Noise vs. Sound

Silence is hot right now. On the market, it takes the form of headphones, train compartments, dishwashers, vaccum cleaners, and a whole lot of other products that have taken the absence of sound and packaged it up for capitalistic consumption. Not to say that there is necessarily anything wrong with this–but how does it reflect on our society’s reception (ha-ha) of sound? According to a recent New Republic article, the commoditization of silence is a testament to today’s consumer’s itch “to shed modern life’s “noisy” baggage: all those emails, texts, and bits of media—digital, social, etc.—that clutter our consciousness.” Ironically, the increase in the past few decades of aural turbulence, which has accompanied the technological revolution as it was ushered in, is responsible for a new trend of wanting some sort of simplicity or purity; in the case of “sound pollution”, this means silence. In the article, those following this trend are referred to as “disconnectionists”.


As with the author of the article, I, too, am unsettled by the fact that as sources of technological cacaphony increase, so do new technologies that we become reliant upon in order to do away with this noise. However, I’d also like to bring up a point that did not arise in the article–that at the same time that we grow irritated with sound we write off as “noise”, we also obsess over other sounds that we consider worth our time to listen to. For many of us, plugging into an mp3 player or leaving the TV on in the background seems as essential to remaining sane as does eliminating other noises that we don’t like. My mother, for example, has radios stationed throughout our house so that the murmurs of NPR will follow her wherever she goes, even if seventy-five percent of the time she isn’t even paying attention to the story. For her, the radio is as much an outlet of information and opinion as it is a white-noise machine. As our hero Odysseus can attest to, though, some noise is addicting and seductive and it’s hard to stop yourself from lending an ear to it:

Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on, well-pleased, knowing more than ever he did; for we know everything that the Argives and Trojans did and suffered in wide Troy through the gods’ despite. Over all the generous earth we know everything that happens. (12.184-196)

I admit I haven’t thus far succumbed to its wrath myself, but I know too many others for whom BuzzFeed is a major source of procrastination.

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