This week I listened to the Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. Recorded in 1966 the song uses strong imagery of light and darkness to describe how peoples ignorance and apathy was destroying their ability to communicate with one another. Interestingly, if released today, the lyrics could equally be interpreted to describe how our misuse of some technologies is deeply impacting the very fabric of society. Here is my digital interpretation.

Hello, darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again. Because a vision softly creeping; left its seeds while I was sleeping. And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains, within the sound of silence

The opening verse could easily be describing the growing darkness sweeping through our society. We are more connected than at anytime in history. With a swipe of our phone we can connect with a billion people on Facebook, Twitter etc, yet at the same time many people feel more lost, isolated, and lonely than ever before.

In restless dreams I walked alone; Narrow streets of cobblestone. ‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp. When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light, that split the night, and touched the sound of silence

Garfunkel uses imagery here to describe isolation. He saw people communicating on a superficial level, preferring to watch TV rather than engage in deep and meaningful conversations. The imagery appears to be equally at home today. People are slowly loosing the ability to be present in the moment. Checking Facebook for updates when out for a meal, rather than engaging in meaningful conversation with the person across the table. Watching mindless videos on TikTok rather than giving the child in front of them their full attention.

Every moment of silence in our lives, be it waiting in a queue, or watching a child’s swimming lesson, we break the silence with the neon light of our mobile phones.

And in the naked light I saw, Ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking; people hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share. No one dared, disturb the sound of silence

Again, Garfunkel speaks of superficial communication. He described how there was no serious understanding between people, because there was no deep communication. Equally, today, someone can have 10000 friends on Facebook, yet be lonely, and have no one to turn to in times of trouble. They could “talk” to 10000 people on snapchat without ever ‘speaking’ to them, or ‘hear’ updates from 10000 people without actually ‘listening’ to them. And most of what we see on social media is a shadow of real life. No one dares post the bad hair days, break ups, the mundane of daily life, just the highly curated 10% when everything looks wonderful.

Fools, said I, “You do not know. Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you; take my arms that I might reach you.” But my words, like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the wells of silence

Garfunkel knew what was happening so they made the first move to reach and teach those around them. Still, despite their efforts, no one listens. They were ignored and people continued with their day-to-day lives asleep, following the crowd. I can certainly relate here. It can be a lonely path trying to raise awareness of these issues. Swimming against the tide can be challenging, but necessary, while these issues grow like a cancer on society.

And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made. And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming. And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls. And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

Here, the neon sign refers to technological advancements (TV in his day, mobile phones today). He calls it a god because people were obsessed; idolising the people the saw. The same is true today. Many people are obsessed with their phones and the latest social media celebrity or craze. Teenagers now spend upwards of ten hours on them, withdrawing from real life and real people, replacing them often with superficial digital interactions.

The words of the prophets likely referred to armageddon; they were written on the subway walls and tenement halls, because these are places with large volumes of people walking by. Much like people ignored these messages then, people today aren’t paying attention to what is happening to society. The very fabric of our society is breaking down. How we share life, communicate and interact with one another is changing, and might I say, not for the better!

So that is my digital interpretation of the Simon and Garfunkel classic. It was just a bit of fun so I hope I offend no one, but rather challenge all of us to rethink how we use our technologies.