Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Turn down the noise

We have all heard the warnings to turn down the volume on our iPods. The ubiquity of iPods and other MP3 players, combined with ready access to large libraries of music, mean that people are listening to more music than ever. That, in itself, is not the problem. It is the fact that we listen to our music so loud. As it turns out, part of the blame can be placed on the high volumes of modern life.

A recent article in the National Post notes:

"If you've ever tried to listen to your iPod on an airplane, your tendency is to turn it up to overcome all the other noise, engine noise, whatever else is going on in the cabin," continues Dr. Towers. "And that's where we start getting into the damaging level."

While most listeners might not take to the sky every week, they'll likely turn up the volume on the daily bus ride to help block out engine and traffic noise. Even with only a half-hour commute to and from work or school, the total weekly exposure time to overly loud sound levels can be extremely detrimental.

The article then goes on to suggest that we replace our earbuds with conventional headphones or noise-cancelling earphones that block out external sounds. But who really wants to live in a bubble? Maybe part of the solution lies in reducing the noise in our cities.

Having moved to Toronto last year from Montreal, one thing I quickly learned is that the decibel levels of the Toronto subway vastly exceed those of the Montreal metro. The steel wheels of Toronto subway cars make a terrible racket. In Montreal, the wheels are made of rubber, and consequently are much quieter.

Unfortunately, nothing in the specifications for the new Toronto subway cars suggests they will be any quieter than the current fleet. That is a pity. If we could turn down the noise, the quality of big city life would improve considerably. An added bonus is that music lovers might make it to old age without need of a hearing aid.

My 12-year old daughter provides her perspective on the iPod on her web site.