Against Noise

What all the racket is about

Eric Weiner

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Photo: Chairul Fajar / Unsplash.

When it comes to noise, there are two types of people. The first type views noise as a minor annoyance, like a lone mosquito on a summer day or a misplaced glove on a cold one. The second type considers noise an abomination, an affront to all that is good and just in the world.

I belong to the second type. I despise noise.

This includes, but is not limited to, jackhammers, cement mixers, muscle cars, train whistles, truck horns, crying babies, barking dogs, meowing cats, mooing cows, squeaky wheels, chirping phones, shuffling feet, shouts, whispers, and whisper-shouts. Do not get me started on leaf blowers.

Noise sends me over the edge though, truth be told, it doesn’t have far to travel. My train of thought is rickety, easily derailed. Even the sound of a ticking clock can upend my concentration. My wife’s hair dryer, an evil little fucker called the Bio Ionic Power Light, has been known to sabotage an entire day.

If you happen to belong to the first group, the noise-as a-minor-annoyance camp, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. What’s a little clatter after all? Noise is merely the physical phenomenon that occurs when sound waves — vibrating air — are detected by a human’s cochlea and relayed via the auditory nerves to their brain.

If only.

Noise pollution degrades our physical and mental health, and with nearly the same ferocity as other types of air pollution (Yes, noise is a type of air pollution.) Don’t take my word for it. Listen to science. According to one study, noise pollution can lead to “anxiety, stress, nervousness, nausea, headache, emotional instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotence, changes in mood, increase in social conflicts, neurosis, hysteria, and psychosis.” Another study found that the roar of planes taking off and landing causes blood pressure to spike, heartbeats to race, and stress hormones to release — even while sound asleep.

Noise affects learning, reading, problem solving, and social and emotional development. Noise levels above a certain level— 80 decibels — are linked with an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in altruistic acts. Noise pollution impairs task performance at school and at work. It decreases…

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Eric Weiner

Philosophical Traveler. Recovering Malcontent. Author of four books, including my latest: “The Socrates Express.”