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Does noise cause global dysfunction in human mood?

Music streaming is hot. Everyone’s doing it. So why is it so popular?

Well, the music is popular and varied, often relaxing. You can live in your own world. What’s not to like?

Outside there’s a lot of hurly-burly and especially a lot of noise. Is music streaming a way to get away from the noise?

We are all bathed in a constant tumult of noise, unceasingly bombarding us and our sensory organs. There’s significant proportions of us all living in continuously noisy environments of 80 decibels or more. Is that why we listen to music and why we do it especially with noise cancellation capabilities?

The levels of noise we live with now are overwhelming. In cities traffic, sirens, construction, trucks, music, loudspeakers and so on. Even at most restaurants it's difficult to talk because of the din. Are there serious health or other impacts of noise that we haven’t recognized yet but maybe will at some stage?

It should be a good bet that noise causes mental illness, but so far the psychologists have debunked that. You’d be on firmer ground if you thought that it had significant cognitive impacts, including your ability to learn and reason. But even these impacts haven’t been proven to be that important, at least so far.

If I had some spare gambling cash I might be inclined to punt on noise being associated with Alzheimer’s or seriously declining sperm counts in humans. But there’s one impact we can think of that doesn’t require such heroic leaps of the imagination. What could that be?

It’s mood. As in our general level of mental well-being. If music can improve our mood, why wouldn’t we think that overwhelming and/or constant noise could worsen it? And yep, there is plenty of evidence connecting noise to adverse mood.

Here’s my reasoning. We weren’t designed for noise at all. Cave men and women didn’t have lawn-mowers, weed-whackers or Mack trucks, or so I am told. The loudest noise they ever heard was a dinosaur roaring just as it chomped down on a tasty human by which time the nervous system hadn’t had time to adapt.

But we did have music and chant to improve our mood. So our nervous systems are asymmetric in that sense. They were designed to be responsive to chants and mellifluous sounds played at low levels but never to cope with continuous high levels of noise, since it just didn’t exist.

So we humans have encountered an environmental stimulus that we were never designed to cope with, namely noise. In our million nears or so of evolution we lived in quiet environments and it’s only in the last 200 years that we’ve suddenly been confronted with this new phenomenon.

But it’s happened gradually so we haven’t noticed. You know, the frog in slowly boiling water analogy? The water’s boiling now but we have gotten so used to it we don’t even notice. But it’s there all right and having these major impacts on us that that we still haven’t recognized or registered because now it’s totally normal.

What do I mean by a bad mood? Well its feelings of irritability, low level confusion, sometimes anger, aggressiveness to others, maybe some anomie, as per Emile Durkheim. It’s a lot of things that in sum add up to sensory overload that is leading to global levels of a worsening sense of mental being; that is a global bad mood.

What do bad global moods do? Maybe make wars more likely. Make countries and groups less willing to work with each other and help those less fortunate than themselves? Make them more selfish perhaps? More willing to be cruel, physically or mentally to other groups, even those in their own group? Sound familiar?

And it’s getting worse because we are all moving towards the source of all the noise. As the global migration of whole populations to the cities gathers apace, so humans are moving from places where noise is low – the countryside – to where it is high – the cities. So the trend towards a global decline in mood is fed by a human mega-trend that is not going to stop anytime soon.

And here’s another thing. The global elites live in cities, so the mood of those elites is getting worse, more mean and nasty as the trend continues. Those global elites don’t know they’re feeling it either. They just getting meaner coz that’s what everyone else is doing and in order to protect themselves they gotta go with the flow too.

It gets worser and worser. The capital cities are where the global governing elites live. They are governing from cities that are ever bigger, noisier and meaner. New York, Mexico City, Beijing, London, Moscow and so on.

Sure there are new capitals like Brasilia and Canberra. But these are only tokens; the governing elites pretend to rule from there but actually they all live in places like Sydney and Rio. Their moods are big city moods, not little city or country moods. That drives the principles they govern by.

Streaming music is hot because it’s the only way ordinary people know how to keep the noise at bay and thus keep their moods relatively stable. That’s why they shut out the outside world, because they sense it isn’t good for them and their mood.

The millions of people listening to streaming sites are actually voting with their ears.  They are voting against the megatrend for moods to get worse, their fellow humans to become ever less happy and ever meaner towards their fellows

What can we do about it? It’s tough. But here are some suggestions

  • Noise pollution must be treated as an existential crisis
  • All sources of noise must be controlled to get them lower in intensity
  • Standards are set such that noise sources must progressively get quieter, just as we are mandating auto emissions standards to get more stringent over time
  • Attention be given to the ambient levels of noise in planning cities, buildings and environments of all types
  • All machinery providers be subject to noise standards for their products including equipping them with noise cancellation technology.
  • Noise cancellation technology to be introduced progressively to all internal spaces and even to some external environments.

Our mood drives how we deal with each other. We want that to get better, not even worse than it is now.





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