This Telegraph article is less about quiet at Christmas and more about quiet as a cultural phenomenon. Reporter Louisa Pritchard writes that we are “in the throes of a quiet revolution that could impact every area of our lives: a move towards (whisper it) cultivating the sound of silence.” We believe she’s right and that 2016 marks the beginning of a movement in which quiet is seen as something that is valuable. Here’s to a quieter world.
On October 1, 2016, members of nine scientific, medical, and legal organizations launched a national umbrella anti-noise group, The Quiet Coalition (TQC), hosted by the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, to advocate for a quieter world. TQC brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals, each with a unique focus or interest, in the fight against noise. It brings medical, scientific, legal, and other specialized knowledge to the public policy process to advocate for all Americans to make our world quieter, more sustainable, and livable. On December 7th, TQC’s website went live.
TQC recognizes that noise is like secondhand smoke, in that it is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Both environmental noise and secondhand smoke involuntarily expose large segments of the public to harmful conditions, increasing their risk of disease. And decades of research show conclusively that excessive environmental noise adversely affects health, learning, productivity, and the environment.
Why have decision makers been so slow to regulate noise? According to a newly published editorial in the American Journal of Public Health by Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of the TQC, the answer lies in public policy. “Although noise was known to be a health hazard, it was treated as an environmental pollutant…with federal noise control activities assigned to the EPA.” These noise control activities were never adequately funded or supported, and federal and local health agencies were left with no meaningful responsibility. As a result, the issue has remained under the radar. TQC intends to change this now.
“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: noise causes hearing loss and other health problems. We have a responsibility to speak up just as experts did when the dangers of smoking became known,” says Fink. Fink adds that “through recent discoveries, the mechanisms by which noise damages auditory cells, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system are becoming clear.” TQC Program Director Jamie Banks, PhD, notes that “[p]ublic health policy to protect the nation’s health from environmental noise is long overdue,” and declares that, “[TQC] will provide decision makers with the scientific evidence needed to make informed policy decisions.”
Action on Hearing Loss launched Speak Easy, its campaign that asked restaurants, cafes, and pubs “to take noise off the menu,” this past summer. Last week, the organization announced that its free Speak Easy Campaign Pack is available to the public. The pack includes:
Discreet, supportive materials to hand over to staff or leave with your bill.
Ideas for sending effective feedback.
A thumb prop for expressing your views on social media.
Action on Hearing Loss understands that “[r]epeat customers are the lifeblood of restaurants, cafes and pubs,” and that millions of people would like to enjoy a meal or drink out at a quieter venue. Rather than waiting for places to discover this underserved market, they are giving Brits the tools they need to demand quieter options.
Although there isn’t a similar campaign in the U.S.–yet–readers who live or work in New York City can find quieter venues by visiting our sister site, Quiet City Maps, which reviews and rates the noise level and comfortability of New York City restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and more. Whether you’re at your desk planning a night out with friends, or on your smart phone looking for a nearby quiet place, Quiet City Maps can help you quickly find the perfect place to eat, drink, and have a conversation!
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.
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.
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.
New research shows young adults at risk for hearing loss. ABC7NY reports on New York City Health Department data showing that “40% of adults ages 18 to 44 visited loud venues at least a few times per month, [and] 41% of teens who listen to a personal music players with headphones 10 or more hours a week said they listen at maximum volume.” Both activities, the Department cautions, puts people at risk for hearing loss. Says Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, “[l]istening to your headphones at high volume or attending loud concerts, restaurants and bars regularly can take a toll on a person’s health and hearing,” and she cautions that technology, in particular, makes it too easy to be exposed to potentially damaging sound. The Department advises parents to talk to their teenage children about avoiding hearing loss down the road, and suggests sensible measures for limiting exposure to punishing sound.
is noise. Real estate firm Trulia surveyed users about “neighbor pet peeves” and found that noise was the number one pet peeve, and that millennials were more likely to complain about noise than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. In fact, the survey showed that 83% of millennials identified noise as their biggest pet peeve, while only 71% of Gen Xers and 54% of Baby Boomers did. So much for the belief that noise is something that only older people complain about. it would be interesting to survey millennials about noise in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, since restauranteurs apparently believe that loud restaurants are bustling, convivial, and perceived as “lively and successful,” rather than uncomfortable, challenging, and painful.
The Guardian’s Rachel Cooke asks, “Who wants a din with their dinner?” The answer, of course, is no one. But we don’t always get what we want. That could change, though. Cooke reports that UK charity Action on Hearing Loss is stepping up to the plate to take on restaurant noise head on. Namely, the organization is in the process of “funding the development of a mobile phone app that will enable customers to record decibel levels when they go out to eat.” Cooke says that “[t]he idea is that, duly named and shamed, the noisiest offenders will perhaps be minded to do something about the pain they seem so determined to inflict on diners and, far worse, their own long-suffering staff.”
Cooke likes the idea, but she doesn’t think it will work. She notes that “a certain tabloid newspaper” sent reporters armed with decibel recorders to various well-known restaurants and recorded punishingly high decibel readings–two restaurants clocking in at over 105 decibels–but the restaurants are still loud after the tabloid’s exposé.
So is there anything that can be done? Yes there is. Cooke writes:
A tolerance for extreme noise is, alas, just another aspect of what we might call the booming 21st-century restaurant industry’s near sadistic approach to customers: the same treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen attitude that brought us restaurants which refuse to take bookings, and maitre d’s who would rather stare at an iPad than meet your eye. * * * All this is beyond infuriating, of course – except we’ve only ourselves to blame. The customer, in these scenarios, might well seem to be a craven, masochistic figure, contemptible in his desperate willingness to be humiliated and kept in line all for the sake of a few small plates and a bottle of slightly filthy organic wine. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still king. If only more of us walked, fingers in ears, things would change faster than you can shout “uproar”.
She’s right. Until more of us refuse to eat in loud restaurants by walking out after telling management why we are leaving, things won’t change. But until they do New Yorkers can check out our sister site, Quiet City Maps for reviews on restaurants, bars, and coffee shops in the city based on noise level. With Quiet City Maps you won’t have to deal with punishing noise over a plate of pasta, cafe au lait, or cocktail again!
So what is the number one complaint? You guessed it–noise. What will the response be from restauranteurs? If the past is any indication, nothing. Until people refuse to eat at restaurants that serve a side of tinnitus with their meal, nothing will happen. We at Silencity believe in voting with your wallet. If enough people ask that music be lowered or complain to the manager about noise, eventually something will be done. So be sure to tell the owner or manager why you won’t be returning to their restaurant or why you’ll pass on a table. And while we wait for restauranteurs to react, go to our sister site, Quiet City Maps, and let them help you find a relatively quiet restaurant, bar, or coffee shop in noisy New York City.