Giving the World the “Silence Treatment”
The Dangers of Noise Pollution & Simple Steps to Reduce it.
I live in the country, but frequently visit my friends in the city. By city, I mean heavily populated urban areas saturated with transportation conveniences such as trains, buses, taxis, and airports. These areas are also home to high concentrations of manufacturing and distribution businesses, commercial construction activities, and the sounds of millions of people going about their daily lives. The constant noises of smart phones fill the air. Ring tones, message alerts, and public conversations with unnamed strangers occurring everywhere. Blaring music and advertisements create a cacophony of discordant racket. The squeal of brakes, the blaring of horns and the screaming of sirens are omnipresent.
Many of my friends say they love the sounds of the city. To them, these sounds become comforting white noise, a soundtrack to their lives, and a reminder that they are connected to other people. But noise is not just defined as a measurement of sound. Noise can also be defined as an unwelcome distraction that disturbs our focus and demands our attention. There’s even a term for the fear of silence, sedatephobia. Sedatephobia can be defined as an irrational fear of silence.
Has modern technology conditioned us to become dependent upon noise? By taking advantage of our innate need for connection, social media and countless apps on our smart phones compete for our ever shrinking attention spans. We are constantly reminded that we have a new alert, update, offer, or ‘like’. Technology has given rise to alarms on our coffee makers, washers and dryers, and even our dishwashers. Our vehicles now honk when we lock them, use and receive voice commands, and beep to remind us to wear our seatbelts. Even our children are not immune to noise. It seems that children are unable to ride in a car or sit in a restaurant without staring into a noise emitting device.
“Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation...tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.” ― Jean Arp, German-French artist and poet
Recently, I observed a couple while out to eat. They sat across from each other for forty five minutes with only their phones between them. If they spoke, I didn’t witness it. Occasionally they would smile and interact by showing their phone to each other. This modern addiction to technology fully absorbs us and it’s easy to understand why. Instant gratification, validation, and connectivity are powerful tools of reassurance. As wonderful and distracting as our smart phones can be, they further complicate the issue of noise pollution. They become a microcosm of noise and distraction within themselves. While we are buried in our smart phone apps, we sometimes forget there is a physical world around us. How often have you seen a group of friends out socially and most, if not all, are ignoring each other entirely. Their communication becomes an occasional glance upwards accompanied by an acknowledging laugh. As if to say, I’m still here and I haven’t forgotten about you.
Meanwhile, back in the physical world, urban areas are still the hub of all things loud and noisy. Decades of industrialization, cheap building materials, and poor urban planning have only exacerbated the issue of noise pollution. So what is noise and how is it measured? The intensity of noise or sound is measured in decibels. (DB) On the low end, light breathing or the sound of rustling leaves measures in around 10 DB’s, while a normal conversation between two people averages around 60 DB’s. On the high end, a loud concert, a jet engine, and even some manufacturing operations can reach up to 125 DB’s. If humans are exposed to prolonged noise measured at 85 decibels or higher, permanent hearing damage is all but guaranteed. In major urban areas, the average noise intensity is measured between 70-85 decibels. Spikes of up to 125 decibels are common place near busy intersections, construction zones, and public transportation hubs.
Published studies show that noise pollution has a serious impact on our lives as well as the lives of animals. Not limited to physical hearing loss, noise pollution where schools are present disturb children’s ability to comprehend information and compromises cognitive development related to speech and reading. Adults working and living in high noise environments are more prone to on the job accidents and have higher rates of anxiety, hypertension, and stress. There are significant impacts on wildlife as well. Noise pollution changes the balance of the natural eco system by disrupting mating cycles. Noise Pollution severely hinders reproduction for species which rely on communication to locate a mate. Noise also limits the ability of insects and mammals to avoid predators, effectively creating an imbalance that had not existed previously. Studies have shown that noise can have negative modify the behavior in both wild and domestic animals. Marine animals are also at risk. The use of sonar by commercial and military enterprises disturbs whale migration and feeding routes.
With all the noise in our lives, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find places we can go that offer us a break. Author and acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton lives in Washington State and spends his time studying and recording our vanishing natural soundscapes. Hempton states that silence is an endangered species. Hempton says, “There are no places left on earth that are free of human created noise 100 percent of the time. What we now use as a measure of quiet is the noise-free interval: How long is it quiet without an intrusion?” Through his travels, he believes there are less than a dozen such places in the entire United States, and none in Europe. Studies show that even in America’s national parks, the daytime noise-free interval is less than five minutes.
While living in major urban areas offers some real conveniences, it’s seems that our city brothers and sisters will just have to work a little harder to find some much needed peace and quiet.
Let’s look at some simple steps to reduce noise pollution
Your Smart Phone
· Turn off unnecessary notifications. Don’t willingly invite apps to disrupt you with shopping ads, coupons, useless alerts, or offers for products you don’t need. Companies pay billions of dollars on advertising annually in an effort to reach you, why make it even easier for them?
· Change the send and receive frequency on your e-mail accounts by turning off the auto update option in your e-mail settings. So much of the email we receive is junk, why waste your valuable time checking your e-mail each time you hear a ding? It’s distracting and a major time waster. By switching to manual e-mail loading, you decide the frequency you receive e-mails.
· Consider changing your e-mail address entirely. If you’re overwhelmed with junk or spam e-mail, you may not have a choice. It’s becoming nearly impossible to unsubscribe from mass communications. Notify the important people of the change and be cautious of publishing your e-mail address for public consumption.
· Be careful what you sign up for. If you have an upcoming trip to Denver planned, signing up to receive low fare alerts will never end. Even long after your trip to Denver is over.
· Keep your phone on vibrate. Out of respect for others, it’s not necessary to have your phone making noise in public. I keep my phone on vibrate nearly all time and it’s never inconvenienced me or inhibited my effectiveness.
· Move your television and audio players a few inches from the wall to prevent disrupting your sleeping baby in the next room or your neighbors. They will appreciate it and may reciprocate in kind.
· Activate your television’s auto volume reduction setting. Although regulated by the FCC, this option is available on most televisions and can reduce the jarring volume changes between the program you’re watching and those annoying advertisements.
· Establish a volume level limit for televisions at home. Most televisions have volume numbers. Establish an agreeable number for the whole family and ensure all adhere to the rule.
· Change the movie genre. Instead of you children watching the next Transformers sequel, suggest they watch a less noisy movie from time to time. Especially very early or very late.
· Consider only letting small children watch streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. With these services, they will not be subjected to loud and crass advertising. It’s easier for parents too as children aren’t begging for unhealthy foods and the latest toys.
· Establish electronic free dinners and a television free night during the week. Eating at the family dining table provides meaningful connection and togetherness for everyone.
· Move your washer and dryer a few inches away from the wall to lessen the sound as it bounces off surrounding hard surfaces. Placing these appliances on a rubber mat and ensuring the feet are level also reduces floor vibrations.
· Consider purchasing high efficiency appliances when possible. Using less gas, electricity, and water reduces run times and overall noise.
· Set your appliances on delay so they run while you are sleeping instead of during dinner, study, or family time.
· Turn off alarms on all non-essential electronics. Do you really need to know the exact moment when your dishes are done?
· If you have hardwood floors, use felt on the feet of your furniture. It reduces noise and may prevent scuff marks on your floor as well.
· Add area rugs. Area rugs are very effective at absorbing sound, especially if you have neighbors below you.
· Decorate with wall or ceiling tiles, cork board, and fabric can be very effective at reducing noise, as can canvas artwork and bookshelves. Be creative! A room should contain at least 25% soft and absorbing materials.
· Make sure gaps around windows and doors are sealed with weather stripping, caulk, or expanding foam.
· Consider replacing hollow doors throughout your home if possible. Start with the laundry room and bathroom.
· Noise absorbing drapes or curtains are essential. Also consider tapestries and a bed canopy.
· Establish a no shoes rule. This not only reduces noise, but also reduces bacteria from entering your home.
· If your bedroom shares a wall with a laundry, kitchen, or entertainment room, place your bed away from the shared wall.
· Be considerate of your neighbors. Always vacuum, move furniture, and hang pictures during the daytime. This includes any loud hobbies you may have.
· If you have trouble sleeping, consider an ambient noise machine or sound reducing headphones.
· If you have a loud or unruly pet, respect your neighbors and keep them indoors. Consider obedience training for barking dogs.
· If you’re in the market for a new weed eater, leaf blower, or lawn mower, consider buying electric or rechargeable. These tools are much quieter and your neighbors will thank you.
· Use noise reducing headphones to block out distraction. Listening to relaxing music or nature sounds will keep your stress levels down.
· Request to sit away from copy machines, doors, and high traffic areas such as the breakrooms, mailrooms or meeting spaces.
· Use the do not disturb functions on your telephone and e-mail when you have a tight deadline or just need extra focus time.
· Take a walk at during break times at a nearby park or walking path. Wear your headphones, but be careful if crossing the street.
· Work with your human resources team to establish yoga or mindfulness meditation classes.
· Make one way of your commute noise free. If your children ride with you in only one direction, that would be the ideal time for noise free conversation.
· Consider taking yoga or mindfulness meditation classes. These are valuable techniques to reduce stress and calm the mind.
· Disable your horn feature when locking your vehicle. Using your key fob isn’t always necessary either. You may even appreciate the additional battery life.
· Do your shopping very early or very late. The shelves are usually better stocked and there are fewer lines and commotion.
· Get out of the city. Take a break from the noise occasionally by planning getaways. Visit a state or national park. Plan a camping trip, go hiking, or rent kayaks. Your family will love it and you’ll create memories. Just remember to ditch the electronic devices.
· If you are moving to a new residence, familiarize yourself with the area. Is the neighborhood near an airport or a busy road? How about the noise of a nearby shopping center or fire station? While being near a school is convenient, mornings and afternoons can be very disruptive.
· Consider neighborhoods with homeowner associations. The regulations usually prevent people from owning a dozen barking dogs, hosting wild parties, or working on hot rods in their garage.
· Take it to the next level and talk to city officials to establish quiet zones or curfews. Speak to officials about changing speed limits or posting signs limiting traffic or brake noise. Push to have noise reduction barriers built along busy roads.
· Familiarize yourself with local noise ordinances. Be prepared to speak to your landlord or neighbors and, if necessary, contact your local law enforcement.
· E-mail this article to your homeowners association, your landlord, or human resources team! You never know how this might help reduce the noise in all of our lives.
I’m sure there are many more creative ways to reduce noise. I’d love to hear from you.
E-mail me at: CoachDale4Life@gmail.com
Written by Dale Milligan, Certified Life Coach Practitioner
Renaissance Life and Wellness Coaching
January 26th 2016