Reducing (& coping with) Noise Pollution

This document aims to outline a holistic strategy to reduce noise pollution and audio desensitization, by looking at active/passive tactics against both causes and effects. It’s intended as support for those in need to reduce noise pollution (or to cope with it), be it individual or community.

By active tactics i mean deliberate nullification/equalizing of audio imbalance. By passive i mean protection against audio imbalance while the imbalance persists.

Active Effect Reduction

  • Noise Cancellation Technology — Generates the “inverse sound” to cancel ambient noise. Works best when used against constant noise such as traffic or airplane engines but is effective against other kinds of noise as well. This works because sound is just a wave form which can have positive and negative amplitudes (i.e. sound is a back & forth vibration of air)
Noise and anti-noise cancelling each other out
Ear phones with both active (inverse sound) and passive (ear canal sealing) noise cancellation

Passive Effect Reduction

  • Ear plugs — They come in many different shapes and size, with various degrees of noise damping.
Ear-plugs that take the shape of your ear canal
  • Masking noise —can be done by playing white noise or relaxing sounds on top of the noise. Methods to do this are, for example:
  1. mobile apps
  2. digital media (MP3s, Youtube, etc)
  3. virtual assistants (such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa)
  4. white noise machines
Virtual Assistants can play ambiental sounds for relaxation / noise masking

Note that there are several ”colors” of noise, not just white (e.g. pink, brown, gray, blue, etc)

  • External/internal roller blinds & curtains — the amount of noise damping may vary but these do help in their own minimal way. External roller blinds made out of solid, rigid material sometimes have better noise damping, especially if they hermetically seal the window opening.
External roller/sun blinds
  • In some cases there are significant cracks where doors/windows meet their frames. People sometimes seal these cracks with self-adhesive foam/rubber (in English they are called weather strips, weather stripping, weather seals, etc.) for thermal sealing primarily, but this might also (minimally) help by reducing direct sound propagation through those wholes where air can travel freely.
Covering imperfect seals around door/window frames
  • Carpets — Other house-hold items that are beneficial for damping noise, that you generate this time, are carpets and alike. Not only do they act like an extra layer between you, your floor and your downstairs-neighbors but they represent a commitment on your part to a certain lifestyle that excludes, for example, walking around indoors with outside-shoes. High-heeled footwear or heavy shoes planted directly on an uncarpeted floor, especially late at night, can be disturbing to your downstairs-neighbors, if you have any.
  • Vegetation — Leafy plants like trees and bushes can break sound apart as it propagates through the city.
Plants in the city
  • Realism — It’s important to also realize noise is a part of our lives. We can’t (nor should we want) to 100% eliminate it; perhaps only some places in outer space exhibit complete silence. Faced with unavoidable noise, some people adapt by changing their lifestyle, increasing their tolerance limits, etc. Because the noise in an average person’s life is (mostly) not produced by a physically threatening factor, within the confines of individual safety one might also attempt to change one’s own perception on noise.
  • Meditation & Relaxation—A person is more than her/his sensory perceptions and her/his reactions to those sensory perceptions. Therefore it’s beneficial to try, from time to time, (non)activities that allow you to (re)connect to your inner-self, i.e. simple relaxation or guided/unguided meditation. Other techniques which might be worth investigating are autogenic training or even more advanced relaxation techniques such as isolation tanks.

Active Cause Reduction

  • Communication — If a coworker or neighbor (or some other factor) produces noise that is too much to bear, it’s worth analyzing whether polite/casual communication of your discomfort is possible, either to a form of authority (building administrator/land-lord at home or a superior at work) or to the ones that are actually causing the loud noise.
  • Authority and Accountability — can be introduced only with political will (and in some places it already exists). For example, where local law states that there are certain sleeping hours in effect, the police or other forms of legal authority are probably able to issue warnings or fines to those that blatantly disturb their neighbors during such late-night hours.
  • Education —Increasing awareness through education might be the most beneficial tactic in the long run. Teaching children about mindfulness of others from a young age would have enormous benefits in all behavioral aspects. An example can be found in the “Inn Saei” documentary on Netflix at 51:53, linked below:
  • Corporate & Academic Commitment — Just like the anti-single-use-plastic movement is growing around the world or just like Facebook is aiming to decrease the importance of popular content to the benefit of useful content, so could the topic of noise pollution benefit from a plus of attention and commitment. Some would call this capitalism with a conscience. It’s not enough that individuals survive from day to day; they should also have the right to a long-term, decent standard of life, even in large communities. This could be achieved with help from entities that represent the social/economic/scientific framework itself, such as companies or the research community:
  1. Construction materials and new architectures could be invented to allow for better audio insulation, even in large apartment buildings
  2. Cars and motorcycles could be made that produce less noise
  3. Software and Hardware could include fail-safes and audio standardization to reduce decibel level volatility when playing media
  4. Navigation services and real-estate industry could map noise levels and make them public
  5. Cinema Headphones — Why not replace booming speakers with individual volume levels and language choice for movie audio, and at the same time eliminate the annoying popcorn/talking noise that may come from those around you?

… and the list could go on…

Passive Cause Reduction

  • Leading by example — You are literally one in billions on this planet. You might think:
What does it matter what i do? I’m just one individual and can’t change the global picture.

The assumption that individuals can’t change a global picture is wrong and if most individuals act under this assumption it becomes true, like a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Here are several benefits of you leading by example:

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Mindfulness and genuine good will. Realize, for example, that if you live in an apartment building and you have neighbors below you or next to you, your floor might be their ceiling and your wall might be their wall — you have the same responsibility towards them as they have towards you.
  2. There is a first time for everything. For example, if sleeping / silence hours are not put on display in a visible place for newcomers in an apartment building, how are they supposed to know there is a rule / law in effect? Yet this is the context in many buildings — until someone politely asks the administrator / land lord (for the first time) to agree on silence hours and display them in a visible place*
  3. A choice empowers those that make that choice possible. For example, by driving electric, not only will you be reducing the noise made by your own car, you will also be supporting the company that produced your electric car, prolonging their life and increasing the chance that more and more cars on the road are electric**

* Common sense is relative and should not be taken for granted. What might be common sense for one might not be common sense for another. This is why agreement and communication are essential to mitigate such differences…

** It’s a sort of a “darwinian” law of evolution by natural selection for companies as well, so why not support those companies that can be strategic for improving the standard of life?

Conclusion

This document represents a living/evolving strategy — please feel free to make suggestions. If you wish to discuss the topics of noise pollution or audio desensitization in an online community, feel free to join the Silence Seekers group on Facebook.