His worry was prescient. The news business has never been easy, but today the competition for an engaged audience is more difficult than ever before due to an unexpected rival: too much information.
In 2013, more data
had been created in the previous two years than in the entire previous history of the human race, according to SINTEF, a leading Norwegian research center. Since then, this number has exponentially increased, further diverting our attention and further underscoring the importance of the press, the gatekeepers of the First Amendment.
Every day the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes
of data -- much of which is created passively
through technology like medical and home devices, web crawling, surveillance cameras and apps that track your movement. In addition, these new tools help us not only to create data, but access it. We can view terabytes of information from any place at any time. According to one study
, smartphones, which now outnumber people on Earth, are carried 22 hours a day by most people who own them.
Researchers have learned that this access to swells of information comes at a cost. Every time we click on a link, check a tweet or write a post, we give away some of our finite attention. In fact, the mere presence of a smartphone
resting silently in a pocket or on a desk within view may impair our ability to think and reason. Put simply, our attention is spread too thin.
The solution of silence
In this noisy economy of clickbait and misinformation
, it is imperative to ask how we can encourage the informed and engaged citizenry that Brandeis imagined.
The panacea may be simpler than it seems: silence. As philosopher Thomas Carlyle famously once said, while speech is silver, silence is gold.
Carlyle wrote in Sartor Resartus in 1836, "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together." Carlyle argued that too much speech, and by extension the noise of information overload, can suppress focused, productive thought.
To bring Carlyle's analysis into the present, silence, especially in today's oversaturated market, can help create an engaged citizenry. But silence is not relegated to individuals sitting down for 20-minute meditation sessions. It also occurs in the types of information we ingest.
For instance, trained journalists encourage silence through publishing carefully curated pieces. By making redactions, edits and cuts, journalists' curation removes noisy edges, distractions and unnecessary clutter. Thoughtful journalistic work instills more space to think, or, at the very least, eliminates some of the distractions.
History of silence
However acute it may be in our environment of listicles and fake news, our silence deficit is not an entirely new phenomenon.
In 1995, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote in his work "Negotiations," "we're riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images."
Nearly twenty years later, amid the rise of the Silicon Valley giants, Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu reintroduced the problem in his book "Attention Merchants." Wu writes about the modern-day internet as "thoroughly overrun by commercial junk," and describes "something of a pandemic, swallowing up more and more people and leaving them with scars of chronic attention-whoredom."
But never fear, there is hope. The principles of free expression and freedom of the press can be exercised to protect the right to silence. Even though our culture seems to privilege an overabundance of speech and our public forums are currently geared to clutter our minds, it is important to note that the right to silence is an essential principal squarely protected under the First Amendment. Indeed, the right to remain silent in our thoughts is perhaps even more important than the right to pollute the infosphere with misinformation.
Admittedly, for centuries, "freedom of speech and press" was often discussed in terms of the right to speak freely -- as John Milton eloquently argued in his 1644 work, "Areopagitica," and John Stuart Mill famously observed in his groundbreaking 1859 publication, "On Liberty." But as academics like law professor Daniel Solove and others remind us
, speech does not just occur on soapboxes, but also in private conversations, silent corners, and even the privacy of our own minds, where people are able to think clearly and engage in meaningful discourse.
The Supreme Court clearly articulated this sacrosanct principle of the right to silence in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
, a 1943 case invalidating a compulsory flag salute. At issue was whether a student could stand in silence during the salute or an "involuntary affirmation could be commanded." The Court found that by protecting the student's right to silence, "the (individual's) sphere of intellect and spirit" was safeguarded.
This principle can similarly be extended to freedom of the press safeguards which protect journalists.
The role the press plays in creating silence
Today, although counterintuitive, the press -- a public loudspeaker -- is also one of the few major institutions that continues to promote silence, by presenting meaningful and curated infor