The first noise complaint in history, as told by Bianca Bosker, appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh. That is to say, it was written 4,000 years ago and it is not wasted. In the poem, one of the gods, fed up with not being able to sleep at night because of the fuss that men and women make, decides to exterminate humanity.
4,000 years ago I don’t know if it was excessive, but considering everything we now know about noise… it seems like a pretty proportionate decision.
One (another) epidemic of the modern world. Although it is very difficult to know if the world is really getting noisier than before, there are telltale signs that make us think so. For example: in 1912, fire sirens had to sound between 88-96 decibels (measured from three meters away). In 1974, they had already risen to 114 and in recent years they have reached 123.
In fact, no one disputes that noise has become a new epidemic. For years, evidence has been accumulating showing its unfortunate effects on the cardiovascular system and that it is “one of the main environmental determinants of public health.” However, the discovery of its impact on the brain has been largely forgotten. And it is a mistake. A colossal mistake.
A secret and counterintuitive enemy. A couple of years ago, Joshua T. Dean gave one of the keys to this forgetfulness. And it is that noise affects cognition, but not effort. That is, we work the same, but we are less productive. According to Dean, a 10 dB increase in noise (the noise caused by a dishwasher or washing machine) reduces productivity by 5%. It’s a subtle impact, but what (as Ethan Mollick says) secretly destroys our work.
After all, for all we know, noise makes us make more mistakes, makes us lose focus, and hurts detailed work. This, while it sounds counter-intuitive, seems to be the case also with music which (regardless of being instrumental or in another language) would only work ‘fine’ for simple tasks.
As some studies point out, this can be overshadowed by the fact that moderate noise does seem to be useful for enhancing creativity. This means that in mixed tasks (which require detailed work, but also a creative component) what is lost on one side is gained on the other.
But the problem goes beyond that. Much further, in fact. Despite the fact that, as we said, it is a relatively new area of research, “more and more research and conclusive evidence show that exposure to noise […] it can affect the central nervous system and the brain.” The mechanisms are still debated, but the consequences seem clear.
As Maite Bayo tells us, who has worked on this issue for years at the University of Mainz, in “an increased risk of neuropsychiatric disorders such as stroke, dementia and cognitive impairment, neurodevelopmental disorders, depression or anxiety disorders “.
So what we do? The first thing is to be very aware of what we have at hand. With this data, contemporary tools such as active noise cancellation gain a lot of weight. Especially when we have to perform tasks that require attention to detail. We can also think about the uses that can be given to the ‘relationship’ between moderate noise and creativity.
However, it doesn’t hurt to look up and start to ‘defend ourselves from the noise’. Both on a personal level and on a social level. When Bayo tells us that noise is a public health problem, he is telling us that we must “strengthen efforts that promote mitigation and prevention strategies.”
That we should take it much more seriously, wow. And, as William H. Stewart said in 1978, “calling noise a nuisance is like calling smoke an inconvenience”.
In Xataka | Data suggests the world is getting louder and experts are concerned: Here’s what we know
image | Chairulfajar