Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.






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