We used to be able to smoke everywhere. On trains, in bars and restaurants – even in the office. And then slowly, but surely, the spaces where people could light up a cigarette began to disappear. Why? Because we learned about the health-risks, new social norms started forming, and we would no longer accept the exposure to second-hand smoke.
Will we one day feel the same way about noise?
Sure, no-one ever died because someone’s earphones were playing too loudly. But the same principle applies; is it fair to inflict your second-hand noise on your neighbours and colleagues?
The United Nations health organization (WHO) calls ‘noise’; “an underestimated threat that can cause a number of short- and long-term health problems, such as for example sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance.”
We like to be in control of our own soundscape – not have it dictated by others. Most of us, in fact, cherish silence when it suits us, and like to add a personal soundtrack to the daily chores, when that is what motivates us. The challenge is that we’re often unaware of the frustration we cause others. Plus, the trend of more and more people living together in crowded mega-cities (urbanisation) is not likely to change anytime soon – predictions are that nearly 70% of the world’s populations will live in cities by 2050.
For every user who thinks it’s cool to be able to ask Siri – on speakerphone – how many calories are in a skinny frappucino while queueing at the coffee shop, there will be another person who’s intensely irritated by the self-indulgence of someone creating unnecessary ‘noise’.
As the world becomes ever-more cacophonous, we need to create a new set of rules for acceptable, polite “sonic behaviour”. To kick-off the debate here are few suggestions for how we can reduce the impact of digitally-created noise.
In public spaces – trains and cafes, for instance – do you need to have phone conversations or listen to music on your device’s speakers – or could you minimise the audible impact on your surroundings by using earbuds or a headset. It’s always best to ask those around if the noise is bothering them – if only to avoid the awkwardness of them having to ask you to turn it down.
Our lives are filled with audible cues; alarms, notifications, ringtones and even warning signs. Do yourself and the people around the favour of prioritizing which ones you need to share with the world – in many cases these cues can even be replaced by vibration cues on your device or even headset.
Finally – and obviously, we hope – do pay attention to your own personal safety. Audio technologies can make us deaf to the dangers of the world around us. Tragic stories abound of pedestrians or cyclists mown down on roads or railways while totally absorbed in their music. Fortunately, earphones are increasingly featuring “hear-though” technologies, which provide a balance between audio and ambient and sound, enabling us to recognise sounds that alert us to danger.
We live in a noisy, crowded world that would be loud enough without everyone creating sound through their digital devices. And just as we have the right to our own personal soundscapes, so too do we have the right to quiet – or at least, the freedom from second-hand noise intruding into our lives.
So, while it’s not a matter of life and death just yet, let’s give some thought to the noise we make, have the debate and create new social norms.
Holger Reisinger is a Senior Vice President of Large Enterprise Solutions at Jabra