Some smart folks at Selfridges lured me in with their reverse psychology the other day. Cashing in on the post-Christmas tightening of purse-strings, they’re offering a limited-edition range of debranded products; “headspace pods” provide a few minutes of escape; and a space usually reserved for exhibitions or pop-up shops (the pop-up shop: another concept I’m struggling with since returning to the western world), has been turned into a Silence Room.
What’s marketed as an “insulated inner-sanctum” is not actually that quiet: you can hear the noise of the café next door (and this was a Tuesday evening; what would a Saturday be like? But it felt good, sitting doing nothing in the semi-darkness, shoeless and phoneless as per requirements, with just a few teenage girls whispering in one corner and a couple asleep in one another’s arms in the other. The couple left before me, but were still dawdling in the foyer when I left. “I’m nervous to go back out there!”, laughed the girl.
Silence doesn’t seem to appeal to the masses, though. A sales assistant estimated an average 100 people a day use the Silence Room. If that’s true, it’s a pretty pathetic proportion of the approx 12,000 shoppers passing through Selfridges every day.
Apart from the hassle of finding the Silence Room – down on the lower ground floor, past rows of flat screen TVs – it’s been made too much of a “concept”, a thing in which you have to participate – decide to go, remove shoes, lock up valuables.
Can’t we have quiet rooms that are less of a big deal? Cafés could have quiet sections or floors (do they exist, anywhere?) without phones and computers and music. If they could do it for non-smokers back in the olden days, surely this could work?
Obviously, we’re never going to turf iphone users and thesis-writers onto the street as we’ve done with the nation’s smokers. After all, as researchers have found – and many of us would agree – some background noise can actually help you think.
But the more we’re connected to absolutely everything around us, the more we’re going to need an antidote. Universities, like my former one, may have a place for “reflection or prayer”. But I’d never considered actually going there. Can an atheist relax to the sound of people praying?
Libraries aren’t quiet anymore; we’ll soon be using phones on planes; and quiet cars on trains are either ineffective, or policed by the hypersensitive defenders of the “last bastion of civility and calm” (great NYT piece on that topic here).
Until my café idea gets snapped up, then, the only option is Selfridges, which is depressing enough in itself.
Worse still, I ended up buying something on my way out.