Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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2016 Greater Boston Noise Report Issued.

Erica Walker, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been “measuring sound levels and conducting the Greater Boston (now National) Neighborhood Noise Survey within the Greater Boston Area,” for the past year.  On Monday, October 24, 2016, she issued a report updating key findings from her research, releasing the first comprehensive noise assessment of the Greater Boston Community since 1971.  Walker’s noise assessment is interactive, allowing the user to look at the survey results, soundscapes, spatial and interactive maps of sound levels, and a neighborhood report card.  It’s an interesting approach to noise assessment, and it’s exciting to hear that she is currently conducting a National Neighborhood Noise Survey.

If you’d like to participate Erica Walker’s National Neighborhood Noise Survey 2020, click here.

Why do elderly people with otherwise normal hearing have difficulty hearing some conversations?

Background noise to blame for the elderly being unable to keep up with conversations.  The Express reports on a University of Maryland study that found that “adults aged 61-73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18-30 with normal hearing.”  The study’s authors stated that the “ageing midbrain and cortex is part of ongoing research into the so-called cocktail party problem, or the brain’s ability to focus on and process a particular stream of speech in the middle of a noisy environment.”  Because many older people who are affected by the “cocktail party problem” have normal hearing, the study notes that talking louder doesn’t help.  If an older person can see the person he or she is speaking to, visual cues can help, as well as the obvious–make the environment quieter.

Sadly, many restaurants, bars, and some coffee shops are just too noisy for older people to be able to hear well and participate in conversation.  Organized efforts to push back against unnecessary noise are gaining a toehold in the public sphere, but more needs to be done.  Until things improve, New Yorkers can find some respite by visiting our sister site, Quiet City Maps, for a guide to New York City’s quieter spaces (and a heads-up for places to avoid).

And don’t forget that if a restaurant or coffee shop is too noisy because of loud music, ask them to lower it.  If they don’t, leave and tell them why you won’t be coming back.  Push back starts with your wallet.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

Computers in your ears?

Doppler’s Futuristic Earbuds Sound Great. They Also Speak Spanish.  Brian Flaherty, writing for Wired, reviews the newest iteration of the HERE earbuds, HERE One, and pronounces it “one of the wildest gadget experiences I’ve ever had.”  In a good way.  He also is given a glimpse of what is to come, like the ability to have the English translation of a foreign langauge in your ear in real time.  Click the link for more.

Well, it can’t hurt:

New Bill Seeks to Make it Easier to Catch Developers Breaking Noise Rules.  DNAinfo reports that “[a] new City Council bill is putting pressure on developers behind noisy construction sites by making information about their mitigation plans more accessible to neighbors.”  Long and short, the new bill “would require the Department of Environmental Protection to post noise mitigation plans for construction sites on its website, and would require developers to post the plans on construction fences in clear view.”  Ok, that could help, but we couldn’t help noticing that the bill text doesn’t include penalties for violation (although that must surely be provided elsewhere).

Construction in the city is endless.  Every handful of dirt seems to have a construction crew attempting to put highrise on it. Anyone living near one of these sites knows that their quality of life takes a hit.  Recently Community Board 1 in Manhattan held a construction forum to address common complaints.  Click this link to read the responses to these complaints from representatives of the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Buildings.

 

 

Yet another reason restaurants should lower the volume:

Noisy restaurants could be skewering your taste buds, experts say. Liz Biro, The Indianapolis Star, examines the modern American restaurants’ love affair with noise and the unintended consequence noisier restaurants have on our taste buds.  Biro cites Oxford University experimental psychology professor Charles Spence, author of Noise and Its Impact on the Perception of Food and Drink, who wrote that, “[a] growing body of laboratory-based research now demonstrates that loud background noise can affect the ability to taste food.”  Loud music also “hinders our ability to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail,” writes Biro, adding that it causes us to chew faster and drink more, two factors that no doubt are somewhat responsible for the increased noise levels in restaurants.

Biro states that “[c]omplaints about noisy restaurants started rising about a decade ago” when tablecloths, carpeting, and softer music gave way to blaring music and the hard, reflective surfaces favored by restauranteurs seeking an “urban industrial” vibe. She adds that New York City’s Babbo, owned by Mario Batali, set the pace, as the pasta “is served to a hard rock soundtrack like the one chefs prefer in the kitchen.”  While faster chewing turns tables over more quickly, and increased drinking adds to the bottom line, there is another reason restaurants are loud.  Namely, a loud, boisterous spot is seen “lively” and “high energy,” and restauranteurs believe that loud volume  attracts millennials.

But restauranteurs recognize that some places have gotten too loud and they can’t ignore that noise was the number one complaint in the 2014 Zagat’s Dining Trends Survey.  Biro states that restaurants in Indianapolis are listening and taking some measures to reign in noise, but adds that one restaurateur, referring to his two “concepts,” notes that they are “intentionally more lively and a little louder than a normal place would be, although we generally try to make sure it’s not so loud that it interferes with spirited conversation.”

Long and short, until a successful restauranteur in New York City or some other trendsetting place addresses noise in a serious way, restauranteurs nationwide will continue to follow this disturbing trend.  While we wait for reason and taste to prevail, residents and visitors to New York City can go to our sister site, Quiet City Maps, to find restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other public spaces where you can enjoy a nosh or a drink and have a conversation without screaming.

Thanks to @QuietEdinburgh for the link.

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.

Cheaper and better hearing aids are coming:

Why isn’t there a Warby Parker for hearing aids?  Sean Captain, writing for Fast Company, looks at the current market for hearing aids, a market that is dominated by six companies charging anywhere from $4,500 and upward a pair–out of reach for most people who need them–and the new players who are shaking up this industry.  First, Captain introduces us to “Audra Renyi, a 34-year-old former investment banker who’s been a hearing care advocate since 2007, [who] is launching a company called Hearing Access World that aims to cut the price of hearing aids by 75%.”   He writes:

Renyi knows her market well as executive director of World Wide Hearing. The Montreal-based nonprofit provides testing and low-cost hearing aids in poor countries like Guatemala and Vietnam. She hopes to bring prices down globally by playing directly in the market with her new social venture.

Interestingly, there are other players interested in this market who aren’t from the nonprofit world, namely tech startups. These startups are avoiding the cost, in both time and legal fees, they would have to bear navigating the Food and Drug Administration for approval of a new hearing device by selling their products as consumer electronic components.  Captain reports that:

While hearing aid sales are minuscule, consumer electronics companies are selling hundreds of millions of audio devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, that do many of the same things. Mass-market CE components are going into devices called personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which have become unofficial budget hearing aids.

Captain looks at one startup offering a PSAP, Doppler Labs.  Doppler Labs started out with a Kickstarter campaign for their product Here Active Listening, a $249 set of AI-driven wireless earbuds.  The earbuds “recognize and filter ambient sounds, such as bringing down background noise in a subway or boosting voices during a conversation, [and a] smartphone app lets users pick filters and effects (like simulating the ambience of a concert hall), adjust volume, and tweak a five-band equalizer.”  Doppler Labs is coming out with a new product, HERE One, which is shipping in time for the 2016 holiday season.

Captain reviewed the then current model of HERE One and had some reservations, but he didn’t have the opportunity to review the latest iteration and the Doppler spokeswoman offered that he may have needed different sized tips to better fit his ear canals.  Long and short, PSAPs are in their infancy, but the future looks promising for them and us.  As Captain states:

As consumer electronics companies nudge into the hearing-aid space with PSAPs, and as hearing-aid companies nudge into the CE space, a new wearable tech category may be emerging. Called “hearables” by their boosters, the gadgets could encompass a range of over-the-counter, in-ear devices that allow people to hear better—either by making up for diagnosed hearing deficiency or tweaking how live music and voices sound.

In the end, people with hearing loss who have been denied access to hearing aids due to their prohibitive cost should very soon be able to purchase reasonably priced PSAPs that will give them some relief.  While it would be better, of course, for everyone with hearing loss to be properly fitted with hearing aids that are adjusted by audiologists, this cheaper alternative addresses a critical need now.  For those who feel isolated by hearing loss, PSAPs will be a godsend.

Click this link for the full article to read about the full range of products and services that are or will be available shortly.

Organization calls for elimination of canned music:

Lisa Packer, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, writes about Pipedown, an organization started almost 25 years ago in the UK by Nigel Rodgers who committed himself to stopping the ubiquitous assault of canned music in every public space.  We wrote about Pipedown UK’s victory this summer when Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest chain store, agreed to stop playing muzak in their stores.  Parker interviewed Rodgers about the evils of canned music, which Rodgers says is “mood-conditioning by business, trying to manipulate us into buying or doing what it wants.”  He added that the constant over-stimulation “leaves us afraid of silence.”

Parker examines why businesses bombard us with music (short answer: to make money faster, of course), and cites noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who notes the misuse of the 85 dB occupational standard as a standard for the general public and the lack of federal safe noise standards for public places.  Despite the effective noise regulation in the U.S., the article ends on a good note.  Parker looks at Pipedown’s continued efforts fight noise, writing:

With more than 1500 members in the UK and sister groups in Germany, Austria, New Zealand and the U.S., Pipedown is now taking its efforts to persuade retailers and other establishments to eliminate canned music to a world stage.

The going may be slow, but each victory brings us closer to a quieter world.