Disorderly Sound

Yes. The answer is yes.

The battleground.

And the question is: Are noise-filled carriages bad for your health? Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, is righteously appalled about a bone-headed idea floated by UK railway company South Western Railways which is considering getting rid of quiet carriages.  For some of us–raises hand as high as one can–quiet cars on Amtrak and state-run transit are the one of the few saving graces of an increasingly overused, underfunded public transit system here in the U.S. So reading that South Western Railways may kill quiet carriages not due to lack of interest but because “[t]he rise of mobile phones, loud music players and a general lack of etiquette mean that quiet zones are now virtually unenforceable,” is an absolute outrage.

Parkinson writes that some people think that quietness is overrated [Ed: monsters!] and says that “[p]sychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry suggests that we are becoming frightened of quietness, possibly as a result of technology.” But Parkinson sides with those of us who just want a moment that isn’t filled with layers of unavoidable sound, even suggesting prison sentences for the sound-loving louts who would rob the rest of us of just a few seconds of peace:

Seven years. That’s the minimum prison sentence that should apply to people on public transport who listen to music through their phone speakers (also known as “sodcasting”) – with two years for banal phone conversations that never end.

We agree, and would suggest similar sentencing guidelines for people wearing headphones who sing along, badly, to whatever they are listening to and those who set their phone volume to 11 and engage the tapping sound on their phone keyboards.

In the end, though, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid all sound, but the artificial sounds imposed on us by marketing miscreants and social louts can be controlled. Instead of getting rid of quiet cars on trains, why not make them all quiet except for one loud car for the uncaring and boorish? Tired of trying to eat a meal in peace only to have some miscreant spend his or her entire meal shouting into their smart phone? Interpose yourself into the conversation by offering unsolicited advice or agreeing with the unseen person on the other end. And refuse to give a dime of encouragement to the amateur “entertainers” who leap onto your subway car just as the doors close, armed with a boom box or bongos–yes, really–with the intent of destroying your sanity for the next three minutes.

People have begun to accept that noise is normal and that wanting quiet is some quirky affectation. But noise isn’t normal and should not be the default. We need to push back against the bad behavior of the noise makers and reclaim our public spaces.  So demand more quiet cars. Ask someone to stop shouting into their phone.  And know you are not alone.

Do not do this

Rosemary Behan, The National, writes about the shockingly common use of smart phones for entertainment, sans earbuds, in public places. Behan starts her piece by recounting a recent encounter with a stranger in which she had to ask him to turn down the volume of his smart phone. Why? Because he had “casually been using his smartphone as a home cinema, without earphones” for five minutes and she decided that she “didn’t want to spend any part of my Friday morning listening to the loud film clips of a random stranger.”  We have all been there.

What follows is Behan’s lament about how often we are subjected to this kind of behavior and her wish that “hotels, restaurants, cafes, or airline managers” would “lay down the rules about this kind of thing” or, perhaps, keep “a supply of disposable headphones on hand, for this purpose.” If only.

The problem, of course, is that the miscreant with the loud phone can completely focus on whatever he or she wishes to without a worry about annoying others (seemingly), while the annoyed others cannot concentrate on their immediate interest or concern because of the miscreant’s use of his or her phone for entertainment. Hence quiet cars on trains, which Amtrak introduced at the urging of regular commuters who “had become fed up with obnoxious cell phone chatter,” and which have since been adopted by other train systems.

Count us among those who are grateful for the quiet car, but isn’t it a concession by the train operators that they are unable or unwilling to police the anti-social behavior of some percentage of their riders? Separation is probably be the best option–it’s relatively free of friction and more certain to reward those seeking some quiet–but why is it even necessary to complain about this frankly selfish behavior? By trying to find ways to accommodate both those who want some control over their soundscape and those who don’t give a damn who they distract and offend, are we not rewarding bad behavior? In the end, do we make the problem worse tomorrow by not discouraging this anti-social behavior today?

Never underestimate man’s ability to find more obnoxious ways to make noise

Photo credit: ben dalton licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

And oh the irony that this assault on one’s senses (and sensibility) is termed a “silent disco.”  What is a silent disco?  It’s when a bunch of extroverts don wireless headphones playing pop music and dance their way through formerly delightful parts of European cities, stopping occasionally to shout out lyrics together, as a sort of fresh hell ensemble. Here’s a sample:

Fortunately, residents of Edinburgh, Scotland have a city government that understands their concerns and is responding in the only responsible way: Edinburgh to ban “silent discos.”

 

 

What should we do about intentional noise?

Photo credit: Daniel from Pexels

Two recent op-eds have focused on intentional noise, specifically noise made by people who profess to love the stuff. Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail, in his piece titled Let’s crack down on unnecessary noise pollution, focuses on enforcement–and shaming–as a means of reducing noise pollution.

Bill Reader, The Athens News, cuts to the chase when he says that “those who enjoy noisy recreation also, often quite boastfully, enjoy ruining everybody else’s peace.”

Writes Reader:

There is a reason why the word “peace” is often followed by the phrase “and quiet,” while “loud” leads almost automatically to “and obnoxious.” Whether it’s a screeching herd of ATVs hurtling down a woodland trail or a single juiced-up river boat carving its way up an otherwise placid lake, the result is the same: those who go to those public spaces for “and quiet” will instead have their day ruined by “and obnoxious.” And more often than not, “Obnoxious” could care less.

That this exists is a disgrace

Photo credit: Darin Marshall licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are some people in this country who believe making the loudest sound is some sort of achievement to be celebrated. They are, of course, wrong. Case in point, this ridiculous and dangerous “contest” described in the Star Tribune has to be one of the most ignorant and dangerous of these foolish displays yet: Minnesota’s extreme car stereo fans compete to see how loud they can go.

How loud are the cars? Said one deranged participant, “I’m hoping for 166 [decibels]-plus.” Keep in mind the noise level of a jet plane from 100 feet away is a mere 135 dB, and the permissible noise exposure limit for 130-to-140 dB is “less than 1 second.” Every participant and observer attending this misguided event is surely destroying their hearing.

For those who think we are being a bit hyperbolic, consider that the noise level is loud enough to affect the car frame. The Star Tribune reports that “[t]he sound waves from these stereo systems are so powerful they can literally raise the roof, causing the metal car bodies to visibly flex and vibrate and the windshield wipers to bounce off the glass.”

So congratulations to all the participants who spent their disposable cash chasing the dream. Perhaps the winner can put the prize money towards a pair of hearing aids, because there is no cure for hearing loss.

Montana county looks to limit noisy bitcoin mining

 

The Independent Record reports that Missoula County is considering limiting bitcoin mining operations “amid concerns over noise, the amount of energy used by the cryptocurrency mining operations, and how that energy consumption could affect consumers.” Turns out mining virtual currency causes real life problems, like imposing a permanent hum on the neighbors generated by “the hundreds of fan blades” used to cool the mining factories.

But as much as we are appalled by ridiculous activities that make noise, this is quantifiably more horrible: The Independent Record states that “mining a single bitcoin takes as much electricity as it does to power the average American household for two years.”

Noise is usually a sign that something is wrong in a system.  That seems loud and clear here.

Tips on fixing annoying noise issues at home

 

Photo credit: FWStudio from Pexels

Nancy Mitchell, Apartment Therapy, offers tips on how to quiet five annoying noises at home, from squeaky floorboards and a creaky door to a noisy radiator.  Click the link to learn about what you can do to make your home a quieter, relaxing oasis.

Using “thick data” to make a smart city

 

Photo credit: IK’s World Trip licensed under CC BY 2.0

Adrian Smith, The Guardian, writes about Barcelona, a “pioneering Smart City,” that has been using sensors in various city infrastructure along with citizens via mobile devices “to monitor and anticipate urban phenomena in new ways, and, so the argument goes, efficiently manage urban activity for the benefit of ‘smart citizens.’”

Enter the residents living around Plaça de Sol, a popular square that has become, for residents, a bit too popular, especially with bars, restaurants, hotels, and tourists.  And with the addition of more bars, restaurants, and tourists, comes more noise, always. So back in 2017, a group of technology activists got in touch with residents and started a project under which residents were given “tools to measure noise levels, compare them with officially permissible levels,” with the aim of reducing noise in the square.

And what followed shows how complicated the embrace of thick data and citizen engagement can be, as the residents’ desire to reduce noise has to be considered along with the needs of bar and restaurant owners.  As a city councilman pointed out:

Beyond economic issues are questions of rights to public space, young peoples’ needs to socialise, neighbouring squares worried about displaced activity, the Council’s vision for Gràcia, and of course, the residents suffering the noise.

Click the link above to read this fascinating article.

Update: A small but not insignificant noise victory

Photo credit: mjmonty licensed under CC BY 2.0

Last September we told you that Google–finally–was going to block noisy autoplay videos in Chrome in January 2018.  But January came, and autoplay persisted. Until now.

The Guardian reports that “one of the most irritating things about the modern web” is done.

A small victory indeed.

The newest “it” device for open plan offices?

This might help.

Cisco is marketing headsets to help workers “stay focused in noisy environments.”  Businesses used to offer something to help their employees focus on work in the past, it was called an office.

But offices are expensive, the bean counters moan. Well, productivity takes a hit in noisy workspaces, as does trying to mitigate the noise with gadgets and quiet rooms. Just the earphone and headphone market alone was worth $11.68 billion in 2015 and the “number is expected to reach $18.2 billion by 2023.”

Which is why Cisco, smelling money, is manufacturing headsets to help workers “stay focused in noisy environments,” marketing them as “ideal for people who work side by side in contact centers and open spaces.” Says TechTarget, “[t]he move may be evidence that vendors are looking to capitalize on open-office plans.”

You think?

So take a look at the latest thing du jour designed to cure the open plan noise problem, but never stop dreaming of the return to sanity and sensibility.