Monday, June 12, 2006

You may be losing your hearing and don't know it

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation. Tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.
- Jean Arp, artist and poet (1887-1948)

Leave aside the "bolster his ego" part because I believe there is no support for this arbitrarily reached opinion.

However, the rest of the quotation has merit, even in countries less developed than most in the western world. It has to do with the overlapping of the personal space of so many people. Any time one person is doing something active in his or her personal space and this overlaps with the personal space of one or more other people, the others will consider the sounds produced by the first to be noise--acceptable or not.

In a sense, it is noise. Cumulatively, the sounds produced by so many people in so limited a space as a big city create a constant din. The more people there are in a given area, the greater the din. It's so bad in the downtowns of cities such as New York, for example, that most of the people who work there have already had some hearing damage.

Has humankind "turned its back on silence?" Not quite. This implies a conscious choice of noise over silence. The choice that most people make, those who live in big cities, is to do the jobs that make them the most money. These tend to be jobs that cause sounds, and getting to and from them also require sounds to be produced.

It's not the sound that one person makes that matters, but the cumulative effect of so many people each making a limited amount of sound in a limited space.

The ethos of business in most parts of the world dictates that doing things that generate money is good and doing things that do not generate money is a waste of time (if not actually bad). That's not to say that most people believe this is true. It's to say that business and industry create working environments where so many people are so close together that a din of sound is inevitable.

We each have a choice. But some say "No, I have no choice. I must work for the man who will pay me money." The alternatives are to create work situations where constant unrelenting sound is not a factor.

That requires creativity and innovation, two natural characteristics of children that tend to be drilled out of most of them by the time they reach adolescence. As a former classroom teacher and sociologist, I can testify that the education system works this way. Business and industry traditionally have not wanted creative and innovative employees. They wanted followers.

Now they have followers, but few that are creative or innovative.

As the purpose of this is to present an argument, not to offer evidence in a dissertation, I will leave the argument at that.

There are ways to change the influence that business and industry--through schools--have on children. They require enough people to want something to change.

So far, a majority of people seem to have convinced themselves that the noise of the city is a necessary way to earn a living and to have a life. If you want evidence, compare the number of listings in your telephone book for businesses that sell hearing aids to the number even ten years ago.

Hearing damage seems to have become an accepted loss associated with age. It isn't either due to age (in most cases) or necessary. Lots of people just think it is.

And that's what matters until enough people want it to change.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help you hear as well as you can listen.
Learn more at

No comments: