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Noise Pollution


Spare a thought for those with Dog Hearing

We live in an ever noisier world. Our cinemas have gotten louder since my youth. What's meant to be impressive new sound technology to attract customers makes the cinematic experience a painful one. Our shops, cafes, pubs all blare out at us as we try to browse or enjoy our food and drink. Not only is there music, but now there are sounds and images vying for our attentions. Movie stores have spoken soundtracks, and often screens displaying a different film. Between floors and departments, the cacophony changes, melding dissonantly halfway up the stairs.

Clubs pump out at a volume that can only bring problems - I await these generations to get older and for the side effects to manifest. I cannot believe what decibel levels are considered safe and legal. Anything that causes ringing in the ears of those inside, and prevents normal talking is too much. And for those living near a bar or event - we must suffer the PA system too of an event we have not chosen to attend.

The country is noisy. Our machines all make noise - strimmer, mowers, drills, street cleaning vehicles, hoovers, and agricultural machinery. It is unlikely you will live somewhere with out the bane of these - or the low and late flying police and military aircraft. Whilst they allegedly keep us safe, we lose sleep.

As I write, the thunderous sound of an action computer game from the next room distracts my thoughts, on speakers designed to enhance the experience of the gamer - and treat the rest of the household to the unseen entertainment. Our televisions now dominate our living rooms like never before, becoming obscenely large, like a science fiction Eye-like god. Once on, the home cinema system envelopes the room (and the neighbouring ones) audially as well as visually.

For those who need quiet to sleep, think, write, study, read - or just to do a crossword: we find ourselves outnumbered by an unwitting take over army of noise lovers. It's not that they mean to invade, but the invaders rarely desist. It's normal to have our music, computer games and televisions' volumes up loud, and their effect is hard to appreciate when you are the one fixed on the programme/music/game. It is only as you leave the room to try something else that you realise what the choice of pressing the on button does to the rest of the household, or to your neighbours.

We live in a world of unnecessary bleeps. A train journey is punctuated by ring tones and loud voices to answer those calls. Since the Walkman and ghetto blasters of the 1980s, we have been privileged to the portable choice of the music of others, now enjoying a resurgence through ipods and MP3 players. Personal stereos rarely are: they usually share the beat and bass - rumbles to irritating ticks - with passers by and fellow passengers. The park as much as the train is taken over by those who must take their music with them - or who cannot bear silence. Which is it?

Why does any electronic device need to bleep? From a calculator free with Ribena blackcurrant juice, to phones, cameras... we have buttons that insist on an emission of - protest or affirmation? Sitting with someone on a long distance journey who's playing with their new hand held gadget is a a torture sentence.

Our shops too are full of bleeps - tills, library scanners... mixing in with music, fast moving images and spoken adverts. Libraries too have music in them - the place one goes to avoid the din of the mall, the cafe and the home. Stuffy academic libraries feel like bliss.

For those of us with sensitive hearing, the world is becoming too much. Elaine Aronson wrote of a condition she names The Highly Sensitive Person. She claims that 1 in 20 share her trait where, among other things, too much sensory perception makes one uncomfortably overwhelmed. This trait doesn't seem well known yet, and it deserves to be. It is stressed that being a HSP is not something to cure nor is it a disability, but I believe it should be recognised and allowances made for it.

If I'm deaf, no-one's going to object to needing to allow me to lipread or write on paper, or bearing with me as I find talking harder. No-one tells someone is a wheelchair that they're silly for not being able to reach up to the top shelf or not being able to climb the stairs; it is law that we provide sufficient space for wheelchairs in public buildings, that we lave lifts and that we are expected to make any adjustments to assist those who can't walk (or have any other disability) to use a public place or workplace.

Yet HSPs get snapped at, as if their request for lower or no volume is odd and unreasonable. It is they who must make the adjustments, not the noisy, quick edited, flash driven world. It can affect where we work, live and spend our social time.

I feel more akin to dogs and bats than other humans, and wonder how our perpetual music, crashes and machines must sound to them.

I ask again: is it that we so love loud volumes, or that we are afraid of quiet?

And why should the choice of the noise lover make life unbearable for those quite high percentage with sensitive hearing?

Can't we turn the world down a bit?!


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