Thoughts on Noise Pollution

Perhaps it is because I am a composer and have sensitive ears, or maybe it is because I live in noise-filled Manhattan, but I think there is way too much noise pollution. There is probably not a spot in the entire world—except maybe a tiny island in the Pacific—where you can go and have true peace and quiet, or at the very least get away from man-made sounds. Vehicles are the main culprits. Hundreds of years ago, there were no cars, planes, trains or ships. You could be virtually anywhere in the world and find a spot away from the din of humanity, a place where you could feel truly alone and forget that there are millions of people just like you walking the earth. Even when you think you are really in the middle of nowhere, off in the distance, you will probably hear the low hum of cars speeding down a highway, an airplane overheard or the lonely sound of a train whistle.

Of course, there is a difference between really loud sounds that damage our hearing and the soft sounds that are just slightly annoying. It is fascinating that we have become so accustomed to man-made noise pollution that we almost forget that it is there, or shockingly, are even comforted by it. As I write this, I hear traffic in the background, the hum of our refrigerator, the whirring sound of the fan in this laptop, the ticking of a clock and a train way off in the distance. I have become used to these sounds, and they are fairly soft depending on proximity, but there are others that are so ear shatteringly loud that they can damage our hearing or at the very least, cause us to have psychological problems. Jackhammers, those insanity provoking Mr. Softee songs, and those extremely irritating car alarms top my personal list, but there are many other sounds that just drive me nuts.

Shockingly, some people are so used to background sound that even when presented with a golden opportunity to cut noise levels, they are not interested. Auto companies that make electric cars have recently begun installing devices on cars that actually add artificial noise to offset the relative quietness of the cars. I guess one argument against silent cars is that the blind will have a difficult time hearing them when they cross the street, but surely we can figure out a solution. Maybe electric cars can have an internal "noise" device and those who are blind can also carry a device so that when they go out, their device will make a sound that let's them know that a car is approaching or in the area. Or, maybe electric cars can be programmed to make sound in cities and towns with crosswalks, but not on highways. Nevertheless, I am sure we will eventually get used to quiet cars and wonder how we lived without them. But for now, noise is still a huge problem.

Can anything be done about this?

I think we all have to make it a priority to put an end to noise pollution. There are so many ways we can cut down or even eliminate man-made noise, and as usual, it starts with putting communities' interest above that of corporations and making governments around the world really listen (no pun intended). Our health should matter much more than Mr. Softee’s bottom line. I should not have to hear a car alarm in a sleepy town in the Midwest. In fact, car alarms should be banned. It has been proven that they have little effect on crime anyway. As for more innocuous forms of noise pollution like clocks and refrigerators, all modern inventions should be cleverly designed so that noise levels are as low as possible, or even non-existent.

Maybe it is because we live in such a visual society, or perhaps it is because we have just become so used to it, but noise is everywhere. I would sure love to live in a world where I could have an afternoon of true peace and quiet.