I had a dream last week that I had become a celebrated criminal. My genre resembled that of Dexter in John Waters' film Polyester. Dexter, you remember, was a foot fetishist who stomped women's feet.
I was a stomper, too, but it wasn't feet I was after. In scene after scene of the dream, I grabbed people's cell phones and iPods and stomped them until they were dust. There was a warrant out for my arrest, but I had inspired copycat stompers. We were on a crusade to end noise with our feet.
I wrote about my hatred of public cell-phone usage about four years ago. It's only gotten worse. Everybody has those Bluetooth earrings now. Otherwise-sane people walk around like unmedicated mental patients talking excitedly to the air. And it seems that when the key is inserted into a car's ignition with the right hand, everyone's left hand immediately snaps open a cell phone and presses it to the left ear. People seem to have no clue how badly they drive while under the influence of compulsive talking.
Meanwhile, as if to avoid the noise of the greater world, many other people are wired to iPods. Even I would rather listen to Britney than eavesdrop on the typical cell-phone conversation. But in terms of global experience, the iPod is just another noisemaker that, like the cell phone, removes its user from the here and now.
In my gym, it is almost impossible to converse with anyone, because everyone is wired to another dimension. Asking a simple question such as "May I work in?" requires someone to remove his earplugs and pull himself away from Britney for five seconds to reply.
It's got to be ironic that the one place where you're supposed to be paying explicit attention to your body – in the gym – people are disembodied, off in la-la-land. I do see one advantage, though. IPods discourage idle chitchat that can prolong a workout forever. In that sense, they serve as a warning to stay away.
It's not just cell phones and iPods that create noise pollution, of course. As much as I like music, it is almost impossible to go anywhere without hearing recorded background music. While much of it is better than the original and obnoxious Muzak, or "elevator music," it isn't really intended for close listening. The idea, apparently, is to create "aural ambiance."
The most obvious example is the annual torture of Christmas music blaring from every speaker in America. Nobody really listens to the stuff, or someone would have written some new songs in the last 75 years. Its function is emotional, just as singing the national anthem before a baseball game is. If we really paid attention to the words, we'd demand something new. But the purpose is to give ourselves an emotional sense of continuity of experience.
Then there is completely unwanted noise, like airplanes, construction, traffic, lawn mowers, television, talk radio, leaf blowers and auto alarms. Numerous studies have concluded that this kind of sound produces an overabundance of stress hormones that take a toll on the body and mind. Among the effects are elevated blood pressure and heart rate, along with diminished concentration. Hearing itself can be affected, as every rock-music fan knows. Studies in Australia have demonstrated, inversely, that quieting an entire neighborhood significantly reduces anxiety, anger and depression.
A popular myth is that we become accustomed to noise over time. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, quoted in the Washington Post, "Even when we think we have become accustomed to noise, biological changes still take place inside us." The body has its own consciousness.
I recently dined in a restaurant that was so noisy I could not make myself heard to the waiter. I've always had the suspicion that restaurant acoustics are designed to amplify volume to suggest excitement. The noise, combined with the ubiquitous background music, also makes eavesdropping difficult and covers the sound of 120 people slurping soup at once.
I'm sure you've had the experience in a public environment when, for some reason, the noise suddenly ceases. The soundtrack comes to an end, perhaps, and everyone stops conversation abruptly. The experience, especially if it's prolonged, can be very awkward. People whisper as the noise rebuilds itself.
You have to wonder: If the body and mind are so negatively affected by noise, why do we seem to prefer it under many circumstances? My guess is that, like the quiet of meditation, silence makes our thoughts and feelings more acute, and that can be uncomfortable. Cell phones and iPods thus become tools of escape, a temporary treatment for anxiety. But, like so many instruments of addiction, they actually add to the problem. Our bodies never stop complaining, even as our tongues keep mindlessly yammering.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
"The Coming Medicaid Cost Explosion" _______________________________ Right has been running around like Chicken Little for…
QM, you have commandment 5 wrong. It should read: Thou shalt not kill except it…
yeah, because Grant Park is miles away and isn't a park
""She admitted that she was drinking and driving,' attorney Jackie Patterson told reporters following her…
I thought Ted had "commented" on the development shortly after it happened, although the response…