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The Truth About Noise

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Looking for a quiet restaurant? Wall St. values this “quiet” chain at $7.5 billion

Photo credit: Mike Mozart CC by 2.0

By David Sykes, Vice-chair, The Quiet Coalition

Yearn for a quiet spot to dine where you can chat (or read) without clamour? If that seems hopeless in America’s noisy restaurants don’t give up—change is on the way.

It’s true that for decades restaurants in America have gotten louder and more cacophonous on purpose. Why? Restaurateurs and their designers say data show that profits climb when noise levels are high because their patrons are:

  1. attracted by the “buzz,”
  2. drink more alcohol,
  3. consume more food faster, and
  4. leave quickly, allowing more patrons to sit down and repeat the process.

True or not, those crowded, noisy eateries are designed to be that way. The good news is that, just as easily, they can be designed to be quiet. The bad news is that so many restaurateurs still don’t understand that the racket drives away large groups of potential patrons, and also alienates restaurant reviewers, some of whom now even carry sound level meters.

Is there such a thing as a successful quiet restaurant chain? One that profits from allowing patrons to converse with each other or read a book, or put a laptop on the table and work quietly–even at peak dining hours? Amazingly, yes. It’s one that already has 2000 stores, is the hottest “fast-casual” chain in America, and is growing faster than Starbucks. The name? Panera. Panera’s stores don’t pretend to be fashionable bistros nor do they serve alcohol. But the food is healthy, natural, fresh, and tasty and the atmosphere is definitely—and, according to acoustics experts, very consciously—designed to provide a haven where people can enjoy quiet conversations and each other without cacophony.

Quiet dining matters to lots of us—more folks than you might imagine. In fact, about 20% of people in their 20s suffer from hearing disorders (which can include hypersensitivities to noise with names like tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia, conditions that make it impossible for them to enjoy restaurants or clubs). And about 50% of people in their 60s and an extraordinary 90% of people in their 80s suffer from an inability to understand speech when background noise levels are elevated. These are not “fringe” groups. Collectively, there are 40 million Americans who probably avoid dining in restaurants because they literally can’t stand the noise.

Do restaurant owners understand that? If they did, they might create quiet sections to broaden their market appeal. Many apparently do not. For those who do, the market opportunity may be considerable.

It just could be that “quiet dining” is the next trend.  For customers looking for quiet, the prospects are mouth-watering.

If you’d like to know how to make a restaurant quieter, check out: Why Acoustics are Important in Restaurant Design and Restaurant Acoustics: Restaurant Noise Reduction by Audimute.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Concern about noise is universal

Photo credit: Eldan Goldenberg licensed under CC BY 2.0

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association conducted a survey of 1,007 Americans that found that adults of all ages are concerned about long-term effects of loud noises. Specifically, adults are concerned “about what loud noises may be doing to affect their ability to hear as they get older.”  Oddly, the survey also found that “young adults still like to see sports stadiums and restaurants designed to be noisy,” even as “18- to 29-year olds reported the highest level of dissatisfaction with noise levels in public places like bars, restaurants, even movie theaters.”

ASHA conducted the survey to “understand how US adults feel about noisy environments and how they affect their out of home entertainment decisions,” and is using the results to support its efforts around Better Hearing and Speech Month. You can access the survey results and executive summary by clicking this link (pdf).

Need a pair of earplugs but not sure what to buy?

Photo credit: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Check out The Hippocratic Post’s Guide to ear plugs. Reporter Rebecca Wallersteiner provides a list of earplugs that are right for any occasion or user. Note that although the article’s links to purchase are to British sites, all of the reviewed earplugs can be purchased in the U.S.:

In addition, we have provided links to the best-selling ear muffs for children and adults on Amazon:

What Your Patients Don’t Know Can Hurt Them

Photo Credit: Flávia Costa licensed under CC BY 3.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It looks like the truth about noise-induced hearing loss is finally getting out.  This article in The Hearing Journal, which claims to be “the most respected journal in hearing health care,” discusses the fact that noise causes hearing loss.  While hardly an earth shattering assertion, the article notes that “[h]earing loss has long been thought to be an unpleasant but inevitable side effect of aging.”  But, the article continues, “within the past year, two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have documented the startling degree to which noise—both in the workplace and elsewhere in our daily lives—contributes to hearing damage.”

What follows is a well-reasoned and complete discussion about noise-induced hearing loss. The article cites the new acting director of the CDC, Ann Schuchat, MD, and Rick Neitzel, PhD, the public health researcher and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition. The only criticism I might offer is that the article doesn’t clearly state that the only safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is a daily average of 70 decibels time weighted average (see, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“) and that the auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibelsThose caveats aside, click the first link above to read the article.  It’s well worth your time.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association and is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council and 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.

Time to invest in hearing aid companies

Photo credit: Chris Harte licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why? Because this sort of thing is still being encouraged: Toronto Raptors’ coach “wants more crowd noise at home.” Yes, Coach Dwane Casey asked Raptor fans “to turn up the volume and match the noisy support generated in Milwaukee by the leather-lunged Bucks crowd.” A sentence that has deep meaning for some. As for us, our interpretation is that either the coach really believes that a stadium full of screamers makes a difference or he is disingenuously attempting to engage fans at whatever cost, including their hearing. Whatever the reason the end result is painfully loud noise that will leave a lasting mark on everyone who experiences it.

So follow our lead–skip the game and check this out instead: Top 6 hearing aid manufacturers.

 

What can you do about noisy neighbors?

Photo credit: Denise Cheng licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Derby Telegraph offers some guidance for dealing with the neighbor in love with his leaf blower or outdoor audio system. While some of the suggestions may not translate well–the Derby Telegraph is a UK newspaper–some will. Namely, the first suggestion is dead on, unless, that is, you have reason to know that your neighbor is unstable or obnoxious on purpose:

[T]he first thing you should always do is speak to the person causing the noise. Most of the time they don’t realise they are causing a nuisance and are usually happy to change what they are doing.

If reason does not prevail, the article provides a link to the Derby City Council website and walks the reader through the process of filing a noise complaint online. We have some catching up to do in the U.S., but there are communities with mechanisms to complain about noise, like New York City’s 311 system. But if there isn’t a reasonable way to file a complaint where you live, find out who represents your ward or neighborhood and ask him or her to propose one. There should be a process to address noise and other complaints that comes between constituents seething in impotent rage and calling the cops as a first measure.

And we don’t know about you, but we learned one very interesting fact from this article: Germany has “strict ‘quiet hours’…between 8pm and 7am and all day Sundays and holidays.” Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised, as “Germany’s love of silence led to the first earplug.”

Mallgoers would rather deal with pigeon poop than noise

Photo credit: Fritz Park licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mary Beth Quirk, the Consumerist, reports that “shoppers at one New York mall would rather risk getting hit by bird droppings than listen to the sounds coming out of the complex’s speakers.”  Apparently officials at the Rego Center Mall in Queens, New York City, installed a sound system “that blast[ed] noisy bird calls every 30 seconds or so,” to deal with an infestation of pigeons that were nesting and defecating near one of the mall entrances. But the law of unintended consequences prevailed, as the noise got on many shoppers’ last nerve.  One shopper, who claimed that he had “been pooped on previously at the mall,” said that he preferred “the risk of falling feces to the noise coming out of the mall speakers.”

 

 

Korean study finds 2 in 10 students hard of hearing

Photo credit: Republic of Korea licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

and, sadly, that school checkups failed to identify adolescents with hearing loss.  Korea Biomedical Review reports that “[i]nadequate hearing tests done by schools have been unable to find many teens with hearing problems resulting from the portable audio system and frequent visits to Internet cafes.”  The results call into question “statistics at Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and school tests conducted in 2010.”

The implications are significant:

The [study] found that 12.7 percent of seventh-grade students and 10.4 percent of 10th-grade students fell into the World Health Organization’s category of hearing loss (cannot hear at 15 decibels). When the high frequency is included, 17.9 percent of the 7th graders and 16.5 percent of 10th graders belong to the category of possible noise-induced hearing loss.

By contrast, school tests conducted in 2010 only found 5.4% of students with hearing loss.

The researchers cautioned that “[h]earing impairment can affect a student’s academic performance and can continue to create barriers to communication in social life and the workplace,” adding that “[t]he social cost of neglecting this problem can reach up to 72.6 billion won ($63.6 million).”

Meanwhile, in the U.S., are hearing exams required in primary schools?  They should be, because regular hearing exams would identify children at risk of hearing loss and would make children aware of the importance of protecting their hearing.

Is it too late to save the orcas?

Wanyee Li, Toronto Metro, reports that researchers are concerned about the state of the health of the 78 remaining orcas of the Salish Sea orca population.  “The killer whales are declining for a variety of reasons ranging from infection, starvation, and conflict with large ships, both head-on and from the noise pollution they emit.”  Researchers say they know what to do to save these animals, but the problem is finding the political will to do it.

Kim Dun, an oceans specialist with  World Wildlife Fund Canada, said that “noise pollution is among the biggest threats to the whales,” because a “noisy environment that makes it harder for the whales to do what they need to do to survive.”  The combination of threats is enough “to choke the iconic animals until there are not enough whales to keep the population alive.”

In related news, recordings show that baby humpback whales and their mothers “whisper” just in case killer whales are nearby.  Ecologists studying the humpbacks say that this determination highlights the need to regulate ocean noise, because the discovery “suggests that human-produced machinery sounds could be particularly harmful to calves and their mothers.”

 

Yeah, this will happen

I believe I can fly.   Photo credit: sv1ambo CC by 2.0

In “Uber’s Flying Car Chief On Noise Pollution And The Future Of Sky Taxis.,” Fast Company tells us that Uber has a shiny new thing to distract its billionaire investors from its extraordinary burn rate and man-child CEO.  What is this game changer?  FLYING CARS! No really, they are coming and Uber is on it. Fast Company’s Sean Captain writes that “Uber is taking the technology seriously and this week it takes another step forward with a summit meeting that lays out its vision.”  A vision that surely will make up for all of the bad press Uber has garnered in the last couple of months.

After rolling our eyes at the thought of “an urban flying taxi system” somehow maneuvering through Manhattan without killing anyone, we focused on the claim of Uber’s Flying Car Chief, Mark Moore, that “the slower-spinning electric motors will keep noise to a hum.” “What were (sic) looking at is, in the next several years, being able to bring experimental aircraft into and test them in the relevant environment of the city,” says Moore, who fails to mention that Uber had to stop its self-driving car program in California because they were operating their test vehicles without proper permits.

So back to noise. Captain tells us that “Uber plans to use electric VTOL planes that briefly tilt their wings and propellers up to take off vertically like drones, then tilt them forward to fly forward.” Uber is opting for planes because helicopters are too noisy. Moore assures us that Uber’s planes “will be higher-pitched..blending into the hum of car traffic in cities rather than rumbling on over a longer distance and rattling windows.” Then a discussion follows about the difference between helicopter blades and airplane blades, with Moore asserting that plane propellers are “as much as 32 times quieter.” “That’s where the magic happens,” says Moore.  Hey everyone, Uber’s flying care are going to be quiet because of magic!

Sadly, there are naysayers who counter Moore’s rosy view. Says Brien Seeley, founder of the Sustainable Aviation Foundation, “the sound of a plane or helicopter has to be below 50 decibels, about the volume of a conversation at home, at a distance of 40 meters from its landing area.” Why? Because “[o]therwise either the noise will annoy neighbors or the airport will have to be too big to create a buffer.” Seeley has proposed a competition to develop air taxis “that meet the 50-dB at 40 meters target.”  A competition?  Surely we will have a quiet air taxi in no time! Or maybe not–Seeley describes the development effort as a “Herculean challenge.”

The article then focuses on Uber’s “mini-airports, called vertiports (complete with fast battery charging),” that will be put on top of buildings “to minimize the noise.” And there is a discussion about gridlock. All of this while Uber is effectively out of the self-driving car market because of the California snafu discussed above, and that little matter of Google’s Waymo lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing its self-driving technology, which Wired suggests could “kill Uber’s future and send execs to prison.”

We will believe in Uber’s magical noise-free airplane taxis after Uber makes an actual profit.

Update: Noise aside, Popular Mechanics offers “6 Reasons Why Uber’s Flying Taxis Are a Mirage.”