Peace and Quiet

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.

Is hearing loss inevitable?

Not necessarily.  Debbie Clason, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, introduces her readers to a friend of this site, noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who is on a mission “to educate the public about safe noise levels in their environment so they can affect positive change in their communities.”  Clason reports:

Dr. Fink doesn’t believe hearing loss is a function of normal physiological aging, citing quieter, primitive societies where hearing acuity is preserved in older adults. He likens attitudes about hearing loss to those about tooth loss in previous generations. Just as natural teeth work better than dentures he says, natural hearing works better than hearing aids.

The article generally discusses noise-induced hearing loss, how it is 100% preventable, and what one can do to avoid it.   It is well worth a click.

 

The war against leaf blowers inches forward:

As another California city mulls ban on blowers of all types.  No doubt some people may wonder why others dedicate time and energy fighting something that seems fairly innocuous, at best, and merely annoying, at worst.  But leaf blowers are not just an annoyance.  Quiet Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment, has documented the substantial health hazard leaf blowers pose to the health of the operator, those in the vicinity of the activity, and even our pets, too.

So hearing that Ojai, California is considering banning all blowers, both gas-powered and battery-powered, is encouraging.  And yes, there will be push back, but in the end the only reason not to ban leaf blowers is that the alternatives are more expensive.  A fact that is only true if you only consider the additional labor cost and ignore the savings to health and wellbeing.

Time is up for ear-blasting technology,

peaceful washrooms are back.  Do you find the noise produced by electric hand dryers to be jarring or even painful?  You’re not alone.  All electric hand dryers make noise, but some are worse than others, “causing discomfort to all, and unnecessary stress to those with hypersensitivity to noise, hearing problems or conditions such as dementia and autism.”   Fortunately, a quieter alternative may be around the corner.  Quiet Mark announces the launch of its review of hand dryers, stating that it:

[T]ested a broad range of hand dryers and only the quietest, high-performance machines achieved a Quiet Mark award. This universal symbol makes it easier for those in charge of restaurants, bars, leisure centres, shops, libraries, hospitals and public conveniences to consider sound levels when assessing hand dryers for their venues.

Quiet Mark’s testing uses real-life testing environments for accurate result, because “the sound levels of hand dryers in real-life situations have often been underestimated.”  Among other things, Quiet Mark notes that hand dryers are:

[C]ommonly tested in ultra-absorbent acoustic laboratories, rather than in highly reverberant washrooms and toilets, where their loud motor noise can be uncomfortably amplified. They may also be tested without human hands in the airflow, which can add up to 10dB in some cases. The combination of these factors means that the machine can be twice as loud as some test results might show.

You can see Quiet Mark’s review of hand dryers here.

Sirens driving you mad? It’s not just you:

Brussels collective demands less siren noise.  It’s difficult to complain about a source of noise when it has social utility, like siren noise.  Sirens are obviously necessary to clear the road of obstructions when an ambulance is racing someone in distress to the hospital or a fire truck is speeding to a fire.  But there are times when sirens are employed unnecessarily.  This writer has experienced the sleep-ending scream of a siren after midnight on a weekday and before 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, times when the major road nearby is not jammed with traffic.

So we were happy to hear that Stop Sirènes, a Brussels collective that “is urging police and other emergency services in the Brussels-Capital Region to be more “sparing” in their use of sirens,” made some headway.  Asserting that “sirens are too often used unnecessarily,” the collective took its plea to the region’s environment minister who has ordered a study into siren use.

While New York City has been more receptive to addressing noise complaints, unnecessary siren use remains a problem. For those of you who live in New York City, please consider signing this sensible Change.org petition directed to Mayor Diblasio: Lower the volume of Ambulance sirens in New York City.  Thank you.

 

What’s wrong with a noisy world?

For one very thoughtful answer read Olivia Parker’s article, “‘In Pursuit of Silence’: the film that says we need more quiet in our lives.”

Parker’s article starts with her review of “In the Pursuit of Silence,” a new film about the impact of noise on our lives and the movement to bring silence back into our everyday world.  She finds the film “both calming and jarring to watch.”  It “opens with near-silence,” she states, “four minutes and 33 seconds of it, to be precise, in honour of John Cage’s experimental composition 4’33, in which performers sit in silence for that length of time.”  The film then combines “30-second-long static camera shots of scenes and their sounds – a tree in a field, a petrol station at night, a motorway – with interviews with people involved in the consideration of sound and silence all over the world.”  Parker notes that it is “the first major film to be made about noise pollution – and for those who have been calling for a quiet revolution for years, it’s a much-needed step towards a more sound-balanced world.”

Parker’s review acts as a conversation opener to a deeper exploration of the pervasiveness and dangerousness of noise and the healing power of silence.  The query “how noisy are we now” is followed by a litany of aural abuses, focusing mainly on unavoidable transportation sounds–noise from airplanes, street traffic, and the Tube–but addng that respite cannot be had by ducking into a nearby restaurant for a nosh and some peace.  Parker looks at the consequences of living in a noisy world and they are not good.  She catalogs noise’s negative affect on one’s spirit, mood, ability to learn, and wellbeing.

The focus on our noisy world is followed with a look at the benefits of quiet, examining how it calms, increases productivity, and may even help our brains grow.  Parker concludes by examining how we can get more silence in our lives, highlighting the work of Quiet Mark, a UK company that “awards a badge of “quality” to brands that meet particular sound requirements,” and reviewing eight everyday appliances that have been awarded Quiet Marks.

The world could be a quieter place, we learn, if only all designers considered noise avoidance as important as durability, efficiency, or style.

There’s so much more in this article, so click the link to read it all.

LInk via Antonella Radicchi @firenzesoundmap.

 

The Greatest Threat to Our National Parks?

It Might Be Noise Pollution.  Max Ufberg, writing for Outside, introduces us to Davyd Betchkal, the National Park Service’s soundscape specialist in Alaska, who studies the parks’ natural acoustic environment to determine “the ecological impacts of human-made noise.”  In doocumenting all 54 million acres of Alaska’s parks, Betchkal stated that two things are clear:

[S]ound is crucial to the health of plants and wildlife and everything from airplanes cruising overhead to the roaring of snowmobiles on the ground or the muffled ring of an iPhone in a jacket pocket affects—and often disrupts—the ambiance of our most precious natural areas.

Ufberg adds:

To be clear, in the context of natural places, birdsong isn’t noise; the buzz of an airplane is. Sound, by contrast, is a protected resource under the Park Service’s foundational Organic Act of 1916 as part of the profile of a natural environment. According to an estimate by Park Service senior scientist Kurt Fristrup, a national park goer hears human-created noise, much of it aviation-related, during about 25 percent of his or her visit.

“Noise is just as ubiquitous and broad in its impacts on the continent as air pollution,” Fristrup says.

Ufberg points outs that noise is linked to cardiovascular disease and elevated blood pressure, among other ills, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency classified noise as a pollutant since 1970.  “While [noise] poses a greater risk in cities,” writes Ufberg, “it’s increasingly become an issue in nature, too.”

Click the link to learn about how noise harms wildlife and how the Park Service is working to protect them and us from noise pollution in our national parks.

Yes, you can put a dollar figure (well, euros) on the impact of noise:

The (VERY) high cost of noise.  Acoustic Bulletin writes about a study published last June by the French Agency Against Noise (Conseil National du Bruit) and the French Environment Agency (ADEME), where the two agencies tried to estimate the total cost of noise pollution in France.  In the end, they determined that the cost was 57.2 billion euros in social costs.  Yes, that billion.  So what was included in this impressive figure?  The study focused on six categories of noise:

  • Impact of traffic noise on health
  • Indirect costs of traffic noise (for example, on real estate)
  • Workplace accidents and hearing loss caused by occupational noise
  • Distraction in the workplace and productivity loss
  • Impact of noise in educational premises
  • Impact of neighbourhood noise

At 18 billion euros, the study shows that the cost of open plan offices is very dear.

Which makes us pause and wonder about the cost of noise pollution is in the United States, which has a population about five times larger than France but no Agency Against Noise.

 

 

Here’s some cultural appropriation we can get behind:

A look at Switzerland’s and Germany’s strict noise laws for Sundays and holidays.  How just how strict are these noise laws?  How does “no lawn-mowing, no drilling, hammering, sawing, or even heavy trucks on the roads” sound?  Like music to our ears!  Except, of course, no loud music either.  According to The Wayfarer,  it is “also advisable to keep the noise down (and we mean way down) between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. to avoid complaints/fines,” adding that noise complaints are “such a big deal in these cultures that there are attorneys specializing in noise law.”

Good to know our cultural norms haven’t taken over everywhere.  What we wouldn’t give to see Switzerland’s and Germany’s approach to noise adopted in the U.S.

Link via @NoiseFreeZone.

Real estate survey shows number one complaint about neighbors

is noise.  Real estate firm Trulia surveyed users about “neighbor pet peeves” and found that noise was the number one pet peeve, and that millennials were more likely to complain about noise than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.  In fact, the survey showed that 83% of millennials identified noise as their biggest pet peeve, while only 71% of Gen Xers and 54% of Baby Boomers did.  So much for the belief that noise is something that only older people complain about.  it would be interesting to survey millennials about noise in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, since restauranteurs apparently believe that loud restaurants are bustling, convivial, and perceived as “lively and successful,”  rather than uncomfortable, challenging, and painful.