Stabbed to death for noise complaint
On a proposed 'Quiet Revolution'
In October 2010, an article by Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd called for a “Quiet Revolution” with regards to noisy stores and restaurants playing loud “music” and/ or TV-sets. That revolution may still be simmering underground. It has not flared up again to our knowledge. Several RtoQ members responded to that “quiet call to arms”. Following below are two of them.
Dear Mr. Todd,
I read with interest your October 23 article in the Vancouver Sun about your proposed “Quiet Revolution” and feel compelled to respond. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any quiet restaurants in Vancouver because we generally avoid eating out anymore: the volume and style of “music” in most establishments is simply too objectionable.
However, I would like to point out that the issue of force-fed noise in commercial establishments and public spaces is only one aspect of the serious problem of noise pollution that permeates every part of our lives. Even a cursory amount of research on this topic unearths vast amounts of information, both scientific and general interest, confirming that unwanted noise is not simply a nuisance and a conversation killer, but an acoustic contaminant with profound implications for human health.
The physiological and psychological harm caused by noise has long been established by the World Health Organization and other groups. In addition to the hearing loss caused by loud noise, unwanted sound at any level can interfere with sleep (and still affect you even when it doesn’t actually wake you), raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, increase the risk of heart disease, impair concentration and productivity, increase stress, affect mental health, and overall reduce your quality of life. At its extreme, unwanted noise can result in violence and murder.
Anti-noise pollution groups exist all over the world, including here in Vancouver. The mainstream media is full of articles and investigative reports (including a 2001 CBC Marketplace documentary) observing the relentless increase in noise pollution in our society and the harm it causes, and asking what can be done about it. (Over the past several months, I have managed to compile a list of information links that I can send if you are interested and have a few weekends to kill.)
Given the indisputable evidence that unwanted noise is harmful to human health, and the extensive amount of readily accessible information on the subject, the question is why initiatives like your proposed “quiet revolution” did not already occur years ago, and even now may be unlikely to get off the ground.
My own observations, which are nothing new and have been better articulated by others, are that the continued acceptance of noise pollution is linked to the increasing trend in our (un)civil society towards selfish and inconsiderate behaviour, and the obsessive focus on the perceived rights of the individual over the common good. The utter indifference that many individuals and businesses show towards their neighbours and visitors when they choose to pol-lute the acoustic environment – our common soundscape – and impose their noise on others is a typical example. This attitude also feeds on the overwhelming messages our society projects by tolerating and encouraging the kinds of aural assaults you describe in your article: noise is essential (and silence is to be avoided at all costs), the louder the better, and go elsewhere if you don’t like it.
Our local Right to Quiet Society website contains some thoughtful essays in its Readings/Editorials section which, although written over a decade ago, resonate just as strongly today, and mirror many of the concerns reflected in your recent article: the concept of acoustic responsibility, the ways in which our society has become hooked on visual and acoustic stimulation, and the inescapable presence of music in virtually every place of public assembly. In 1998 the Society published the excellent handbook “What You Can Do About Noise in British Columbia,” which is available in all public libraries.
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