope, sincerely, that none of you consider me an influencer, it’s never been my intention writing this newsletter.
But if that is the case, if you find my voice is talking over your own, there is only one thing to do…
Unplug me! Rip out the cable! Silence the feed! Unsubscribe from my newsletter and any other for that matter that crowds out the voice of your own heart.
And then, in patient silence, listen carefully. It’ll sound like a whisper at first, but if you stay unplugged, you’ll hear it grow in volume and confidence…that strange sound, unfamiliar and yet pure and clear, a perfect chord from the most finely tuned piano, never before heard: that’s your voice.
Until another Sunday soon,