Monthly Archive: October 2016

What’s More Distracting Than A Noisy Co-Worker?

All quiet before the storm

All quiet before the storm

Turns Out, Not Much.  Yuki Noguchi reports on co-worker noise for the NPR, presenting a couple of individual accounts of co-workers behaving badly.  As you are no doubt aware, the problem is universal, with “[s]ounds, particularly those made by other humans, rank[ing] as the No. 1 distraction in the workplace.”  As we have reported before, noise in the workplace has been made worse by the misguided “popularity” of open offices.  They are popular with the corporate executives who impose them on an increasingly demoralized workforce, seen as a rational money-saving move because lower real estate costs are easier to quantify than decreased employee morale and productivity.  And worker morale and productivity do suffer, as Noguchi notes that the “University of California’s Center for the Built Environment has a study showing workers are happier when they are in enclosed offices and less likely to take sick days.”

So, what can be done?  “There are solutions,” says workplace design expert Alan Hedge.  So what are those solutions?  Because the “trend toward open offices and hard office furniture makes noise distraction worse,” Hedge suggests that “adding carpet, drapes and upholstery can help.”  He also recommends removing cubicle walls entirely, as they “provide the illusion of sound privacy, but actually make people less aware of the noises they create.”  Or you could try the advice given in this Business Insider article: How to tell a noisy coworker to shut up without making them hate you.  A quick scan reveals the piece should be titled, “Things that sound like solutions but aren’t because no one will ever do this.”

Finally, there is also another option: bring back offices and let people have a quiet space to do their work.  Just a suggestion.

 

 

Think that noise is merely annoying? Think again:

New York City, October 2015, Manhattan

New York City, October 2015, Manhattan

Loud Noises Are Slowly Ruining Your Health.  David Hillier, writing for Vice, examines the effects of noise pollution on health, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers noise pollution “the second biggest environmental cause of health problems in humans after air pollution.”  You’ll note that the WHO says “health problems” and not hearing problems, because noise pollution doesn’t just affect hearing.  As Hillier writes, “[s]tudies from 2012 suggested [noise pollution] contributed to 910,000 additional cases of hypertension across Europe every year and 10,000 premature deaths related to coronary heart diseases or strokes.”  Click the link above for more.

Study links blood pressure risk to road noise

Grace - New York City - ManhattanResearch from five European countries finds traffic noise is associated with an increase in hypertension cases.  The study at issue was fairly robust, tracking “41,000 people in five different countries for up to nine years.”  Long and short, the study found that “people living in noisy streets, where there were average night-time noise levels of 50 decibels, had a 6% increased risk of developing hypertension compared to those living on quieter streets.”  A 6% increased risk is not insignificant, and that statistic highlights an important fact: noise isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a public health threat.

Not surprising, but useful information to point to if you are told you’re being an alarmist:

nightclub-photo

Noise levels in nightclubs may induce hearing loss.  News Medical reports that “researchers in Southern California have found that the average continuous level of noise in some nightclubs is at least 91.2 dBA (A-weighted decibels).”  Again, this is not a surprise, but what is surprising is a statement researchers made about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).  Namely, the researchers found that “[c]lub goers may suffer noise-induced hearing loss from just one night out on the town.”  That’s right, if a club is loud enough, you could suffer a lifetime of hearing loss from one exposure.  Don’t be a statistic, if you are going to hit the clubs be forewarned and forearmed–bring ear plugs so you can have fun and preserve your hearing.

 

Yet another gadget to help you deal with workplace noise:

Introducing Orosound Tilde earphones.  So, you may be asking yourself, “what are Orosound Tilde earphones and why do I care?”  Well, the Tilde earphones are “designed to control distracting ambient noise levels, help you focus on the sounds you want, and connect via Bluetooth to phones and wireless audio devices.”  And that means what?  Essentially, Tilde earphones are portable noise cancellation devices that allow wearers to adjust the level of ambient noise immediately around themselves, with attached earbuds through which the wearer can listen to music or take phone calls.

The device is “designed specifically to help workers ‘listen to the sounds that matter and tune out the rest.’”  As the promotional literature explains, “84 percent of people complain about workplace noise levels and 80 percent say ‘they struggle to concentrate because of background noise.’”  That is, Tilde’s reason for being is to address growing worker displeasure over distracting noise that intereferes with them doing their work–a situation that has been exacerbated, no doubt, by the seemingly universal adoption of open plan work spaces.  If the earphones work as described, Tilde should be a hit.  Certainly the developers are well on their way to start making and selling the first run, as they are on the mark to satisfy their Kickstarter fundraising goal.

If only one could have a Kickstarter campaign for a workplace design with walls and ceilings and doors and no need for personal noise cancellation earphones.

Silent retreats, silent ​restaurants, and even silent dating events are​ on the rise.

Ssshhh! How the cult of quiet can change your life.  Of course the headline is overstated and the discussion is superficial, but to the extent that this piece about various silent activities gets notice, I guess it serves a purpose.  One hopes that these silent events aren’t just a new shiny thing, but a longstanding alternative to the always on, always connected, busy world we live and play in.

And a query: Has anyone ever been to a silent retreat, or a silent restaurant, book party, or dating event?  If yes, please tell us if you enjoyed it in the comments.

2016 Greater Boston Noise Report Issued.

Erica Walker, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been “measuring sound levels and conducting the Greater Boston (now National) Neighborhood Noise Survey within the Greater Boston Area,” for the past year.  On Monday, October 24, 2016, she issued a report updating key findings from her research, releasing the first comprehensive noise assessment of the Greater Boston Community since 1971.  Walker’s noise assessment is interactive, allowing the user to look at the survey results, soundscapes, spatial and interactive maps of sound levels, and a neighborhood report card.  It’s an interesting approach to noise assessment, and it’s exciting to hear that she is currently conducting a National Neighborhood Noise Survey.

If you’d like to participate Erica Walker’s National Neighborhood Noise Survey 2020, click here.

Why do elderly people with otherwise normal hearing have difficulty hearing some conversations?

Background noise to blame for the elderly being unable to keep up with conversations.  The Express reports on a University of Maryland study that found that “adults aged 61-73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18-30 with normal hearing.”  The study’s authors stated that the “ageing midbrain and cortex is part of ongoing research into the so-called cocktail party problem, or the brain’s ability to focus on and process a particular stream of speech in the middle of a noisy environment.”  Because many older people who are affected by the “cocktail party problem” have normal hearing, the study notes that talking louder doesn’t help.  If an older person can see the person he or she is speaking to, visual cues can help, as well as the obvious–make the environment quieter.

Sadly, many restaurants, bars, and some coffee shops are just too noisy for older people to be able to hear well and participate in conversation.  Organized efforts to push back against unnecessary noise are gaining a toehold in the public sphere, but more needs to be done.  Until things improve, New Yorkers can find some respite by visiting our sister site, Quiet City Maps, for a guide to New York City’s quieter spaces (and a heads-up for places to avoid).

And don’t forget that if a restaurant or coffee shop is too noisy because of loud music, ask them to lower it.  If they don’t, leave and tell them why you won’t be coming back.  Push back starts with your wallet.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

Computers in your ears?

Doppler’s Futuristic Earbuds Sound Great. They Also Speak Spanish.  Brian Flaherty, writing for Wired, reviews the newest iteration of the HERE earbuds, HERE One, and pronounces it “one of the wildest gadget experiences I’ve ever had.”  In a good way.  He also is given a glimpse of what is to come, like the ability to have the English translation of a foreign langauge in your ear in real time.  Click the link for more.