“…The amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Noise is arguably the biggest daily irritant in the modern world. It’s caused by a combination of industrialization, overpopulation, mass media culture and selfish attitudes. The human nervous system never evolved to cope with amplified electronic and vehicular noises. Those who claim that noise is “just part of modern life” are ignoring where we came from. Noise pollution is the biggest outward manifestation of bad neighbors. The effects of noise usually get more irritating as you age, develop calmer tastes and realize humanity won’t change much. It’s become a life-altering nuisance for hundreds of millions of people. Other species are also trying to avoid human noise.
Units with shared-walls have the most obvious noise problems but the ability of humans to be obnoxious under any circumstance is legendary. People often move to rural areas hoping for tranquil surroundings, only to realize some idiot 100 yards away thinks the relative isolation gives them a “right” to broadcast noise much further than urban zones allow. There are extremists like the Colorado thug who made news in 2011 for driving off prospective neighbors with a sign boasting of loud vehicles and parties. Others are more random with their disturbances but show similar lack of respect.
Consider the conflict when two people who know each other are both playing music in the same room, as happens at some workplaces. It’s self-defeating because each is robbed of their full enjoyment. And when it’s a neighboring apartment or house, the option to discuss it decreases, especially when the noisy ones are semi-anonymous.
Disregard for neighbors can be outwardly belligerent or subtle and passive-aggressive. Advice on dealing with these people often suggests a polite approach to avoid triggering their retaliatory attitude. In other words, for our own safety we’re supposed to be polite to scum. Chronic noise criminals tend to play the victim and re-frame complaints against them as harassment when the converse is true. By nature they are rude and impossible to reason with. Noise-makers fail to respect The Commons, the physical middle ground that unrelated people must share. Noise can invade that space just like bright lights or bad smells. It literally robs private property of its value. One could switch to a financial angle when moral arguments fail.
Some noisy punks casually tell neighbors to wear earplugs and stop complaining. Even if that wasn’t an evil attitude it has many practical downsides. For starters, nobody has a right to restrict the enjoyment of full hearing! It’s like asking people to wear blindfolds so they don’t see your trash-strewn yard. Also, earplugs can prevent you from hearing vital sounds like alarm clocks, smoke detectors, breaking glass or watch dogs. Sound occlusion can make one’s heartbeat audible, which can cause insomnia. Masking external sounds with white or brown noise generators is only effective to a point and can’t do much about gut-felt bass. Noise masking is mostly suited for blended ambient noise or distant traffic sounds, not direct neighbor intrusions.
The introduction of Bluetooth speakers on hiking trails and car-like stereos in powerboats is part of a trend that makes shrinking wilderness harder to enjoy. Who thinks they have a right to play anti-social rap music in a quiet forest, or blast subwoofer bass over water where it can carry for miles? This is often done on lakes where people go to enjoy the scenery, not just trashy reservoirs. Another tragic phenomenon is the forcing of giant wind turbines onto rural lands in the name of “protecting our environment for future generations.” Even if their visual blight wasn’t bad enough, these 300 to 500 foot turbines generate infrasound and other noise that prevents many people from sleeping.
Specific noise problems and possible solutions:
1) The irritant factor of loud music is a given, but even “low level” subwoofers are a nuisance since bass goes through walls when other frequencies may not. Many noise ordinances were written before discreetly amplified bass existed in consumer gear. Large older speakers certainly had bass, but subwoofers emphasize it without equalization and it carries further. (c)Rap and other modern forms of music also have more bass content. Solution: Use headphones if you play any sort of moderate to loud music in a shared-wall situation, or where it can escape your house. If you “need” intense bass at home, buy a tactile transducer. Turn off your boom car stereo when you pull into a neighborhood. Stop allowing race or culture as an excuse for criminal behavior, e.g. Black Lives Matter even if they’re ruthless criminals. The formerly oppressed have reversed their role, with noise as a weapon. No music should have to be heard through walls, period. It’s easy to lock on to subtle, unwanted patterns which make sleep or relaxation impossible. Wind Turbine Syndrome is a similar concept. Some sounds are much harder to ignore than others. Psychological torture can be inflicted at levels that don’t register on decibel meters. You have to live it to understand it.
2) People recklessly slam doors, not thinking about how the building reverberates each time. Solution: Doors can be closed with controlled force vs. mindless slamming. It just takes giving a damn about your neighbors.
3) Many people (especially on top floors) walk and stomp, not caring that vibrations transmit to lower floors. Kids often run around like it’s a playground. Solution: Just make some effort to not walk heavily on top floors, and calm your kids down. Because of floor construction, some disturbances are inevitable but intent matters a lot.
4) People often lose their tempers and broadcast their domestic yelling and fighting noises to other units. Solution: Be aware that your social life is not the center of the universe. Save your brawls for inside a car, or anywhere away from home. Get your personality in order so you don’t spend half your life bickering.
5) Even normal voices seem louder at night as city traffic declines and ambient noise drops. Solution: Make an effort to talk quietly at night, just as if you had a baby sleeping in the other room. A simple matter of common courtesy.
6) Loud exhaust systems can wake an apartment complex or whole neighborhood as shift workers depart and arrive. Read a great assessment of those people, plus their predictable reactions. Solution: Many aftermarket pipes are illegal but get installed anyway. Shallow, insecure people strive to be loud for some extra horsepower or to maintain a biker image. If you rigged your vehicle to be loud, just undo the modifications out of common decency.
7) Apartment managers often schedule leaf blowers and lawn mowers for morning hours like 7 or 8 a.m., disrespecting anyone who sleeps later than that. Solution: Landscaping companies need to deliberately work later shifts, or use quieter machines with sound insulation or 4-stroke engines (they exist but tend to cost more).
Links for further reading:
- Noise Pollution is the general term for disruptive sound in the environment.
- A general search shows how many people are affected by noisy neighbors.
- Science verifies the scope of noise problems. “Decibel Hell” is no exaggeraton.
- If you need a religious angle on common decency, read and heed this.
- Amsterdam has a good punishment for crummy, noisy people.
- Negativland’s “Escape From Noise” approaches the topic with dark humor.
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