Silence’s Loud Goodbye
DON MCLEAN WAS WRONG; there was never a day the music died.
It was silence that departed, after a death by a thousand cuts—musical and otherwise. World population and its handmaidens of industrialization, from lawn mowers to airliners, Jet Skis to fracking, ensured its demise.
Efforts to revive silence, such as the U.S. government’s Noise Control Act of 1972, themselves passed away quietly; funding for that law ended in 1981. Local ordinances exist, but most attack errant leaf blowers rather than create comprehensive quiet.
Dispatches from around the world report ever-louder average volumes. In 2008, The New York Times found it noteworthy that the average daytime volume in Cairo was 85 decibels, with gusts to 95. But today in India’s Rawalpindi, daytime averages are now 105 decibels (put your ear next to a leaf blower to replicate a visit). At that volume, if Rawalpindi were a U.S. workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would limit exposure to just an hour a day.
In 1905, the Nobel Prize-winning bacteriologist Robert Koch wrote, “The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague.” His comparison to common pathologies came naturally; the word noise has its Latin root in the word nausea.