Ear full

Running in the New Republic today is my review of In Pursuit of Silence, George Prochnik’s thoughtful examination of our complicated relationship with noise:

In 1906, Julia Barnett Rice, a wealthy New York physician and philanthropist, founded the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise. Rice, who lived with her husband and six children in a Manhattan mansion overlooking the Hudson River, had become enraged at the way tugboats would blow their horns incessantly while steaming up and down the busy waterway. During a typical night, the tugs would emit two or three thousand toots, most of which seemed to serve merely as sonic greetings between friendly captains.

Armed with research documenting the health problems caused by the sleep-shattering blasts, Rice launched a relentless lobbying campaign that took her to police stations, health departments, the offices of shipping regulators, and ultimately the halls of Congress …


6 thoughts on “Ear full

  1. Facebook

    The single greatest advance in cutting down on the noise from automobiles, electric cars, is being crippled out of overblown concerns about the risks silent electric cars pose to blind people.

  2. Crazyfinger

    I am writing this comment from 19th floor apartment in Beijing. Apart from the hum of the air conditioner, it is quiet up here. Quiet in a homely way, just as it was during the my days of growing up. Down below on the streets, well, they are Beijing streets. But up here, it is quiet enough to stir in me the feelings of loneliness. In my experience I realize that during these moments, a sort of a pre-reflective re-collection of past years occurs automatically. These re-collections are interestingly devoid of any sound, i.e., I don’t recall the heavy traffic jam from the past years, but how I was when I was in this traffic jam. So the question is, on a day-to-day basis noise is a bitch to deal with, but this noise factor doesn’t seem show up in re-collections. Something to think about…

  3. Petter

    Does Prochnik say anything about loud music in drinking establishments? It’s an abiding mystery to me; they pull people in with the promise of conviviality, ply them with drink to loosen tongues, then blast them with music that serves no other purpose – none- than to impede conversation. Are there studies that show that people drink more if they have to strain to hear each other?

  4. Nick Carr

    Petter: Yes, he does cite studies showing that people drink faster in loud bars. Nick

  5. GrangalanJr

    A couple years ago I would go to the top floor of my college’s library just to get away from all the noise of people typing on computers and coffee machines whirring on the main floor. As you discussed in The Shallows, the computer tables were smack in the center of the library, with books set off to the side. But the second and fourth floors were mostly computer free, so I could go there to get the “quiet library” experience, something that seems to be getting rarer these days.

    There seem to be a bunch of silence books coming out lately. I bookmarked a few, including the one in your review.





    These are all within the last two years!

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