Everyday noise

An interesting look at the cultural response to noise

Photo credit: Julian Mason

In “Living loud in China’s lively public spaces,” , BBC News, writes about noise in China’s bustling cities. McDonnell states that “[t]here is something incredible about the way in which societies, cities, subcultures find their level in terms of acceptable public volume.”  For example, he notes that there are “bustling cities – rammed with millions of people – where you could be frowned upon for disrupting others with a raised voice: Seoul, London, Tokyo… especially Tokyo.” But McDonnell has lived the last 12 years living in China, where, he notes:

There are some societies where people are expected to avoid being noisy in public and they behave accordingly. Then there’s China.

He describes the “cacophony of chaos” he experiences in a cafe, where someone “starts a phone call at the top of their voice,” as two buddies loudly play video games on their phones, and “a young convert to Christianity sits down next to [him] and starts praying” just as a nearby “hippie looking Chinese bloke has booted up his laptop and Coldplay starts belting out of the speakers.”  This experience is not atypical, he writes, and adds that, looking around, “nobody but me has reacted as if this is anything but completely normal.”

Interestingly, he says that there is only one other city where he has seen this phenomenon–New York–where he describes a similar experience in a diner.  McDonell ponders, “[m]aybe you have to speak up in order to be heard amongst a huge population?”  That is, maybe it’s the space and not just the culture that determines the “acceptable public volume?” After all, he asks, “what noise does a Chinese farmer have to compete in the field?”

 

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Can Subway Noise Damage Your Hearing?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the longer answer is that some subway stations are more dangerous to your hearing than others.  Anil Lalwani, MD, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues prepared a study that examined whether subway station design influenced noise levels. Dr. Lalwani and his team went to twenty stations in Manhattan and discovered “that the noisiest platforms shared one thing in common: curved tracks.”  Click the link above to view Dr. Lalwani’s video about this study, its conclusion, and to hear Dr. Lalwani’s recommendations about “what we can do to reduce the risk of long-term hearing damage from subway noise exposure.”

Do We Hear too Much Noise Every Day?

Dr. Daniel Fink believes the answer is yes. Noted noise activist, Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of The Quiet Coalition, writes about his thesis that the general public is exposed to entirely too much damaging noise every day. He notes that noise is a public health hazard, yet the federal government, which adopts standards to protect the public for food, water, and motor vehicles and makes recommendations or guidelines for dietary intakes of vitamins, salt, and sugar, has issued no federal standard regulating noise exposure or recommending noise limitations for the public.  In his piece, Dr. Fink describes his quest to find the noise level that will protect hearing, and he reveals how a recent important but ignored study has confirmed his suspicions that hearing damage can occur at lower decibel levels than previously suspected.

Click the link above to read more about Dr. Fink’s mission to warn medical professionals, the government, and the public about the dangers of noise and how we can protect our hearing.

Accommodation for autistic customers gaining steam in the UK

Photo Credit: Clive Darra

Tesco trialling a ‘quiet hour’ to help autistic customers do their shopping. Maya Oppenheim and Katie Forster, The Independent, write about Tesco’s pilot scheme, which it is trialing at one of its locations for six weeks on Saturday mornings. If the trial is successful, the quiet hour will be rolled out across Tesco stores nationwide.  What will Tesco be doing to make the shopping experience more tolerable for autistic customers? “The trial includes a wide range of measures to improve the browsing and paying experience for autistic customers such as dimmed lights and quieter tannoys [loudspeaker systems].”

Tesco is the largest grocery chain in the UK, and it also has stores in 12 countries across Asia and Europe. If the pilot scheme is successful and Tesco implements a quiet hour on a larger scale, this could be a significant victory for autistic and noise sensitive people.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

This sounds like clickbait but it isn’t:

Try this one trick to hear people better at parties. And the trick is?  “People in noisy situations should face slightly away from the person they’re listening to and turn one ear towards the speech.”  A new study, funded by UK charity Action on Hearing Loss, finds this technique is a particularly helpful listening tactic for cochlear implant users, and is “compatible with lip-reading, which was unaffected by a modest, 30-degree head orientation.”

Click the link above to learn more about why this technique works and to watch the video at the bottom of the webpage on binaural audio (or how to record sound so it sounds like it does in your head).

 

Why You Need Less Noise for Work

and Your Health. Belle Cooper has written a very thoughtful piece on the problems with noise at work and play, and the importance of silence in one’s life.  On noise she writes:

Two types of everyday noise can be bad for us. One is excessive noise, such as the prolonged loud noise of being near an airport. The other is simply the distraction of general noise around us, such as conversations or interruptions from colleagues in the workplace.

The former may seem worse, but both can be detrimental to our productivity—and sanity.

Cooper lists a litany of horribles caused by exposure to chronic noise from traffic or airports, like high blood pressure, heart problems, and sleeplessness, but she also explores the effects of everyday noise on those of us not exposed to these chronic noise sources.  What is the effect on those of us who simply experience what she calls “general daily noise?”  She writes:

If you work in an open plan office, you’ll probably find [distraction and interruption] is an even greater problem. Ollie Campbell, CEO of Milanote and part of Navy Design’s multi-disciplinary team, says open plan offices come with their own implicit values. They make team members feel that disruption is acceptable, collaboration is the key priority, and serendipity is worth the interruptions it requires.

*      *      *

Distractions and interruptions are such a common part of our workdays, we don’t even think of them as excessive noise anymore. It’s often more obvious when we don’t hear the noise of distractions around us at work than when we do.. A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that knowledge workers have focus periods of just eleven minutes on average, in-between interruptions. As Campbell said, “if you need to focus, ‘work’ is pretty much the worst place you could be.”

So what can be done to reclaim some peace, to regain one’s focus and concentration?  Cooper suggests that we shut out both excessive/harmful noise as well as “the more general commotion of the modern workplace” so that we can create our best work.  And she’s armed with research that shows that silence doesn’t just relax the brain:

One study of mice found that listening to silence for two hours every day prompted the subjects’ brains to grow new cells in the hippocampus, which is related to our brain’s memory abilities. While new cell growth doesn’t always provide health benefits, in this case those new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice brains. In other words, silence could make you a little smarter.

Ok, perhaps that reaching a bit, but Cooper shares some anecdotal evidence that silent time helps us make better long-term decisions as well as spur creative thinking.  In the end, we can’t cocoon ourselves and block out all noise, but when we have the chance, Cooper suggests that we opt for silence.  Sounds good to us!

Here’s some frightening noise news:

Dementia rates “higher near busy roads.”, “[t]he researchers adjusted the data to account for other risk factors like poverty, obesity, education levels and smoking so these are unlikely to explain the link.”

Said Dr. Hong Chen, from Public Health Ontario and one of the paper’s authors, “increasing population growth and urbanisation have placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden.”

Still, the study only suggests that there is a link. As Dr. Chen concludes, “[m]ore research to understand this link is needed, particularly into the effects of different aspects of traffic, such as air pollutants and noise.”

 

 

Noise: the forgotten pollutant

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

, The Irish Times, writes about environmental noise, which he terms “the forgotten pollutant.” Why forgotten? Because Purcell believes that people living in urban areas have grown accustomed to ignoring noise.  But that may be coming to an end, Purcell opines, because due to “the constant and rapid development of globalised economies and cities, the world is getting noisier.”

Purcell examines the known negative health effects of noise and looks at the work done by acoustic scientists and engineers, who “generate sophisticated noise maps, which graphically represent urban areas based on how loud or quiet they are.”  He interviews Dr. Eoin King, an assistant professor at the University of Hartford, who states that “noise mapping is the first step in the environmental noise management process.”

Why is noise mapping is important?  Dr. King says that it “enables policymakers to determine the overall extent of noise pollution, so that appropriate decisions can be made.”  But making a noise map is both time-consuming and expensive, or at least it used to be time-consuming and expensive. One exciting development led by Dr. Enda Murphy, associate professor at University College Dublin, and Dr. King, is the use of simple smartphone apps to create the maps inexpensively. Eventually, says King, “smartphone apps that can measure noise accurately…might present the possibility of live noise mapping in the future.”  And with live noise mapping comes “new noise data [with] a range of applications, from predicting health problems, to the market pricing of real estate.”

Click the link to read the full article.  It’s a very interesting read.

 

Now showing at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017:

Orosound’s Tilde Noise Management Earphones

Orosound’s ‘noise-managing’ earphones hush unwanted sounds. While we appreciate tech startups that focus how we can manage noisy environments, we can’t help but to point out the obvious: Instead of developing gadgets that allow people to limit the noise invading their personal soundscape, why not limit the noise at its source? Just a thought.

Until that happens–in our lifetimes, one hopes–we will report on the products and services you can use to keep unwanted sound at bay and control the soundscape of your slice of the world.