And the answer? Stay at home? No, not really. The neighbours do DIY: if you are lucky between 9 am and 7 pm and if you are not ,24 hours a day. They play loud music, sing, play the piano, rip up their carpets; they jump up and down on bare floorboards to annoy you further. They have loud parties to irritate you and cats, dogs and children jump onto bare wooden floors and make your heart stop. And, because they want to hear the music in other parts of their flat they pump up the volume, so that you can feel the noise as well as hear it. And if you very fortunate, they attach the stereo to the walls above your settee, so that you can vibrate as well. Even if you live in a semi-detached or detached property, they will still get you.
People escape to the countryside and return to the urban environment. They cannot tolerate the noise the tractors, the cars and the motorbike ripping the air apart as they career along country roads. Then there are the country dirt-track rallies that destroy the tranquility of country week ends and holidays. And we mustn’t forget the birds! Believe me , the dawn chorus is something to contend with. So when you go to the countryside, make sure you take your industrial ear-muffs with you!
A quiet evening at the cinema perhaps or a restaurant? The former will have the latest all-round stereophonic eardrum bursting sound system, with which they will try to deafen you. Film soundtracks register an average of 82 decibel with the climax of some films hitting as high as 120! And, in the restaurant you will be waited on by waiters who have been talking their employers to court, because the noise in their working environment is way above the legal limits. Normal conversation registers at 60 decibels. But noise levels of up to 90 are frequent in today’s restaurant. The danger level is considered to be any above 85 decibels! What is it doing to your eardrums then? Shopping is also out, because stereophonic sound systems have landed there, too.
Recently the law in the United Kingdom has been changed vis-à-vis noise , with stiffer penalties: fines confiscation of stereo equipment and eviction for serious offences. Noise curfews could also be imposed in residential areas by enforcing restriction on noise levels after certain times in the evenings. Tighter legislation is a step in the right direction. But there is no one solution to the problem, least of all resources to the law; in fact, in some well-publicized cases, the legal and bureaucratic process has been unbearable enough to drive to drive people to suicide.
The situation needs to be addressed from a variety of different angles simultaneously. There are practical solution like using building materials in flats and houses that absorb sound: sound-proofing material is already used in recording studios and whilst it is far from cheap to install, with research and mass sales, prices will come down. Designers have begun to realize that there is a place for soft furnishings in restaurants like carpets soft wall-coverings and cushions. As well as creating a relaxing ambiance they absorb the noise.
Informal solutions like mediation are also frequently more effective than legislation. And the answer may partly be found in the wider social context. The issue is surely one of public awareness and of politeness of respect for neighbours of good manner and also of citizenship; in effect how individual s operate within a society and relate to each other. And perhaps we need to be taught once again to tolerate silence.