Don’t some of you have the feeling that when you’re at the cinema and they start the movie, the sound is a bit too loud? But we let it slide.. we get used to it quickly. Don’t you have an impression that there are more and more cars and motorcycles that disrupt everyone in their trajectory on a radius of 50–100m, sometimes even more? And you let it slide because, frankly, there’s nothing you can do about it, if you even care… Welcome to the beginning of the 21st century.

Ear plugs

The person who invented ear plugs should get a Nobel prize. They literally allow millions of audio-sensitive persons around the world to get a good night’s rest. But this is not a perfect story and this is not perfect technology. Sometimes not even ear plugs are enough to block out audio attacks of all kinds on a person’s environment, relaxation or sleep. What’s more, audio-sensitive people are being close to ostracized or believed to suffer from something like a “condition” of being “too” sensitive compared to the norm. The reason why i write this article is to show that if we don’t do anything about it, the norm will make us deaf. If, for example, 90% of people have dental cavities this doesn’t make dental cavities a desirable thing.

The vicious circle of overlooking the problem

Why is it not a problem for most people? Because the immediate reaction of an organism asking itself “Am i hearing it well enough? No?” is to increase the volume. And with that, apparently, the problem is solved. This actually turns noise pollution and collective deafening into a self-amplifying phenomenon.

Let’s, for a moment, go over a possibly incomplete list of potential audio desensitization sources, at a planetary level, that we either don’t care about or don’t make enough effort to change:

  • concerts, nightclubs and high-volume indoor audio systems
  • transportation vehicles (cars, motorcycles) with a high/abrupt degree of phonic disturbance*
  • earphones and headphones**
  • car audio
  • cinema
  • construction / renovation sites

* There is a type of cars / motorcycles designed to “impress” that stand out not only as a source of temporary discomfort but also as a source of anxiety in certain urban areas of some countries, due to extreme and sudden noises coming out of exhaust pipes / engines during breaking / acceleration. We as a social, technological and industrial collective seem to rarely remember that even the large urban dwelling accommodates children, pregnant women and other categories that should be handled with care.

** Headphones, unlike other items in this list, restrict the phenomenon to a single receiver (pure, individual desensitization). The other points are potential generators of passive audio desensitization and pollution (of neighbors, residents, passers-by, groups)

It’s true that not in all places these matters are left unattended. In some, but too few, there are certain regulations which are actually well designed and enforced. However, in my opinion, the desensitization phenomenon is advancing a lot faster than our collective capacity to identify its existence and re-act/pro-act against it.

There already are solutions, some technological, some tied to standardization and some tied to regulation. The real issue is to increase awareness and willingness in those entities that can represent and move the collective and this, of course, starts from the individual. If we don’t individually acknowledge defense mechanisms (education, self-moderation, ear protection, construction materials standardized for audio-resistance, architectural designs that dissipate/block sounds, silent transportation technology, etc) there will be no synchronization around this topic at a higher, collective level.

Without trying to be pessimistic, desensitization is a generic problem. We always want the most vibrant pictures on social media, the latest TV sets which look better than reality itself, the fastest (and sometimes, sadly, the noisiest) cars and the most immersive video-games.. And the question is: where will this tendency lead us if we continue to ignore it? How much more can we increase the contrast of informational input, so that we are still able and willing to perceive it, before we become oblivious to the planet and world itself?

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