Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Power of the "Off" Button

March 27th was Global Earth Hour. In case you missed it, let me remind you: all over the world, people turned off their lights for one hour. It was a simple act that connected people all over the world in a silent reminder of the wonder of nature and the fragility of the planet. Something like 1 billion people participated. Simple, powerful, and silent.

For me it's a reminder of the power of the "off" button in a society that is increasingly dominated by the "always-on" mindset. Not only "always on" but also "always on at peak volume."

Part of the lack of civility in America today is the sense that we're always shouting at each other. The notion, I suppose, is that in an attention economy, if you want to be heard, if you want people to pay attention to you, you have to scream at the top of your lungs. Of course, it's a principle that leads to its own escalation: the more you scream to be heard, the more the next person tries to scream even louder, and so on. It's a nuclear arm race of incivility, noise, ever-heightened claims, and ever-worsening stunts just to get noticed.

But as Global Earth Hour reminds us, every piece of electronic equipment we own--including our homes--comes with an off button.

Tired of being screamed at by some idiotic TV talk-show host fomenting political mindlessness. Hit the off button. Tell your friends to do the same. Practice "offing" the noise.

If you don't like being shouted at, don't shout back--try Gandhian passive resistance. Just hit the off button. It's the equivalent of a sit-down strike against those who scream, shout, and rail at us.

There are some media platforms and communication devices that don't include an off button.

Things like, oh, books. Newspapers. Magazines. Dinner parties.

In the spirit of Global Earth Hour, let's try hitting the off button on those devices that raise the volume of argument without raising the level of discourse.

It's time to take back the conversation! Just hit "off" and see how quickly we can all get back on--to reasonable discussion and debate about things that really matter.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb