Whenever I’m at my parents’ house I’m amazed by the constant presence of cable news chatter. Amazed is one word. Irritated is more like it. The TV is always on, even when no one’s watching. Even when we’re having dinner out of the line of sight of the TV. This past holiday I was so irritated by it that I shouted in exasperation, “Why do you guys just leave CNN on! We’ve already heard the same news five times!”
Dad and I talked about it a few days later, when I was driving him to the airport. By then I’d come up with a theory: that for my parents, growing up in China and living in multi-generational households, in densely packed communities – they were used to relatives and neighbors being all up in their space, used to the presence of other human beings – of other human voices – in the house. For them, cable news was less about staying informed and more about the comfort of being near people excitedly talking.
I know this isn’t unique to my parents. I think of people I’ve worked for whose office TVs are on permanent CNBC, or my friends who’ve lived in the UK and speak warmly of BBC radio. I see also the things I do, in my own way, to fill the same otherwise quiet: Podcasts, NPR, Spotify playlists, and even mostly-sonically-but-not-psychically-quiet things like Twitter or Instagram. I had my own comfort patterns (thanks for the term, D); the source of my initial irritation was that they conflicted with my parents’ comfort patterns.
(“Maybe a foundation of an enduring relationship,” a voice says, “is having comfort patterns that don’t conflict.”)
Back in the car, Dad says that one of his new year’s resolutions is to make more time for quiet.
It’s one of mine now, too.