Even as my hearing deteriorates, I become more and more disturbed by excessive noise. For example: coffee shops, which in any sensible world, would be oases of tranquility, have become positively uninhabitable. When I visit such a place, I do so either to talk with a friend or to read silently. I do not go to be assaulted by what the tattooed, benose-ringed young staff fancies to be "music" -- grating sounds amplified to 11 on the Nigel Tufnel scale. And then last week I went to a baseball game at one of the new stadiums where they have embraced to the ultimate the philosophy of the "total entertainment package," which means bright blinking lights, almost constant "music," and exhortations on the giant scoreboard to "Get Loud." But baseball, more than any other sport, requires thought and concentration. It's a subtle game, not enhanced by distractions. And yet it seemed that very few of the spectators around me were actually paying attention to the events on the field. The noise forbade it. When our side's left fielder played a routine fly ball into a single -- an act which would have provoked indignation and jeers at the low-tech Ebbets Field of my youth -- the crowd remained preternaturally silent, reserving its roars for the inter-inning "kiss-cam" and similar travesties.
Do we truly enjoy or are we simply inured to the noise that has become so constant at the old ball game, in the restaurant, or even on the leafy suburban street, where the egregious leaf-blower has become an oppressive commonplace. (Why do we not ban a mega-decibel machine that is less efficient than the time-honored and virtually silent broom)?
The noise of machines and the noise of amplified sound is a relatively new phenomenon. Until 1650 or so, no such sounds oppressed our ears. There was the occasional thunderstorm, and there were church bells, and there was the clatter of horse and coach on cobblestone streets -- but there was nothing comparable to the sea of noise in which we daily swim. Our ancestors lived for a million years in a world that we would judge to be virtually silent. There were no factories, no trucks, no airplanes overhead, no electric guitars and, inasmuch as 95% of the people were village-dwelling agricultural workers, not even large crowds. The noise that we routinely endure is unprecedented and unnatural. And unhealthy as well.