Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 281–295 | Cite as

When Nightingales Break the Law: Silence and the Construction of Reality



Strikingly, theorizing about digital technologies has led us to recognize many habitual subjects of research as figures against fields that are also worthy of study. Communication, for example, becomes visible only against the field of silence. Silence is critically important for the construction of reality – and the social construction of reality has a complement, the also necessary contemplative construction of reality. Silence is so sensitive and fragile that an inability to achieve it, or to get rid of it, or to correct the wrong kind of silence often provides early indicators of individual, group, communal, and society-wide stresses from information technologies. Indeed, we might treat difficulties with silence as miners treated canaries in coal mines, as early warning signals. The story has already been told that nightingales in London now have to sing so loudly in order to be heard above the ambient noise that the birds are in danger of breaking the noise ordinance law. Surely something has gone awry if nightingales break the law when they sing. Finding ways to protect silence as an arena of personal and social choice is a particularly poignant, evocative, and instructive ethical and policy horizon at this frontier moment for the human species. This article introduces the theory of the contemplative construction of reality, explores what the study of silence tells us about reality construction processes, and outlines a research agenda.


communication contemplation contemplative construction of reality law policy silence social construction of reality solitude 


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The poem that is the epigraph for this piece is by the author, from The One Verse City (Eugene, OR: Wolf Run Books, 1976).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of CommunicationUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

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