I notice it most when I’m travelling – perhaps because most days I don’t get into a moving vehicle. Cars are loud, and all the other cars around you are loud too. Buses are really noisy. Trains are noisy, train stations are noisy. Extended journeys often leave me exhausted from the barrage of sound and vibration. I notice it a lot if I’m in a location with a lot of background noise. I find urban spaces difficult, overwhelming and exhausting.
If there’s a lot of background noise, many people have problems communicating. That can be about hearing, about being able to differentiate between sounds, or about getting distracted by the noise and not being able to concentrate. It’s difficult to be a human with other humans in noisy environments – at least if you are used to communicating verbally. It can be distressing and demoralising for people who are especially challenged by background noise, but it isn’t much good for anyone.
We are encouraged to think of noisy urban environments as being lively and exciting. There’s a lot of ‘louder is better’ thinking out there. Whether that’s louder music, louder fireworks, louder film tracks or louder environments, we get a lot of encouragement to feel good about it and to find it exciting. To deal with noisy spaces I assume you have to be good at tuning things out, ignoring your surroundings and not being bothered about communicating. These are not things I can do.
Even if you can successfully ignore the noise, it may still be harming you. There are apparently a fair few studies out there suggesting that over-exposure to noise – both loud noise and invasive background noise – impacts on our health. It is likely to increase stress, anxiety and depression. Other effects include sleep disruption and increased blood pressure. Tuning out the problem does not protect you from it, by the looks of things.
Mostly we only factor in the health and safety implications of sound insofar as really noisy stuff can damage hearing. There’s far more to it than that. We create horrendously noisy spaces for humans to exist in – much of it down to how we handle transport. Quieter transport solutions would do a lot to reduce noise pollution. Gentler ways of living would support us in having happier, healthier lives.