Quiet

Is there any good that may come from this pandemic?

Photo credit: Agung Pandit Wiguna from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is there anything at all good about the COVID-19 pandemic? There’s an old saying that every cloud has a silver lining, but it’s hard to find one in this global health and financial storm.

But as people self-quarantine or shelter in place, and road traffic and aircraft traffic decreases, the streets, highways, and skies are noticeably quieter. The air is cleaner, too. And that’s good, even if it reflects a problem.

In these moments of quiet, perhaps we can rediscover the simple pleasures of reading a book, or gardening, or walking in a park (at least 6 feet away from others, to be sure), and think of earlier times when quiet was the norm.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

A boom in books on the search for silence in a noisy world

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Sure you’d like less noise in your life, but is silence what you’re seeking? According to Bilal Qureshi in The Washington Post, there’s a boom in books about the search for silence in our noisy world.

Qureshi writes about Erling Kagge’s surprising best seller, “Silence In The Age Of Noise,” and several other recent books on the subject, musing:

I’m tempted to dismiss my growing obsession with books about silence as a frivolous longing for “chicken soup for an angsty soul.” But the rise of this family of books speaks to a real need—and void—in contemporary life. Silence is more than the absence of noise. It is the cumulative experience of personal space and a mind at rest, with room to think and contemplate.

Well said!

I have just finished reading—for the second time since it was published in late October (2019)–New Yorker writer David Owen’s excellent new book, “Volume Control, Hearing In A Deafening World.”

Owen’s book reminded me of several other books in this increasingly popular genre, like Garret Keizer’s 2012 book “The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise,” and George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence.” Film director Patrick Shen turned Prochnik’s book into an excellent documentary film with the same name that did well at film festivals upon it’s release in 2017.

Personally, I recommend them all! If you’re in the market for some peace and quiet, start with any of these excellent works!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Where to find some peace and quiet in New York City

Photo credit: Giorgio Galeotti licensed under CC BY 4.0

Matt Koff, a stand-up comedian and The Daily Show writer, offers his “Top 5 Places In NYC To Get Some F$%king Peace And Quiet.” It’s a short list, but thoughtful except for one suggestion.  Koff suggests a ride on one of New York City’s many ferries.  While we agree there is something calming about a ferry ride, the engine noise is shockingly loud.

So bring a pair of ear plugs with you as you take the ferry to Red Hook, another of Koff’s suggestions with which we wholeheartedly agree.

This is your brain on noise pollution

Photo credit: Paul Mison licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Joel Pavelski, GQ, writes about his experience doing a month-long sound fast.  Pavelski recognized that he was “suffocating [himself] with sound,” by constantly wearing headphones to listen to music, podcasts, or YouTube videos.  He realized that his sound over-saturation was making him “forgetful, distracted, and overwhelmed.” And then, Pavelski, writes, he hit his saturation point:

In March, I finally reached true sensory overload. I met a friend at Midtown bar, where we planned to work on our respective book proposals. The place was packed, and I couldn’t hear myself think over the clamor: people around us were laughing, waitresses were slinging dishes and drinks, a playlist of loud top 40 hits competed with a televised basketball game for the patrons’ attention. I put in my headphones and queued up a podcast and tried to focus, thinking I could retreat to my (even louder) safe place. But after a few minutes, I felt so overstimulated that my body started to tremble. My heart started to race and my breath came in short gulps. My fingers felt tingly. I thought I was about to pass out.

What follows is Pavelski’s experiment with no podcasts, no listening to music, no extraneous noise other than the “natural” noise of New York City.  And what he found was that when he took time to just sit and take the world in without distraction his brain “felt blissful and busy, lighting up with challenges to solve, reframing and reorganizing possibilities.”

Click the link to read the whole thing.  It’s well worth your time.

Looking for a quiet space? Here are some worth visiting

Photo credit: Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’ve been looking for a truly quiet space to visit, consider Green Bank, West Virginia, where there’s no WiFi, no cellphone service, no microwave ovens or any other device that generates electromagnetic signals. Known as a National Radio Quiet Zone, it consists of 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain set aside to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes.

Have you heard about International Dark Sky Places? The first one in the U.S. is a 1400-square-mile spot in Central Idaho where there’s no artificial light. According to this author, “[t]here are currently 37 official dark sky parks in the United States, 53 in the world. There are only 11 dark sky reserves – which have a larger size requirement than parks – and none of them are in the U.S.”

You might also want to put the Hoh Rain Forest on your travel schedule. It’s known as one of “the quietest places on earth” thanks to Gordon Hempton’s work there.

In fact, “acoustic ecology” is an emerging field, so if you’re interested in “eco-tourism” you’re among a growing group of people who seek out quiet places around the world.

But as the author of the New York Times piece on Green Bank notes, “[t]o experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.”

A few years ago, I worked with others to help turn George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence” into a feature-length documentary film of the same name. What we learned in the process is how scarce truly “quiet zones” have become, despite the National Park Service’s efforts to preserve them.

So hurry up! Plan a few trips before these “Quiet Zones” disappear!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Refuge from noise for autistic kids and adults

Photo credit: John Marino has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

America is awakening to the special needs of kids and adults on the autism spectrum. Many are hyper-reactive to environmental noise.

A few shopping centers have introduced “quiet hours” specifically aimed at families with autistic children. Now a few airports are getting the message too.

For example, Lonely Planet reports that Pittsburgh International Airport has opened a 500 square foot “sensory room” called Presley’s Place where traveling families with autistic members can calm down and get ready to fly or de-compress after landing.

For some of us, finding a quiet place is a quest, something we simply enjoy. But for others, it’s an essential need! Let’s hope other airports get the message soon.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Quieter motorcycles are on their way

Photo credit: big-ashb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

After last week’s fiasco in Manhattan, where tourists raced out of Times Square when they mistook a motorcycle backfiring for gunfire, it’s good to hear the era of loud motorcycles may  finally be coming to an end. After all, motorcycles with exhaust noise violating federal and state noise standards are the bane of many urban and rural dwellers.

Quieter motorcycles are possible, and there have been efforts to design motorcycles that leave a smaller carbon–and noise–footprint. Well, they are finally here: Harley-Davidson and other manufacturers are introducing quiet electric-powered motorcycles.

We hope these become a preferred mode of transport soon.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Sacred space? Museum journal devotes special issue to sound

Photo credit: Negative Space

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do you think of museums and zoos as places of quiet, refuge and reflection? Sure, who doesn’t? They’re invaluable when you need thinking time or just a respite from the noisy, chaotic world outside. Then this introduction to a special issue of the journal Curator will interest you. Turns out museum directors and curators have grown more interested in this subject recently—so interested that Curator’s editors devoted an entire issue of their journal to sound and noise.

Inspiring them to address this topic was The Quiet Coalition’s co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, an indefatigable researcher and anti-noise advocate from New York City—and New York City is definitely a place where world-class museums offer respite and reward to millions of people. This special issue compiles 18 papers from several decades of work by researchers and museum curators on how to use quiet and sound as part of the museum experience. Here’s what journal editor John Fraser has to say:

Today, this special double issue of Curator seeks to bring to the attention of museum leaders the value of listening to our museums. Museums may be more focused on listening to their visitors, but the papers on the following pages suggest that we have a long way to go to ensure that all senses are considered an essential part of all museum experiences.

I found it fascinating, for example that the reverberant sound from the walls of a zoo enclosure significantly increased the aggressiveness of–and diminished the sexual behavior of–rhinoceros females. What lessons might we infer about humans’ increasingly violent and aggressive behavior in the crowded, glass-walled, reverberant canyons of modern city streets?

Wonderful, voluminous reading from an unexpected and very well-informed perspective. Enjoy!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Noise or tinnitus causing sleep loss? There’s an app for that….

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller licensed under CC BY 2.0

By David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The New York Times is published in one of the noisiest cities in the world, so it’s no surprise that some of their reporters—like everybody else living in New York City–have trouble sleeping and are looking for solutions. Some of those same reporters also suffer from tinnitus, often caused by exposure to loud noises.

Two New York Times articles explore smartphone-based apps that promise better sleep through mindfulness or meditation training. If this sounds fishy to you, suspend your disbelief because there’s quite a bit of research on this subject. In fact, the Veterans Administration’s National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research in Portland, Oregon recommends some of these approaches. That’s not surprising, as military veterans suffer disproportionately from hearing disorders like tinnitus owing to exposure to firearms and explosive devices. As a result, the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration have spent quite a bit of effort on both prevention and treatment because tinnitus is one of the top two service-related disabilities, costing billions every year.

My point is this: getting a good night’s rest is essential to everyone’s health. If you live in a noisy or distracting environment, actually going to sleep and then sleeping soundly through the night may require some combination of the following three things:

  1. Good hearing protection, like a really good pair of earplugs or even sound-deadening ear-muffs;
  2. Some sort of continuous background sound-making device that plays soothing sounds like ocean waves or rainfall; and
  3. Some mindfulness training to help you get to sleep.

If you suffer from tinnitus, you may also want to look into the VA’s Tinnitus Retraining Therapy program, which teaches people to re-direct their attention away from the non-stop ringing and buzzing in their ears that is characteristic of tinnitus and focus on other subjects.

If you feel like experimenting, try some of the apps mentioned by the New York Times reporters and please tell us if they help.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI’s Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI’s Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation’s Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Welcoming travelers with autism

Photo credit: Suliman Sallehi from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times discusses efforts being made by amusement parks and other venues to welcome visitors with autism. The CDC reported that about 1 in 57 children in the United States is now born with some form of autism.

Among the issues those with autism have is a sensitivity to noise.  Quieter environments are better for them.

Quieter environments are also better for people with auditory disorders, including hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.  These generally are much less of a problem than autism, but the “reasonable accommodations”–environmental modifications required by the Americans with Disabilities Act–being made for those with autism could provide a model for reasonable accommodations that could be made for those with auditory disorders.

In many cases, the simplest reasonable accommodation costs nothing: simply turn down the volume of the amplified sound.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.