The noise issue has become big time lately. With Congress passing a law demanding that advertisers turn down the volume on commercials--the legislation actually says it can be no louder than the shows--and people writing books about how noise affects us in our everyday lives, we're being bombarded with noise about noise. So what's all the fuss about?
I've lived in a big city my whole life, and I can tell you that there is nothing more soothing than the sound of 24-hour-a-day traffic outside my window, along with the serenade of construction, sirens, screaming, and the sweet, sweet sounds of people pushing and shoving their way through life. Well, OK, maybe it IS a wee bit annoying at times. Like at 3 a.m. when the freak across the way decides to blare a boombox out his fourth-story window. Yes, I like the Doobie Brothers, too, but really.
Researchers say that the three most annoying noises to the human organism are, in order of ascending annoyance: a jackhammer (that good ol' standby, which annoys through the constant, repetitive, teeth-sawing jarringness of its ignition); the sound of traffic and airplanes overhead, otherwise known as "random background urban noise" (and its ability to engulf us 24/7); and a baby crying. Number One should be no surprise to any mother who has an ounce of built-in instinct, the kind that makes you trip and break your nose in the dark in the middle of the night when the little darling decides it's just got to have them nice warm ta-ta's.
But noise is also discriminatory. According to Garret Keizer in his excellent little book The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise, the people most likely to experience stress-inducing, migraine-causing, I-want-to-kill-you levels of noise are children, the elderly, minorities, and the poor. Children get it at school, where according to Keizer the World Health Organization says "they get more noise...than workers from an 8-hour work day at a factory." Schools are pretty noisy, believe me, I used to live next door to an elementary school. Earsplitting little sweet peas tend to scream everything at each other. Here's an average playground discussion as overheard through my closed first-floor window:
"DO YOU WANT MY LUNCH?"
"DOES IT GOT CHEESE?"
"OK, BUT YOU GOT TO TAKE MY SOUP, IT'S GOT CARROTS IN IT!"
In all fairness, though, they were trying to compete with the jackhammer at the construction site across the street.
As for the other groups, Keizer says that the elderly are hardwired to be more sensitive to loud sounds because "their ability to distinguish spoken speech from background noise is generally less than that of younger contemporaries." Personally I think that the popularity amongst younger people of things like iPods, with their surgically invasive "earbuds," will take care of this particular inequality.
The last group is poor folks, especially those who live in working class minority neighborhoods. Keizer says that "blacks in the United States are twice as likely, and Hispanics 1.5 times as likely, as whites to live in homes with noise problems." That's because they're more likely to live in places that are close to major sources of loudness: airports, freeways, 7-Elevens after bar time. I made that last one up--but not really.
But we all have to put up with a lot of racket these days. And I'll tell you that my own NUMBER ONE ANNOYING SOUND is that awful beeping that a big vehicle makes when it's backing up. What is the point of this? What, does somebody not see the truck, forklift, crane, bulldozer weighing approximately the same as a house heading towards them? Are we a nation of blind people? Or perhaps we can't be trusted to yell at the blind guy on the crew: "Hey, look out, buddy, you're about to become part of the street!"
Well, enough already with the backy-uppy noise, and all the rest of it. I've had it. It pierces the soul. What we need is a little more goddamn quiet around here. DO YOU HEAR ME? A LITTLE MORE GODDAMN QUIET I SAY!
And tell that baby to shut up, too.
Don't believe me when I say that New York City is the undisputed king of noise? Just watch below. Not for too long, though, or you'll need an Advil. I always need an Advil...