author, culture, life, music, nature, noise, philosophy, society, Stephanie Beavers, thinking, thoughts, writer
The other day, my boyfriend and I went for a drive. We left town and went up some logging roads. There were still people up there – it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon – but we were more than far enough away that it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
And it was quiet.
Living in a city, you never experience quiet. Not ever. There’s the distant rush of traffic, the hum of electronics, the chatter of people, the omnipresent wall of white noise. But have you noticed that there’s even more noise than ever? It’s like we’re trying to drown out the noise with more noise. Everywhere you go, there’s always music playing or advertisements blaring. Every store and restaurant has its own choice blasting away. When you go the mall and stand in the entrance of store, you can hear both at once: the hall music AND the store music. Day in, day out, we are inundated with noise.
Noise keeps us from thinking.
Think about that. Is it true? Does noise damage our ability to concentrate, focus, and really think? Would people think more if there were less noise? Or is it something else? I read a study that suggested that people hate doing nothing; do people hate thinking too, hate how stillness and silence encourage thought? Or are they altogether separate?
I have a friend who is very bright, but I constantly see this friend make stupid choices. This friend will complain to me about the consequences of those choices, about how the choice was made in the moment, because it “felt” right, but no thought was put into it. This is the same friend who has music blaring constantly, who always has the TV on in the background (sometimes both at the same time), and who must always be talking or doing something. This friend of mine is smart – maybe even brilliant – but it’s like this friend never stops to think. How would this friend’s life differ if just a little more thought entered the equation? Smart people do stupid things all the time, and it’s mostly when they didn’t stop to think first and fully evaluate the consequences of their actions.
Could noise be making people “dumber?”
It’s something to think about. Maybe try it. Get in a car and drive until there’s nothing but trees around. And think. Think about whatever crosses your mind.
So what do you think, readers? Might there be something to this? Or am I just waxing lightly on a meaningless subject? Have you ever felt like our world has become too loud? Share your thoughts!
Kerry Mallon said:
Hi Stephanie! I like that you are putting this type of query out there. I find noise is very distracting, some of it I can tune out, most of it I can’t. As pollution goes it’s high on my list of things to reduce/eliminate, but how? My only answer to that conundrum is to go live in the middle of nowhere, yet that too has it’s undesirable noise. Planes fly overhead, ATVs miraculously show up or Skidoos can be heard across calm water, etc. It’s very hard to escape even road traffic, however distant it seeps through the tree cover. I live near a freeway and cannot enjoy my deck without the incessant whine of tires or semi brakes growling in the night. And whilst birds make mostly a pleasant sound, chipmunks and squirrels do not. When they set to complaining it’s a nuisance for sure. As to making us dumber, certainly the ADD factor of noise is obvious, to me. Bad choices being the result of that distraction I’m not so sure about. It depends on what a person’s definition of choice is. I find my choices on this planet are dwindling almost daily. Currently, I can still choose to live with a roof over my head, to eat relatively well, to take a daily walk or some other exercise. Can I choose the job I would like, um, not so much. Can I ensure a better world for my daughters, nope. And so on, you get the idea. Things that matter are often outside our realm of choice. And so someone doesn’t say utilize the vote, I do, and it doesn’t get me anywhere.
That may be more than you were bargaining for, but you can choose to read and discard :)
Stephanie Beavers said:
Maybe we just need to invent better sound insulation. And we have gotten better with new technologies being quieter than old ones (everything from refrigerators to (some) vehicles), so maybe we will progress further there too. But having spent more time in the “middle of nowhere” lately, I can definitely say it’s quieter. It has its own noises, true, but it’s nothing like the white noise of the city.
I think you’re selling yourself short on choices! It might take an incredible amount of effort, but I think we can get the jobs we want. And maybe not all of us have it in us to truly change the world, but all of us can influence it, and there are so many choices we can make every day that, while maybe not being important to the entire world, are important to us – like who we love, or live with, how healthy we are, where we go and what we do, all choices that will impact the futures we want. If you want to be a rocket scientist but all you do is party and never study, well, those are bad choices. If you want to be healthy but all you eat are donuts and KFC, well… bad choices.
Here’s another one for you: is it only that white noise is distracting, or might it also be that it wears us down until we don’t have the energy to think like we used to?
Mostly I’m just throwing thoughts into the world to see what comes of them. Thank you for spending the time to respond! Regardless of whether we agree, I love discussing things like this.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Kerry Mallon said:
I hear ya on the action/consequences front Stephanie. I also agree that there is an energy reduction factor to external noise that subsequently becomes internal noise. My favorite method for tuning out the ‘world’ is to go for a walk. Preferably somewhere quiet, but always within nature, or as close to nature as I can get. Luckily, I have plenty of trails nearby or within a short car ride’s distance. I notice my kids are less affected by the white noise, or electronic buzz. They love the persistent interruptions their gadgets bring to them. They are 19 and 15. When I was their age, we didn’t even have a telephone! For many years we had no TV, my dad was funny about such things, it wasn’t that we couldn’t afford them, he simply didn’t care for how much time could be wasted glued to the screen or hanging on the phone. As a teenager, I would have liked a phone, but I got more exercise because we didn’t have one. If I wanted to hang with friends, I had to cycle my bike over to their houses to find out if they were even available, but I was ok with this. Not watching TV gave me tons of time for listening to music, which I did incessantly. I may pay for that with poor hearing soon enough, but hey, it got me through all that teenage angst. ;)
As to jobs and choices. I have sold myself short over the last few years. Basically I chose to go back to school full-time right before the economy tanked and have odd-jobbed it since, but I am determined to be much more selective about my next mode of employment. I am only applying for jobs I really want. Last month I applied for what I would consider my dream job, to work for the National Park Service and have not yet received notification of rejection :) So, I do look forward to having a more rewarding/fulfilling role at some point. I was more referring to the shrinking options for people in general, of which I am but one. Whilst there will always be options to some degree, that degree of choice is diminishing in breadth for the average person. My daughters will have to work much harder at acquiring a relevant skill-set in order to obtain a job that not only has good pay, but also offers good prospects for the future. The current economy is not sustainable, we know this, we have seen massive shifts towards certain sectors of the job market that are more service focused and removed from manufacturing, but how do we expect people to pay for these services if they do not earn a living wage?
In response to your question, I think many things in combination wear us down, noise is only one factor, usage of digital devices is definitely another energy sapper. To combat this I walk. I remove myself from the source of the suction and I come back less enervated, but not replete. For that I have to take some serious time away from the day to day.
Someone told me once that ADD/ADHD are not necessarily signs of inattention, but rather a different kind of attention that signifies a shift to a digital expression, fragmented, partial, fleeting, that this new mindset would become commonplace and we would hail it as the new intelligence. Not sure I agree, but it is interesting how many people talk about having a shorter attention span and yet we continue to function regardless. What do you think?
I had to lead a seminar on information/technology [not really noise, but music was an example] overload, which I think I already mentioned to you somewhere in your blog, and I found it interesting that many people plug themselves in to their devices to take them away from the buzz of the outside world… and other people find that plugging themselves in contributes to this overload.
As for me, I need my music to get away from everything around me. Not only do I live in a city, I live about a km away from a railway track, a fire station, an ambulance depot, and under the landing path of airplanes to YVR. You would think that music would just add to this. However, I have become almost dependent on this noise. I find that, yes, it stops me from thinking… but in a good way. I worry less, and focusing on what it is I’m listening to helps me to focus on what’s important. Then again, my music is generally very quiet. People always say to unplug and engage with the world more and I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the escapism I can get.
But I was also reading this book about different types of people. I found out why I painted my room white and bought all white furniture and bed things. Too much colour even is too much for me to take in all the time. I suppose you could say the same with noise. Some people, however, rely on outside stimuli (for example, many people need to be around a lot of other people). I live with someone who listens to a show on her iPad at full volume while watching a reality singing show on TV really loud… while cooking… and then sometimes talking on the phone. I don’t understand this at all, but maybe this is just the way she does things. She’s also very impulsive whereas I am slower to do things. I think that maybe one is not a result of the other, but all of these things are just part of a person’s personality? Does that make sense?
Stephanie Beavers said:
Now there’s a thought. So you’re comparing it to extroverts vs. introverts? Like… some people listen to sound to recharge, whereas others need silence to recharge? And some people find a multitude of colors comforting or invigorating, whereas others find too many colors wearing? Now that IS interesting. I could see that being the case. I do also find it interesting that both our anecdotes of people who like to “multi-noise” are impulsive though. It would be interesting to read a study on this.
I read an interesting book called “Quiet” by Susan Cain and she says that many mostly introverted people have similar characteristics, and many are also more sensitive to things like noise and colour. They are not as spontaneous—something that the more impulsive people have on their side. The book caters to a non-academic crowd, which meant that it was easy to read… but also I would have liked the research to have been discussed more. But, overall, there were many interesting points about how different kinds of people work together. I think the main argument was that we live in a world that favours the loud and overlooks the quiet. I know your post mostly talks about environments, but the same can be said of our expectations of people and the world society makes for itself. We are supposed to like busy and loud. This works for some people, but not for everyone.
Stephanie Beavers said:
I’ll have to look up this book! And really, if there is such a thing as sound/color extrovertism/introvertism (spellcheck says those aren’t words but let’s roll with it), then people and their environments are not so separate. Maybe this is just another example of the world catering to extroverts. Or maybe not. I’ll read the book! I find studies on introverts and extroverts fascinating.
By the way… in case, for some reason, it was missed before, this is Sarika.
Stephanie Beavers said:
Haha, I know! :)