Everyday Noise: The Ignored Pollution?

by Kentin Waits on 17 February 2012 2 comments
Photo: NickiDugan

On your list of simple-living priorities, reducing noise pollution probably doesn’t make the top ten — or even fifteen. I completely understand. Still, I contend that noise is one of those "slow-creep" pollutants — something that folds and blends into our world so gradually that it goes nearly unnoticed until one day we wake up and realize we’re living inside a kazoo that’s being played by a sadistic clown. Likewise, I believe noise affects the quality of our daily lives. It can be distressing whether we realize it or not. It breaks our concentration, interrupts our meals, keeps us up too late, and wakes us too early. (See also: Shhhhh: How to Block Out Noise)

Our electronic world is filled with noise, and cell phones are one of the biggest offenders. There’s a tone when we have a call, a tone when we’ve missed a call, a tone when we’ve been left a new voicemail, a tone when we have an old voicemail to retrieve, a tone when we have a text, a tone when we’ve sent a text, a tone when we hit each key while typing a text, a tone for each number we hit while dialing, a tone when we turn on the phone, and finally — a tone when we turn the darned thing off. I realize that most of these audible indicators can be silenced, but who really does that? Go to any restaurant on a Friday night around 6:30, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

My new microwave has an alarm that lets me know my when my food is done and another alarm reminds me to retrieve it. The latter distress signal is sounded every 30 seconds until the microwave door is opened. Left unattended, it would continue its “bleep-bleep-bleep” infinitely in a maddening pattern. It forces this question — what’s the purpose of this audible reminder every 30 seconds? The power is off; there is no imminent danger of fire or overcooking. Does the manufacturer think that, left to my own incompetence, I will permanently forget that I’ve cooked something? Are they trying to help me avoid a nasty surprise six months down the road when I open the microwave only to discover a moldy disc of something that used to be Fettuccine Alfredo?

Perhaps the best example of this new breed of domestic noise pollution is the leaf blower. Oh, how lovely it is to herald in the autumn with the sound of these gas-powered creatures tending to our lawns. The quiet activity called “raking” has been replaced by gas fumes, brute horsepower, and the concomitant din that’s usually associated with high-risk military maneuvers.

Isn’t it time to simplify the noise in our lives — whether that noise is figurative or literal? Isn’t it time to seek out and demand new products that don’t encroach upon those rarer and rarer silent moments? If we’re auditing and editing the things in our lives that we’ve outgrown, that no longer work, that take up space, and that don’t serve a purpose, maybe it’s time for an assessment of our audible world too. Let’s turn down the volume, silence unnecessary alerts, and reserve alarms for what’s truly alarm-worthy. Maybe in a world filled with noise, it’s time rake a few leaves or, better yet, enjoy the quiet rustle of just taking a stroll through them.

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Mary Ann

You've hit the nail on the head for me. I hate my microwave - why does it beep every time I hit a number? I've returned to a kettle to heat water to get away from this noise. Leaf blowers? Don't get me started. I refuse to use one of those because of the noise. It may take me longer and I don't get every single leaf, but so what? And I absolutely cannot stand Wal-Mart because I can't handle the constant, loud beeping of their register scanners. Please, just give me some quiet.

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Guest

The real problem is, there are just too damn many of us.