Silence

The need for quiet

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, is quoted in this article on one of the quietest places in the world, in today.com. It’s a thoughtful piece about the quietest room in the world, at least at first. But then the story unfolds and we learn about pervasiveness of noise pollution. Dr. Bronzaft, who is on hand to explain the effect of noise on health, notes, that “[y]our body does not get used to dealing with noise; it just adapts to it — but at a physical and mental cost.”

Click the link above to read the entire piece–it’s well worth your time.  For as Dr. Bronzaft points out, we all need a little (or a lot of) peace and quiet.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Technological solution no substitute for governmental action

Introducing open window noise cancellation technology. The Daily Mail (sigh, we know) reports that “scientists” have created “[a] window that can reduce noise pollution by 50 per cent, even when open.” If you click the link, be prepared to fight through the visually noisy Daily Mail site to get to the short answer.  Namely, researchers essentially are using “active noise control” technology like that “found in many high-end noise cancelling headphones.” Makes sense, as do the claims that this device–which the developers claim uses very little electricity–will save money as people can open windows again to help cool a space rather than rely on air conditioning.

Technology is great, and if this device works as claimed, no doubt many people will gratefully buy them. But maybe we should be demanding that our local governments fulfill their responsibility to manage our cities and towns by regulating noise instead of resorting to the gadget du jour? Because this solution can only be enjoyed by those lucky enough to have the means to employ it, or, as Futurism put it: Noise-Cancelling Windows Are Perfect For People Already Rich Enough To Find Quiet in the City.

 

 

Color us surprised!

Turns out that people like to have private phone conversations in private spaces. Go figure! The New York Times looks at this phenomenon in a piece titled: Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back.

Naturally the phone booths highlighted in the article aren’t on the street. Rather, they are expensive ($3995 and higher) add-ons companies have had to squeeze into their open plan office spaces for those times that co-workers want less “collaboration” and more privacy. Something that used to be accommodated with these things called offices.

If phone booths are back, might offices be around the corner? [Not holding our breath.]

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link.

 

Winter’s unique silence

Jaymee Squires, Vail Daily, writes about sound and quiet on a winter’s day. Says Squires:

[W]inter is noisier than other seasons in some ways, as our snowshoes crunch through layers of crusty snow, or our skis swish along. But when you stop in winter, you really do notice sound. It might be snow falling from a branch, as the light fluffy snow crystals slowly turn to heavy droplets of water in the heat of the rising sun, or the chirping of a chickadee, but sound seems to stand out against the backdrop of winter.

Click the link above to read the entire post.

 

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.

Are your ears playing tricks on you?

Or is it your brain? Heather Murphy, The New York Times, examines “Why We ‘Hear’ Some Silent GIFs.” Murphy writes:

An animated GIF showing an electrical tower jumping rope over delightfully bendy power lines began to spread. The frenzy started when Lisa Debruine, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, posed this question:

When she asked Twitter users in an unscientific survey whether they could hear the image — which actually lacks sound, like most animated GIFs — nearly 70 percent who responded said they could.

Perhaps the headline should read “Why Some Hear Some Silent GIFS,” because we’ll take their word for it, but we don’t hear a sound. Do you? Click the first link to read more.

As our natural spaces become increasingly less quiet

Samantha Cole, Motherboard, asks, “What Will the Outdoors Sound Like in the Future?”  Cole, who lives in Brooklyn, starts her piece with a descripton of her solo trip to Joshua Tree, “to get some solitude and silence away from the city, immersed in the quiet of the high desert.” But after spending a sleepless night “on a high-alert adrenaline rush, spinning around in the small bed at every noise that pricked out of the silence,” Cole realized that her ears had adjusted to the quiet.

On her return to the city, she reached out to Kurt Fristrup, chief of the Science and Technology Branch at the National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, which deploys sound monitoring systems at national parks and helps the staff meet their soundscape needs.

What follows is an interesting interview, where Cole and Fristrup talk about “how our ears work in the wild,” human noise pollution’s impact on wildlife, and how the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division is working to make America’s remaining wild spaces less noisy.

And watch this National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division video on soundscapes:

Need a gift for someone who craves quiet?

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

Have friends who care about noise as much as you do? What better holiday gift than a dvd of this beautiful, inspired film, “In Pursuit of Silence”!
The film got terrific reviews on the film festival circuit in continental Europe, the UK, and the U.S., and then was in selected theaters several months ago prior to this release.

Want more to go with it? Add a copy of the well-reviewed book (now out in paperback) that inspired the film by George Prochnik.

We’re very proud that Arline Bronzaft and Paul Barach—two of The Quiet Coalition’s steering committee members—appear in the film, as does our friend Kurt Fristrup, scientific director of the noise program at the National Park Service, Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Want better sleep? Bose® has you covered

Bose® noise-masking sleepbuds™

by David M Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This CNET review is a intriguing article about Bose’s quest to tap into the auditory health and better sleep market.

PSAPs, or personal sound amplification products, is a term brought to public attention in 2015 by the White House President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology followed by a report from the National Academy of Medicine last October. PSAPs are an emerging class of products that are also called hearables (think wireless earbuds with extra features) that we’ve been following for the past couple of years.

PSAPs are interesting because they represent a host of tech innovations and innovative young tech companies that promises to disrupt the traditional hearing-aid industry that has been dominated for decades by a hegemonic group of risk-averse manufacturers known as the “Big Six,” a market that is carefully regulated by the FDA. The result of decades of regulation and dominance by a handful of companies is that traditional hearing aids are both absurdly expensive, and also not particularly innovative. No surprise there.

But a couple of months ago, the emerging market for PSAPs blew wide open thanks to bi-partisan legislation (the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act, co-sponsored by Senators Warren and Grassley) which exempts PSAPs from regulation. And that means three things:
1. Now you can buy PSAPs directly from the manufacturers or at CVS/Walgreens etc. (“over the counter”) without a prescription and you don’t have to pay an audiologist to fit them;
2. PSAPs cost a fraction of what a pair of traditional hearing aids costs (PSAPs may cost you $150 to $400, but compare that to $4,000 to $10,000 for conventional hearing aids); and
3. Two dozen hungry, young start-ups funded through crowd-sourcing or by venture capital professionals are charging into this market.

So If you, like me, like to watch a tech-race unfold, then get out your binoculars and join the crowd at this track because its an exciting race in a market that has been moribund and over-regulated for decades.

Watching this restless bunch of young PSAP startups and their colorful jockeys (I mean their CEOs), and eyeing them very carefully, are a small but high-powered group of suits you’ll recognize from consumer electronics: Apple, Sony, Phillips, Bose, et al. Why? Because these are the big guys who are already in the ear business–they sell earbuds and headphones, among other things and wireless hearables is a potentially important new market. The ear is their turf. So if they can grab a piece of the de-regulating market for wireless hearing-assistive devices that’s a great business opportunity, right? After all, 48 million Americans are hearing-impaired so this is potentially a big niche market, and who knows how many Americans are sleep-deprived?

But what about Bose?

Bose—an intensely private, even secretive consumer electronics company headquartered on top of a small mountain near Boston—is the first of these big consumer electronics players to make a move in the PSAP race. Bose’s founder, Amar Bose, died a couple of years ago, but he was a singular, legendary force in consumer electronics and seemed to be the fountain from whom all of the company’s products poured. With his death, ownership of the company was turned over to Amar Bose’s alma mater, MIT (yes, MIT controls the majority stake but has no say in management). But can the company still innovate now that it founder and chief idea-guy is gone?

One approach to innovation is through acquisition. So last year, Bose acquired the San Diego-based startup Hush and recently announced the release of a new Bose-branded product based on the work done by three engineer-entrepreneurs who founded Hush not too long ago. If you’ve been watching this emerging market, you probably noticed that only last week, the self-declared front-runner in PSAPs/hearables a product called “Here One” from the company Doppler Labs, ran out of juice and went out of business. Why? They burned through $50 million trying to win this horse race, but then ran out of money and couldn’t get Apple or Sony or any of the rest of the big guys to pony up and buy them out. Sometimes that happens to front-runners and it’s too bad, but it clears the way for others to emerge. And Bose wants to be one of the next group as these horses round the first corner.

Now Bose, in addition to being intensely secretive, has also always done things differently. And they’re certainly going after this emerging PSAP/hearables market from some intriguing angles. For instance, they recently have launched a crowdfuning campaign for their new Bose® noise-masking sleepbuds™. Another example is their newly announced Hearphones for people who need help understanding speech in noisy environments. Both of these products indicate that Bose is probing the now-deregulated “hearing health market”—a big departure from their traditional focus on consumer electronics. Perhaps they think 48 million Americans is a viable niche market where they can beat Apple, Sony, Phillips and the Big Six hearing aid companies by getting out of the gate faster. Who knows? Bose has succeeded by focusing on niches ignored by others and they’ve got their own retail stores, so keep your eyes on them.

It’s a race. And some of us are watching closely to see what happens. If you placed a bet on Here One and lost, then just swallow hard and keep your eyes on the race. It’s only just begun.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.