June 7, 2006

Quiet Parties

Silent night out on the town

On our way home from the theater after seeing the most recent X-Men movie, Morgen and I kept finding ourselves surrounded by unusually noisy people—in the lobby, on the street corner, in the subway station. We were attempting to discuss the film, but we could barely hear each other. Every time this happened, I tried to move away to a quieter spot; noise has its place, but when I’m trying to think or carry on a conversation, I prefer relative silence. As we reviewed some of the fictional mutants and their super powers, I said, “If I were a mutant, they’d call me Silento. My super power would be the ability to create a large bubble of silence all around me.” In my book, that beats being able to throw balls of flame or have metal claws pop out of my hands.

I have always been baffled at the fact that people so frequently go to noisy parties, bars, clubs, and restaurants with the apparent intention of getting to know each other or spend quality time together. How is that supposed to work? How can you have a worthwhile conversation with someone when you must yell over loud music, not to mention all those other people yelling their own conversations at each other? Perhaps my telepathic powers are insufficiently developed, but as an ordinary human, it seems more sensible to me that if you want to talk to someone, you’d go to a place where you can hear and be heard. So I was delighted to learn of a relatively recent phenomenon sweeping the world: quiet parties, where the only rule is “no talking.”

These Go to Zero
The idea for quiet parties came from two New Yorkers, artist Paul Rebhan and musician Tony Noe, who got frustrated trying to find a bar where they could have a quiet conversation in 2002. They invented the quiet party partly for practical reasons and partly as a sort of participatory performance art. Despite—or perhaps because of—New York’s reputation for ubiquitous noise, the parties were an instant hit.

Loud music, yelling, and cell phone use are prohibited at quiet parties; sometimes there’s soft music in the background and sometimes not. Whispering is allowed in designated areas, and occasionally, quiet parties even permit the exchange of text messages and email. But on the whole, participants rely on written notes, mime, and body language to convey their messages. Once partygoers get over the initial discomfort of writing instead of talking, they often find that passing notes makes it easier and less intimidating to approach strangers. And it’s often quite entertaining: there’s no rule against giggling or gasping.

You Had Me at “___”
Quiet parties that are officially sanctioned and promoted by Rehban and Noe take place at a venue that has been specially reserved for the evening, with hosts who explain how it works, pass out pens and paper, and enforce the “no talking” rule. These events, which have been held around the world in cities including New York, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Beijing, have tended to attract mainly singles; those looking for love at a quiet party are said to be practicing silent dating. The organizers are quick to point out that their events were never intended exclusively for singles, but that seems to be the angle that’s received the most press.

Of course, anyone throwing a private party, of whatever sort and for whatever audience, can choose to follow the same format, and informal quiet parties have been gradually catching on. I think I can safely say that no one has ever had to yell to be heard at one of my parties, but I’d certainly be game to try complete silence. Perhaps one day in the future, when silent parties are the norm, the world will no longer need Silento. I’ll be only too happy to hang up my cape. —Joe Kissell

More Information about Quiet Parties…

The term quiet parties appeared in Wired’s Jargon Watch in April 2004. You can also find a Quiet Party entry at Word Spy.

The official Quiet Party Web site is at www.QuietParty.com.

Articles about quiet parties include: