Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Noise Annoys

It's loud out there.

For some reason, the world seems to get louder all the time, and for someone like myself who appreciates peace and quiet, it's pretty disconcerting. No matter where you go, it seems like there's more and more discordant noise - not just loud music, but shouted cell phone conversations, traffic noise, advertisements, low-flying airplanes, etc. There's no escape from noise.

Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post's food critic, published an article in last weekend's Washington Post Magazine on the subject of noisy restaurants, in which he bemoaned the impact of noise on the dining experience and announced that his restaurant reviews will henceforth include a noise rating ranging from quiet (normal conversation possible) to extremely loud (noise level exceeds that of heavy traffic).

Commercials on television also tend to be played at a louder volume than the surrounding programs. We've all experienced the frantic-grab-for-the-remote to turn down the volume when our favorite programs give way to overly-loud urgings for us to buy shampoo, cars, cereal, or Viagra. The sudden change in volume is meant to get your attention, and it works ... but probably not in a positive way.

It's getting harder all the time to find oases of peace and quiet. Even libraries - once the bastions of quiet enforced by strict librarians - now are under assault from cell phones and people unable or unwilling to hold down the volume for a while. Some commuter trains have designated "quiet cars" for those seeking escape from cell phones and music players.

The volume of "normal conversation" for some people also tends to be very loud. Some ethnic groups appear to be louder in general than others, and people across the board seem to be getting louder every year. This has been ascribed in part to the long-term impact on hearing of listening to very loud music - after years of listening to hard rock, heavy metal, and hip-hop music played at boiler-factory volume, the ears eventually don't register lower volumes, and people find it necessary literally to shout at each other. Loud noise can be, literally, hazardous to your health.

But so, it seems, can be quiet.

CNN reported yesterday on allegations that hybrid cars are too quiet, and thus pose a hazard to blind pedestrians who can't hear them coming. I've already noticed that hybrid cars are very quiet, which I've actually found refreshing - it beats the thunderous roar of cars with cancerous (or missing) mufflers favored by some people - but it does increase the danger of street-crossing for those who depend on sound to give warning of oncoming traffic.

On balance, I vote for quiet. I can always train myself to be more careful crossing the street, but I can't recover hearing battered by inescapable noise. So...

Until we've worked the bugs out of the Cone of Silence, please keep it down.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

You know I don't think I've ever seen a Hybrid car in my area, at least not long enough to notice how much noise it makes.

Amanda said...

I am amazed at how quiet our house could be each time we have a blackout. Without power, the fans, off, the A/C, pump for the pond and fridge is off and it is deafeningly silent.

But, even if I decided to live without all those appliances, I wouldn't enjoy the peace and quiet for long because the people here have extremely noisy cars and love beeping their horns.

I wonder if I'm slowly going deaf with all the noise surrounding me all day.