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Could We Have a Little Quiet Here?

The Introvert's Way, by Sophia Dembling, is a pleasantly brisk explanation of why certain people crave quiet and solitude amidst the hurly burly of modern life. It's also a welcome defense of such people.

Some folk can't stand to be away from constant human companionship, of course. Some others are hermits (I don't know any of those), but most of us are somewhere in between. We enjoy seeing one another and may even enjoy a crowd now and then, but we also appreciate what is sometimes called the "cure de silence".

Unfortunately, uncontrollable extroverts apparently run the airports where it is assumed that travelers must be constantly stimulated with auditory cues, not just crucial information. That's apparently because someone thought it a good idea to run CNN on monitors on all concourses of America and also to keep cheerful music pitched at a level that makes normal conversations difficult. Passengers feel pressured; airport designers must suppose that passengers are bored. Amtrak also assumes that the traveler craves the sound of the conductor's advice every few minutes.

There are restaurants, too, especially in our fair land, that think quiet talk is too stressful for patrons and must be alleviated by canned music cranked high enough to assure that everyone winds up shouting. Many add TV monitors that run football games and quiz shows to keep patrons from having to talk to one another.

Noise pollution happens in people's homes, too, of course. Getting ready for a party, someone turns on the radio, then forgets to turn it off as guests arrive. The music is drowned out--no one is enjoying it--and merely contributes to the growing din. But at least that is a private matter.

Public space is something else. For more civilized auditory palates, "sound designer" Brian Eno, called "godfather of ambient music", has created a musical format that allows people to "be present" when they desire noise and "not present" when they do not. It made for an interesting piece by Andrew Todd in the Financial Times recently.

For myself, when I am in a public space--other than, say, an ice rink or, of course, at a concert where the whole point is the music--I'd really appreciate the opportunity to avoid extraneous sounds altogether. One's companions provide plenty of amusement and if one is alone--well, that's all right, too!

Aren't times like that what texting is for?

And books?

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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