The power of silence in a deafening world

Why there’s more noise, and more kinds of it — and why it might be ruining our focus.

In her book The Soundscape of Modernity, Emily Thompson looked to early Buddhist texts that describe how noisy life could be in a big city in South Asia circa 500 BCE. She describes “elephants, horses, chariots, drums, tabors, lutes, song, cymbals, gongs, and people crying ‘Eat ye, and drink!’” In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the deities grew so tired of the noise of humanity that they sent a great flood to wipe us all out. Just over a century ago, J. H. Girdner cataloged “The Plague of City Noises,” including horse-drawn vehicles, peddlers, musicians, animals, and bells.

If there’s such a thing as a perennial grumble, noisiness might be it.

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