Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Sounds that Abound

Our world today is filled with a wide variety of sounds.

Cell phones ring and conversations erupt unexpectedly in public places. You might be standing near the deli section of the grocery when you overhear someone's loud cell phone conversation. Rarely does someone inside speak quietly on their cell. Instinctively, they say, "How's that? Can you hear me?" to confirm that the caller -- as well as everyone else -- knows what is going on. There is also the chance that the conversation involves an extremely personal matter such as a wayward spouse or someone's approaching incontinence. At such moments, I often want to approach the person who is talking and say, "Excuse me, but I really don't want to know all the details of your daughter's life."

I don't take such action, but the thought does occur to me.

Remember the old phrase "peace and quiet"? That was a condition that people used to seek out as a way of relaxing or to collect their thoughts. It was once possible to find such locations where little of the outside world had intruded. Unfortunately, those spots are nearly extinct now.

Once when I was on a camping trip with a boyfriend, we were cooking on the Coleman when I became aware of an unusual noise.

"Listen," I said quietly, holding up a hand to signal that I was trying to hear something. "Do you hear that? What is it?"

My friend laughed. "I don't hear anything but the creek washing by. There's nothing out here for miles."

"No. There is something coming. It sounds like a swarm of bees."

Just then three children on ATVs sped around the corner of our tent, startling both of us.

"See?" My friend said. "Nothing to be afraid of."

He was wrong. There was plenty to be afraid of. That was one of the last times I recall thinking that I had successfully escaped noise pollution. Even there in the forest miles from the nearest town there was noise breaking my tranquility.

Life in the city today is a cacophony of noise. Traffic. Car horns. Screeching tires. Horrible music played so loudly that it is audible at several car lengths -- through closed windows. Other modes of transportation -- buses, trains, motorcycles, semis. Road construction, jack hammers, road equipment. Sirens, vehicle alarms. Riding on public transportation is never quiet, with announced stops, conversations, the inevitable music and cell phone conversations. Once arriving at the city, the sidewalks are deafening walls of sound from people, horns honking, feet stomping on pavement, music and vendors.

Life in suburbia or even small towns is only marginally better. Try sitting outside at a restaurant in any town in America. If you can carry on a conversation with another person, you are lucky. In addition to a portion of the noise heard in the city, there are shouted greetings from someone you may or may not recognize as they drive by and wave. In more rural settings you encounter other equipment -- tree trimmers and chippers, fire trucks and emergency vehicles, school buses and delivery trucks, even farm equipment.

If you venture to a campground today, you will likely encounter someone with an RV who brought along a TV. How could he miss his favorite show or the play-offs? Camping used to be simpler with tents and few possessions. Today campers bring along all sorts of beeping and ringing devices. The kiddies want to watch a DVD because mom and dad don't want them to be bored.

People seem to think they have to be plugged in to some device in order to maintain their "peace and quiet." Doesn't that seem a little odd?

But that's just me.

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