Our increase in noise pollution, and why this is a problem.

Take a listen on your commute home via bus, train, subway, etc.  Or, the next time of stepping out into the city street, pause to listen close.  Sometimes, the noises we hear are natural and relatively benign, such as a car whooshing past, or the sound of a person walking alongside of you, the gentle rustling of leaves, birds chirruping, or a train click clacking over tracks in arrival.

More frequently, the noise(s) are growing more substantial and grating.  This can include sounds such as (though not limited to): horns blaring, the melody (or more often, jarring vibrations) of entitled people who, nowadays and often, have decided that because they want to hear a particular song or type of music, we all do.  Thus, blasting it from their phones or even portable speakers as they walk down the road past or even worse, sit/stand next to us on the train.  More nagging noises can include cell phones dinging, producing all manner of loud sounds while people play games or text, all of which is audible and even disturbing.  As well as those colleagues who sit near to you and play their personal radios aloud, all day long.

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Noise, to a real degree, is an inescapable aspect of life, especially within city living.  However, sometimes these are normal, relatively ignorable sounds.  Just as frequently though, they are the actions of others imposing their noise and ultimately, their narrative, on us.  All whether we like it or not.

Not only is all this noise grating on the emotions, its harmful to your actual hearing ability over the short and long term. Kate Wagner cites in her article from The Atlantic (titled “City Noise Might be Making You Sick”) that people living in cities are regularly exposed (against their will) to noise above 85 decibels from sources like traffic, subways, industrial activity, and airports. Now consider our attendance at sporting events, which have grown to ear splitting degrees, as well as concerts, and even bars on a weekend night- our often having to shout in order to hear our companions over the roar of noise.

All of this is enough to cause significant hearing loss over time. Even considering normal commute noise, if you have an hour-long commute every day at such sound levels, your hearing has probably already been affected.

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Further, many types of man made hearing devices result in extreme levels of noise (this information in the short list of examples below, from greenliving.com):

  • Household appliances, televisions, electronic cooling fans, vacuum cleaners, and HVAC equipment all contribute to daily noise pollution. ASHA indicates that vacuum cleaners can reach 70 decibels, which is considered very loud, and food processors can reach 80 to 90 decibels.
  • The sound of idling bulldozers can reach 85 decibels, according to DD, and people that work around bulldozers can sustain irreversible hearing damage within a single working day.
  • Some types of noise pollution are recreational in nature. DD indicates that personal music systems playing at a maximum volume level can exceed sounds of 100 decibels, which can irreversibly damage hearing even among people that only listen to music at that level for 15 minutes daily.

This is also damaging to the psyche and emotions in each of us.  From a study published on the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health, they found: Noise, defined as ‘unwanted sound’ has gradually become increasingly acknowledged as an environmental stressor and a nuisance.

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Non-auditory effects of noise occur at levels far below those required to damage the hearing organ. Although people tend to habituate to noise exposure, the degree of habituation differs substantially between individuals and is rarely complete.  Meaning, to some noises, we all generally adapt and adjust.  However, everyone has differing response and adjustment to noise, which generally the individual cannot control.

If exposure to noise is chronic and exceeds certain levels, adverse health outcomes can be seen.  Numerous studies have shown that noise contributes to sleep disturbance, to the development of arterial hypertension, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, arrhythmia, metabolic syndrome and stroke.

And while annoyance is the most prevalent response in a population or person exposed to environmental noise, perpetual and disturbing noise annoyance can result in interference with daily activities, feelings, thoughts, sleep, or rest, and may be accompanied by negative emotional responses, such as irritability, distress, exhaustion, a wish to escape the noise and other stress-related symptoms.

Severe annoyance has been associated with reduced well-being and health, and because of the high number of people affected, annoyance contributes substantially to the burden of disease from environmental noise.

Thus, this increase in unnatural and out-of-our-control noise has dire effects, both on our hearing, as well as our emotional and physical health.

A significant degree of noise is truly out of our control and even natural, over which we cannot do much of anything (aside from wearing ear plugs and moving ourselves to quieter areas).  Noise such as: traffic, train tracks, car horns, thunder storms, the sound of someone walking, papers shuffling, a dog barking, something sizzling in a pan, water running, a neighbors music.  Many of these noises, we can adjust to and/or brush off, assuming they arent at overwhelming levels.

However, much of the noise in our culture, we create, and to ridiculous degrees.

Why?  Especially when we all know it tends to anger and stress out the majority of people around us.

To stop contributing to, perpetuating, and causing this especially loud (and frequently, inconsiderate) culture, we can actively decide to be more thoughtful and promote a more peaceful environment for our fellow humans. 

How might we do this?  Several ways.

Use headphones.  Stop forcing your agenda and narrative on other people.  Just because you want to hear it (in the example of blasting ones music from their cell phone for all to hear), do not assume that we all do.  We dont.  If you are a thoughtful, polite, and caring human being, this is something you will care about.

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The girl on her lefts facial expression?  That is how most of us feel about your noise, as well as one sided cell conversations.

Consider those around you when making noise.  Playing a game on your cell phone whist riding a crowded train?  Why does it need to be set at jarring volume levels, startling and grating on all of us with every ping or ding that sounds with each point you garner.  You could use headphones, or mute it.

Keep in mind that many people would like some peace on their rides home from working all day.  Its a polite and kind thing to attune your actions to and respect that idea.  If you wish to hear noise, please keep it contained to just going in your ears, as opposed to blaring into all of ours.

And those loud, “oh my god, seriously?  You wont believe what my stupid colleague did today” or “oh man I have the craziest story for you,” one-sided conversations we are now so often forced to listen to as someone talks into their cell phone loudly just beside us?  Please, save that for when the other people around you aren’t begrudgingly made, again, to swallow your agenda which is being pressed upon them.  This is incredibly rude and obnoxious.

Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher who likens noise to boorishness, said:

There are people, it is true—nay, a great many people—who smile at such [sounds], because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art; in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence.

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