All This Noise

When was the last time you didn’t hear anything? I don’t mean in the middle of the day when there is nobody in the office. I mean hearing absolutely nothing and taking the time to appreciate the sound of nothing.

Companies try to engineer the right noise when you use their product, when you close a car door for example, it makes a sound that sounds like the door actually closed and isn’t too loud or quiet. If you use a vacuum cleaner you may notice some of them are very noisy and some are quiet. This is all done on purpose. If you hear a vacuum cleaner sucking up the dirt then you know it’s doing it’s work.

With all this noise how loud is too loud? The three deciding factors are, sound level, how long and the distance from the sound. Experts say anything under 70 decibels is safe for any length of time. Most people would say something along the lines of “Well that doesn’t really help me since I don’t constantly measure the sound level around me. How about something practical?” A lawnmower is around 90 decibels, a car horn is around 110 decibels, and a gunshot is about 140 decibels.

Now that you know that you may be wondering how long is too long? For around 90 decibels you shouldn’t be unexposed for more than 2 hours. For 110 decibels no more than 2 minutes. And for 140 decibels (a gunshot), you shouldn’t have any unexposed hearing. Basically the safe listening time is cut in half for every 3-dB rise in noise levels over 70 dB.

What about distance you may think, sound decreases by 6 decibels every time you double your distance away.

We are all used to noise, but what happen when we experience silence? Some people love the sound of it, and some hate it, and sometimes it can be used in a powerful way. For example, Fred Rogers (or more commonly known as Mr.Rogers) accepted the lifetime achievement award at the 24th Emmy awards. During his acceptance speech he asked the crowd to take a short period of time to think about each person who is proud about where they have gotten to. During that time the camera shows off the audience and you couldn’t see a dry eye.

Most award shows like that there is constant noise, I’m sure many people who were in attendance appreciated the quiet.

You may have noticed that some people can work in a noisy environment but some need a quiet place. Some people can tune out all the background noise in a noisy environment, but they can’t tune out intermittent speech where they will only hear a few words here and there. In some noisy environment’s you may notice people wearing headphones so they can tune out everything, some studies say background music can have a good impact (hard paywall). One study also says that the effect of background noise is different on introverts and extroverts (hard paywall). While you may be able to filter out all the background noise the person right beside you may not be able to, so please take your own noise into consideration at all times.

Now often do we have silence in our lives? It’s not as often as you may think. In your normal day you may only experience silence when you get up and go to bed. Sometimes there may be moments on silence on special occasions like Remembrance Day. If you want to get more silence then you have to carve time out of your day to purposefully be quiet.

I encourage you to take more time in life to just hear the sound of nothing.

Other related articles to read:
That Racket? It’s the Sound of Suburbia
Why Everything Is Getting Louder
How to reduce noise in any room
Restaurant Noise: Levels and Temporal Characteristics – hard paywall
Noise Problems in Restaurants – hard paywall
Is There a Happy Medium for Restaurant Noise?
Making noise in favour of silence
How Restaurants Got So Loud
Why restaurants became so loud — and how to fight back
How the sound in your home affects your mood

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