Monday, March 16, 2015

Peace and Quiet

by Carol








Is the "quiet coffee" a thing of the past? That's a question asked by Julian Treasure, the founder and Chairman of The Sound Agency, and a sound and communication expert.  I was recently fortunate enough to hear Julian speak at an Audiology conference, and what he says affects all of us. So I hope you will excuse a post on this photography blog about one of our other senses, because I truly believe in  photography as an all inclusive, human experience, not just as a visual moment. Good photography records a moment, which allows our expansive human brains to associate thoughts, feelings and memories in order to create an experience for the viewer. All of our senses are incorporated into that experience.

So, back to that quiet coffee. Our local coffee shops are a concept in friendship and communication. They look so great with all those rockscape walls, natural wooden benches, and slate floors! And the smell of those coffee beans, and the baking make your mouth water - or so you would think. But recent measures of the sound levels in coffee shops show noise levels that average over 80 decibels! There's a name for this - the Lombard Effect. It means that in noisy backgrounds, we tend to talk over the noise, then those around us proceed to talk over us - and so on and so on and so on. Of course, it's not just the coffee shop - its happening everywhere. And wouldn't that coffee shop be interested in knowing that noise at those levels actually decreases our sense of taste? Hard to believe? As a related example, in one of many studies, people eating chips wore headphones that amplified the sound of the crunch at various levels. Although the chips were all identical, those who experienced an amplified crunch rated the chips as better tasting and crispier. It's all related.



Now think about our schools, which are most definitely NOT designed for sound. Speech intelligibility relative to noise is 50 % in the average classroom - and that is an average. What about the kids in the back of the room, the second language or hearing impaired kids, even the introverts - what are they receiving? Then there is our health - one graph shown at the conference showed  a rising graphic depicting the classroom noise level. A red line above the noise level showed the teacher's heart rate increasing as the decibel level increased. Those heart rates approached the levels of risk for heart attack. And considering our health again - what of hospitals? Their levels of ambient noise are much higher even than schools - and this is where we are supposed to rest and heal?



Julian Treasure made the point that we study reading and writing, and even speaking - we do not study listening. There is so much more to say - productivity in open plan offices is down 66%.  Crime is higher in the noisier areas of the city, and was reduced by 15% in a recent trial where calibrated nature sounds were broadcast on the street. And when your kids were teens, did you ever leave one of those stores in the mall that blasted rock music while you waited for them to try on clothes. Sales is those stores dropped dramatically when louder music was introduced - but nobody is looking!

I am a huge fan of the quiet. It has always been necessary and restorative for me. Part of my photographic style is that I usually depict quiet places, or the backgrounds or aftermaths of the things I'm photographing. I tend to find the waiters' table in the back of the restaurant, the shavings from the carving demonstration, the birds at sunrise rather than the busy city streets; the quiet conversation rather than the big party. That's because those are the places I prefer to hang out. They soothe my soul. 





I encourage you to read Julian Treasure's blog and website. You can listen to his TedTalks, read his articles and studies, and download soothing sound tracks to use when you can't avoid being in a noisy place. He includes lots of suggestions for surviving in the world as it is now, and considerations for better considering soundscapes as we go forward in our professions. I hope you will become an advocate for a more peaceful existence, because what you do affects me as well as you.

Do you like to photograph in the quiet places? Will you share some calming images in our gallery this week? It fits right in with our green theme!















12 comments:

Lisa Comperry said...

I also treasure the quiet moments..The sound of waves at the seashore, the sound of my doggies snoring as they sleep in my lap, the gentle sound of rain :-)

Dotti said...

There is so much I could say about this post. As a hearing impaired person, my world is even noisier. Carol and Pam know what I'm talking about. Hearing aids don't just amplify the sound of the person talking to me, they amplify everything. Restaurants can be a major challenge. Airplanes are excruciating. Background music ...don't get me started. So when I'm home alone or in my car alone, my environment is quiet. It helps calm me and, yes, insulate me from the noise of the world. I love to interact with people but it's better when it's on my terms: quietly. That might be why I like photography, blogging and even email.

AFishGirl said...

Fabulous post, fabulous. I wish there was (and there likely is) a grassroots movement to stop this noise. I work in a retail environment and there is constant music, the phones ring all day, people talk all day, it's insane. And it's a health profession! And we're supposed to focus and concentrate. I sometimes wonder if my hearing impairment was my body trying to escape all the distress of the noise. Thank you so much for this post. So much.

Carol said...

Pam - Therre is a movement to reduce it. In fact Zagat is noe rating noise levels in restaurant reviews. Start with Julian's links and you will see all that is happenting. It's long overdue in my opinion!

kelly said...

carol...yes. oh for the love of quiet. I need it. I crave it some days. and it seems like the older I get, the less I can tolerate loud background noise. I've never been one to be able to work in a coffee shop with headphones on. I need the quiet to hear myself think. what a great post carol and beautiful photos to illustrate the point. you always get my week started off with wonderful food for though. xo

CarolHart said...

This is a great post and this topic is worthy of continued discussion. Thanks for this and for introducing me to Julian Treasure.

terriporter said...

Oh, yes, quiet! Where has it gone? It seems harder and harder to find these days. Everywhere you go you are subjected to noise. Who ever came up with the idea that life had to have a soundtrack? That's why, when I'm at home, I never turn on the radio and only turn on the TV when I want to watch something. I don't like the constant droning of background noise and music. I know some people have to have something on for company when they are home alone, but I savor the quiet. My favorite kind of quiet is being out in nature alone with my camera listening to the soft sounds of birds and raindrops. Such a great, thought-provoking post, Carol.

kimmanleyort said...

A great post, Carol. I think we can enhance our photography too by incorporating listening into the experience. I came across Julian Treasure, I think, when exploring a new film that will be coming out this year - In Pursuit of Silence. And, noise pollution is definitely something that degrades our experiences and needs to be addressed.

Deanna said...

Oh I absolutely loved this post. I spend many days in complete silence, no TV, no radio and sometimes the only sound I hear is the hmmm of the refrigerator or the occasional bark of the dogs when someone approaches. I do not like going to restaurants where the voices are so loud there is no way to have a conversation. You have hit on a great subject, thank you.

Susan said...

Great post, Carol! I thrive on peace and quiet! I can hear myself think lol! When its quiet you can do a lot of soul searching also! I totally agree with Deanna, I avoid going into noisy restaurants where you can't enjoy conversation…and yes my refrigerator sings to me…sometimes that even gets annoying! My favorite kind of noise is that of birds, rain, fountains, waves crashing, bees buzzing, well, you get the picture! Thanks for sharing!

kybarb said...

So interesting in how many of us agree that we need and even crave the quiet! I love the quiet in my home --so relaxing after working all day where phones are ringing and there is constant talking going on all around me.

gina said...

What a great post on an important topic! I was just reading how some wildlife is being affected by noise pollution -- it upsets their biorhythms and their ability to communicate with each other. I had to chuckle when I read about your cafes. Most of the cafes here are deadly quiet, with everyone staring at their devices and not talking to each other. When some of us try to have a conversation, we get dirty looks from the others. There must be a lovely cafe with just the right noise balance.

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