Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Quiet Parks International

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Although my research and writings have focused on the dangers of noise to our mental and physical health, I have also written about the need for quiet and the joy of the natural sounds in our environment. In fact, my children’s book on noise and sound is titled “Listen to the Raindrops.”

I was delighted to learn more about the importance of natural sounds when John Grossman, co-author with Gordon Hempton of the book One Square Inch of Silence, spoke with me about my work on noise and learning. One Square Inch of Silence is not only about Gordon Hempton’s voyage across the country recording “the varied natural voices of the American landscape,” but in my opinion it is also a call to fight against the intrusive noises which not only prevent us from reconnecting with the natural sounds around us but also impede  our health and well-being.

Thus, I was extremely pleased when Gordon contacted me last month to enlist my assistance in promoting his Quiet Parks International initiative.  The mission of Quiet Parks International is the “preservation of Quiet for the benefit of all.”

I urge the readers of Silencity to learn more about Quiet Parks International and consider how you can contact key people in your cities to discuss the possibility of including your city in this initiative.  If you would like further information, please leave a comment.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

 

How to protect your hearing

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This short piece in The Guardian gives sound advice on how to protect your hearing. The Guardian reporter interviewed audiologist Gemma Twitchen, from the UK advocacy group Action on Hearing Loss, about how people can avoid damaging their hearing while listening to loud music, going to the cinema, or taking public transportation, among other activities.

Twitchen says that “[m]any new devices display the safe sound level and warn if you go above that,” and encourages readers to keep an eye on the reading.  She adds that noise-canceling headphones allow users to listen to music at lower volumes. This is important, because as Twitchen notes, temporary auditor symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent auditory damage will probably occur with repeated exposure.

I would go a step further and say that there probably is no such thing as temporary auditory damage and any symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent damage has already occurred. But I agree entirely with the audiologist’s advice to wear hearing protection.

And as we have been saying for a while, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Protect your hearing today to preserve it for tomorrow.

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.

Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.

 

 

 

 

 

The best headphones for children? None!

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This post on the Parentology.com site discusses the best headphones for children in 2019. I disagree strongly. The best headphones for children are none at all! Why? Two reasons, one for auditory health and one for the child’s social and intellectual development.

First, for auditory health, headphones using the industrial-strength 85 decibel noise exposure level as a “safe” volume limit for a child’s tender ears isn’t safe. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled again Amazon advertising these headphones as safe for hearing because they’re not.

Second, allowing a child to isolate him or herself with headphones, first while watching a video on a device and then when listening to music when older, doesn’t allow the child to interact or communicate with others. And for the older children, the parent has no idea what the children are listening to.

Audiologists already report seeing younger patients with hearing loss and tinnitus instead of the senior population they are used to caring for.

And an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss and other auditory problems appears to be certain in the near future.

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.

NYC’s “helicopter season” starts with a fail

This photo of the aftermath of a deadly helicopter accident in 2018 is in the public domain

Patrick McGeehan, The New York Times, writes about a sorry rite of late spring–the onslaught of helicopters ferrying the uber rich and wannabes to the Hamptons or separating tourists from their money in quick and expensive spins around Manhattan. This season started with a helicopter falling from the sky.  Somehow, everyone survived–not a typical outcome–but, as McGeehan reports, “the videos were spectacular enough to set off a debate about helicopter traffic.”

Adrian Benepe, a former city parks commissioner, asked whether the economic benefits or ease of travel were worth it. In fact, the city had reached a compromise with the helicopter companies a few years ago that cut the number of flights in half and banned them on Sundays, but McGeehan writes that some companies avoid the restrictions by flying out of New Jersey and not the city heliports.

Even with the compromise there are more than 30,000 flights a year, and residents and visitors under the flight paths have complained about the noise. Said Benepe, a member of Stop the Chop, “[f]or a city that claims to want to be the most environmentally progressive in the nation to be supporting this industry makes no sense.” That is an understatement.

Let’s hope that with this latest crash the city makes serious efforts to limit or prohibit these unnecessary helicopter flights. There is rarely a compelling need for their use and city residents and visitors shouldn’t be held captive by the wants and desires of tourists seeking an epic selfie or the super rich engaging in acts of self-importance.  It’s time to stop them.

Acoustic vehicle alerts are a problem

Photo credit: Kaboompics .com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Jeanine Botta presented a paper on acoustic vehicle alerts, also known as horn-based alerts, on May 13, 2019, at the Acoustical Society of America’s 177th meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

Acoustic vehicle alerts are a problem because they are capable of disrupting sleep and interrupting concentration. In most vehicles, the alerts can be turned off or can be configured to use flashing lights instead of a sound. But not all horn-based alerts are easily reconfigured.

In 2011, the Society of Automotive Engineers recommended that automakers install “an externally audible or visual alert” to warn drivers of an engine that has been left running, as a means of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. In response, some automakers used horn sounds to comply with the standard. This decision did not consider driver behavior or technical errors, such as drivers starting a car and getting out to brush snow off a windshield, or a passenger with a second key remaining in a car. This paper examined posts in online forums that include those authored by car owners seeking technical advice about turning off this horn-based alert. One frequently cited reason was concern over waking nearby neighbors.

In February 2019, Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced legislation requiring automatic engine shutoff in all vehicles in certain situations. The Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology Act, or PARK IT Act, is supported by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, Safety Research and Strategies, and Consumer Reports.

And in California, where I live, where there are 14.5 million registered motor vehicles, it’s actually illegal for a horn to be used other than to avoid an accident or as a burglar alarm.

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.

The design of sound notifications

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

Gabriela Barkho, The Observer, writes about the designers who create the “undeniably annoying” sound notifications used in mobile technology. Barkho notes that most of us shut off the noisy notification that tells us someone is trying to call us, replacing the rington with vibrate, but what of other sound notifications?

Barkho writes that “[t]he new age of mobile sound is as much about representing the app’s brand and mission as it is about the user experience.” Ouch. The thought of fighting your way through a crowded room with everyone holding a bleating cell phone is horrifying. Fortunately, however, designers recognize that sounds can annoy. Says Josh Mobley, a composer and sound designer, “[t]he trick is to make a sound that people will hear that isn’t going to annoy the shit out of them every time it plays.” Hear, hear.

While we are happy to learn that designers are aware of the problems posed by annoying sound notifications, what will happen when every app demands sound notifications that brand stand out? Imagine the horrorscape of competing notifications, with each designer trying to make their audio stand out. How will people cope when they can never have an uninterupted moment?

Maybe they won’t have to.

Why? Because according to Chris Kyriakakis, professor of electrical and computer engineering/systems and director of the Immersive Audio Laboratory at Univeristy of Southern California, the next big thing in sound notifications is spatialized sound. Kyriakakis calls spatialized notifications “a great leap forward” that would allow a user to use direction to decipher communication. How? He imagines that “a ding from front and center of your headphones could signal an urgent text, while a softer one from the back-end could be a less important notification.”

If it’s true that sound spatialization is the future, then maybe this brave new world of sound notifications won’t be as horrific as one might imagine. Among other things, Kyriakakis envisions spatialization with headphone use. Sure, city streets may be even more difficult to navigate as we weave our way around battalions of headphone-wearing people meandering in the streets, focused on distinguishing a ping from a beep  But at least we wont have to hear it.

 

 

Why noise pollution is more dangerous than we think

Photo credit: Shawn Carpenter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The May 13, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine has a wonderful article about noise by staff writer David Owen. Complementing the article is this 8-minute YouTube video in which Mr. Owen talks about what he learned writing the article:

It’s well worth spending the time to watch.

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.

Two thumbs up for noise-canceling headphones

Photo credit: Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Geoffrey Morrision, writing for the New York Times, casts his vote in favor of using noise-canceling headphones when traveling, and I’ll add mine, too. The only downsides of noise-canceling headphones is that the over-ear ones are a little bulky, they are yet another thing to pack and carry, and it can be hard to find a comfortable head position with them on when trying to sleep. But in return, one has much greater quiet when flying.

Aircraft cabin noise is largely low-frequency noise, from engines and airframe, and most noise-canceling headphones do a good job of reducing low frequency noise.

I often use them on longer train rides, too, where again the predominant noises are low frequency ones.

The best noise-canceling headphones are expensive, of course, but if you are a frequent flyer, they are worth it.

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.