Sound or Noise?
“Sound is a physical phenomenon; noise is a psychological one.” ~Arline Bronzaft
Last April I moved from Toronto, a large and loud city of several million residents, to the seclusion of a wooded rural town three hours due east.
I am surrounded by acres of woods, roving deer and busy birds.
Once the frenetic activity any move entails had subsided, which was only a couple of days for me as I am a seasoned mover who settles in quickly and completely, the thing I noticed most was the silence.
There is no noise, save perhaps for the sounds of a breeze rustling through the leaves or the creeping creatures that shuffle through the forest floor.
I haven’t heard a siren in six months.
Didn’t realize how accustomed to noise I had become, until its absence. It was in the removal of city noise that I suddenly saw how insidious it is, how comfortable I had become to its intrusion.
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According to the experts, there is a difference between sound and noise.
All sounds are measured in decibels—from rustling leaves (20 to 30 decibels) to a thunderclap (120 decibels) to the wail of a siren (120 to 140 decibels)—but not all sounds affect the human organism in the same way.
With sounds, what some people don’t notice others find discordant; it is the psychological effects on the listener that determine what sounds qualify as noise.
But whether we personally classify something as noisy, all sounds registering over 85 decibels are harmful to our ears.
And even though you may have loved attending that live rock concert of your favourite band, at 110—120 decibels, your ears suffered because of it.
After listening to a podcast on noise pollution, and reading some articles, I now realize that perhaps 90% of the reason I feel so much more peaceful of late may be because 90% of the sounds that enter my ears these days are under 30 decibels.
Chronic noise can impact heart health, and the well-being of wildlife, too. And the leading cause of healing loss is not aging, but noise. (When you find yourself raising your voice over noise, that’s a clue that noise pollution could be harming your hearing.)
And while most folks may not have the opportunity to remove themselves from the noise of urban environments, there are many ways in which we can lower the decibel level in our lives: intentional silence in the home or car; turning down the TV or stereo volume; getting outside to walk amidst the restorative sounds of nature.
The invisible danger, scientists call it. Some additional suggestions from them:
- Wear ear buds/plugs or headphones in sound-polluted environments.
- Buy appliances with low noise ratings.
- Spend more time in nature.
- Protect your children; noisy environments affect children’s ability to learn and their ability to cope with normal challenges.
- Do a simple noise assessment in your home or office from time to time throughout the day. Stop for a moment. Listen. Is there background noise that could be eliminated or ameliorated?
We’ve become inured to the noise in which we are immersed, blind to its unseen effects.
Perhaps it is time to take our blinders off—or begin to listen differently to the sounds that surround us.
“Of all the varieties of modern pollution, noise is the most insidious.” ~Robert Lacey