When it comes to how things look, feel, taste or smell we can be very fussy. So why is it that we tolerate so much horrible sound in our midst? It seems like these noises are not even there based on how people blithely ignore them. Now that I am paying attention to noise I can’t believe how awful most retail and dining spaces sound let alone the general noise right outside my apartment here in the West End of Vancouver.
Part of the reason is that we are highly adept at filtering out noise we are not paying attention to. Our brains are able to filter out irrelevant sounds so we can focus on the person or thing to whom we are listening. We would go bonkers if every sound we could hear had the same import at the same time. According to Julian Treasure, we learned to do this long ago when we had to filter the sound of wind, water and birds.
But now, we are having to filter so much more noise and we are paying with increased stress, decreased well-being, and even direct physical damage to our ears. Studies in the European Union have identified that 25% of the population suffers from reduced quality of life and well-being do to traffic, recreation and industrial noises.
Treasure goes on to say an ideal healthy maximum noise level for us is 55 decibels (dB) during the day and 45 dB during the night. Many if not most urban centres are now measuring in at 80 to 90 dB during the day and 65 dB during the evening. And decibel scales are exponential, like the earthquake scale. There’s a big difference between 45 dB and 65 dB. To top it off, 85 dB is the level at which hearing damage begins. Some countries require businesses it to provide hearing protection in such noise environments.
We are walking around in cities being accosted by 90 dB of sound and ignoring it. We are damaging our ears, stressing ourselves and decreasing our well-being.
It’s been like it’s all Inaudible Sound – not anymore!