Monday, January 10, 2011

Noise, Noise Everywhere

by Madeleine Kando

I am in the habit of wearing earplugs when I sleep. Not because I like having these bulky things shoved into a very sensitive part of my body, but because the Dunkin Doughnut store next door does not care about my beauty sleep when it starts blaring out it’s ‘hello, may I help you’ intercom announcement at four o'clock in the morning.

On the rare occasions that I spend a quiet week-end in beautiful rural Vermont or in the pristine White Mountains of New Hampshire, I realize that it is a fundamentally unnatural custom to wear earplugs. I much prefer waking up to the sound of early bird song and a distant waterfall. The muffled sound of a rooster on a far away farm, cows calling out to be milked.

If I were to metamorphosize every sound that enters my sensitive ears into a physical touch, let’s say a shove or a push instead of a sound wave, I would be tossed about like a lottery ball in a lottery machine. Thank God for those little plugs. Without them, I would be a wreck.

But now I am seriously considering wearing earplugs during my waking hours as well. I can handle babies crying on an airplane, the 'attention shoppers' announcements in a supermarket, the arguments overheard on a bus. Those are noises that serve a function. After all, a noise is made with the purpose of conveying some information, something that you, as the recipient, is expected to pay attention to. The baby crying on an airplane wants to be fed or comforted. The shopper at the supermarket is reminded of good deals. The argument on the bus is meant to resolve a conflict.

But much of today's noise can simply be classified as unnecessary. Devoid of useful content. Noise that does not contribute to the betterment of society or at the very least my own enrichment or entertainment. That's what I need my earplugs for, this ever increasingly unnecessary 'social noise'.

Take Facebook, for instance. What percentage of the noise content of all those millions of pages truly matters? Does it solve world hunger? Does it contribute to a better, more just world? Let's face it, it is like the sound of passing wind after a huge meal. The only person that benefits from it is the person doing the deed.

What about the noise generated by people whose sole purpose is to self-aggrandize themselves? There is no place to shield yourself from these noise-makers, they have plugged the airwaves: tv, radio, newspapers. Take noise-makers like Martha Stewart, Oprah and many other celbretards. The ratio between what they are truly worth (talent, humor, intelligence etc.) and their ability to make noise, reminds me of a nursery school: the toddlers that get the most attention are the ones that cry the loudest, not because they deserve it or need it, but because they happen to have stronger lungs.

What if we all put it in our earplugs as we go about our day? The problem with this approach is that you also drown out the occasional bird song, the rare sound of a majestic waterfall, the sound of crickets on a balmy summer evening. These hard to find noises have to be cherished like the rare gemstones thrown into a landfill. But it is becoming more and more time consuming to sift through the garbage to find any sound worth listening to.

They say that dogs are very sensitive to complete silence, taking this as a warning sign of impending threat. This sensitivity to silence is found in almost all animals. Is it possible that humans (we are animals, after all) are unable to tolerate silence? Is this deafening barrage of unnecessary noise an attempt to shield ourselves from the truly horrible questions that humanity faces and is powerless to answer? leave comment here