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Tom Moon

Music is Tom Moon's native language. He lives it , writes about it and has been playing a mean saxophone since 1983. As a writer, Moon is a celebrated music critic and the author of One Thousand Recording to Hear Before You Die. He often describes himself as a cultural explorer always looking for musical expressions that define a moment, a culture and the intersections between legacy and new sounds. For him one human quality brings all those world together.

I believe our future is directly related to the ability to listen.

In a very real sense, harmony on the planet depends on a quality of attention, the respect we accord what others are saying. Whether they're our next door neighbors and people halfway around the world.

I was waiting for a friend in a coffee shop not long ago. Bustling place with people talking on phones, working at computers. There was lots of output going, a zillion overlapping conversations. The din gave me a jolt: When was the last time I stopped to listen, really listen, to engage with and explore a single idea?

These may be the crucial questions of the too-much-information age. Because filtering information is a fulltime job. I find myself constantly responding to the happy chime of an incoming message, asking "do I need this?," deciding whether to pay attention. Or zone out. People who study the media have noted a paradox associated with the endless Internet smorgasbord: We might have access to more ideas from more sources, but many choose to remain in a kind of bubble, only receiving the stuff that aligns with their interests That's a huge problem, and it doesn't account for another enemy of focused listening: Interruptions. I struggle when someone across from me takes a call - or, worse, begins to thumb type - during a conversation. Not just because it's rude, but because the "thread" of a conversation can be fragile. Discussion doesn't go very far when every third volley begins with "What were you saying?"

As a musician and a music critic, I have learned that listening is an active pursuit, a discipline. It involves putting the mindset of gadgetland on hold - you know, "it's all about me, my playlist!" -, and being willing to receive input from the outside world. It demands a little humility: When I stop yammering and focus full attention, an amazing state of receptivity opens up. Exploring music is a great way to cultivate this, because music is not instant. I can't begin to count the times when something that initially repelled me got under my skin, became a daily obsession.

The Internet offers lots of tools for sharing thoughts and ideas. It's curious that there's very little emphasis on what happens to those ideas on the receiving end. The writer Cynthia Ozeck once observed that "to listen acutely is to be powerless, even if you sit on a throne." Perhaps as we give this and future generations all these powerful tools, it might be wise to teach them how to be discerning listeners too.